by Russell T. Westcott
Your organization may be considering the launching of activities for making the processes and the environment in which work is done greener. Ultimately, the organization may consider planning and implementing an environmental management system (EMS) certifiable to ISO 14001. This article addresses situations in which no structured methodology is yet in use—a period between when nothing or not much has been done and when there is a full implementation project leading to certification.
This article considers an assessment of the situation needed to determine feasibility and value added should a greening effort be launched. It helps in establishing overall goals and near-term objectives, aids in prioritizing potential actions to be taken, and explores what resources would need to be obtained or strengthened to take action. The suggestions that follow assume no significant actions have yet been taken, little data other than casual observation exist, and that there is no immediate urgency to seek certification to ISO 14001. This article addresses organizations that are awakening to the mounting concerns for conserving and protecting the environment and a realization that an effort to “Go Green” could also be good for business.
A few of the conditions that may cause an organization to begin the think about before implementing ISO 14001 or going green are:
- Legal (lawsuits), regulatory (fines), and risk mitigation (insurance rates) issues
- Past, present, or potential pollution issues and cleanup costs
- Need to transition to more environmentally friendly power generation methods
- Changes in processes or products produced that call for involvement of hazardous materials
- Movement to position more of the responsibility for employer-run personal safety, security, and health care activities on individuals
- Customers becoming more cognizant of an organization’s actual or apparent disregard for the environment
- Reduction in community support of the organization as a responsible/desirable neighbor
- Neglect of the organization to compute the overall benefits-to-cost relationship for the long-term by going green
- Need to examine what happens to an organization forced into costly remedial actions upon discovery of environmental mismanagement of materials, processes, and product shipping
- Lack of management and employee awareness of sound environmental decisions and actions and appropriate training to keep up with new knowledge and change effects
- Lack of the cultural change in employees and suppliers that infuses everyone associated with the organization with a “Think Green” mentality
Questions to consider
- Is the concept of conservation and protection of the environment on management’s radar?
- Do the organization’s near- and long-term strategic goals include becoming a green organization? And, if so, what is the motivation to do so and what are the expected outcomes?
- From a walkthrough of the organization, what significant observations have you made that appear to be green-oriented relative to buildings, workplace design, processes, material handling and storage, quality of air and light, cleanliness, personal actions and attitudes regarding the environment, etc.? What stands out as critical-to-correct?
- How would you assess the level of management’s knowledge of what going green means?
- Have there been any past catastrophic events that relate to poor environmental management and required costly corrective actions? Has the appropriate preventive action been taken to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of recurrence?
- Are employees or suppliers who uncover a potential environmental problem that could affect the organization given recognition for their discovery?
- Are any metrics, such as statistical trending and analysis, being used to measure and report activities that could be classified as environmental actions? What are they and how effectively are they used to sustain and improve the environment?
- Is risk assessment actively employed to determine the organization’s exposure to environmental hazards, short- and long-term?
- What is the observed attitude of management and employees toward transforming the organization to a green organization?
ISO 14001 assessment checklist suggestions
- Is the organization considering building new facilities?
- Has the organization explored opportunities to locate close to a renewable energy source?
- Has the organization considered reducing dependence on driving and flying?
- Does green building methodology and use of green material make sense?
- Are approved plans ready covering site preparation, material purchasing, delivery, and storage during construction?
- Are green tools specified, and are operators trained properly to use the tools?
- What rules are planned or in place pertaining to the use of the building? Are or will employees receive appropriate training in caring for the workplace and safeguarding the environment?
- Is the organization monitoring its use of energy, water, air, raw materials, and land?
- Are standards in place and are they met?
- Are there warning means for signaling deviation from the standards, and are there provisions for corrective and preventive actions?
- Has productivity and employee health been correlated with the ambient air quality, light levels, harmful emissions, and use of hazardous materials in the workplaces. Is action to improve workplace conditions ongoing?
- Do testing protocols, procedures, processes, and substances used take into account environmentally sound practices?
- Is the organization monitoring and measuring waste with an aim to significantly reduce waste and recycle where possible?
- Have suppliers been aligned with the organization’s green policy and efforts? Has the entire supply chain been aligned with the green policy?
- Are there outside organizational environment-oriented regulations, benchmarks, agencies, and programs underway or in place that could assist this organization in establishing its goals and monitoring its progress?
- Is the organization presently using or planning to use a means for measuring the outcomes of their greening activities and how the effort leads to value-added benefits?
- Does the organization include progress and issues concerning greening activities in every management review meeting?
- Are the greening activities sustainable, requiring major culture and organizational change resulting from actions of individual employees and how they are rewarded as well as how greening responsibilities are apportioned throughout the organization.
- Are the organization’s employees engaged in personal lifestyle changes and individually motivated to value the environment rather than mandates from top management?
- Is there initial awareness training for all present employees at all levels? Are new employees given training in greening concepts and practices when first reporting for work? Is refresher training done on a frequent basis?
- Does the organization have a person—preferably reporting to the CEO—who has overview responsibility for environmental health and safety, energy, procurement, regulatory matters, corporate communication, strategic partnering, and product innovation?
Forethoughts to getting started
What environmental issues are most directly affecting the organization now? Do the environmental efforts the organization supports link to its business strategy, goals, and objectives? What present or future environmental goals create or would create added value? Is the organization’s culture supportive of environmentally favorable actions? Would greening wants and wishes be explainable to a customer or prospective employee touring your operation? Is the organization literally attempting to do too much at once? Has adequate attention been given to how effective means to modify existing behavior be achieved to green the organization: its management, employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders? To what extent will conducting a greening-activities assessment affect the organization?
The benefits of an assessment are extensive. They include enhanced organizational awareness of areas and concerns that were not evident or observed in prior times. From an internal perspective, perhaps the most important factor the organization must consider is realization that a successful, sustained effort will likely improve its bottom-line.
I recommend the following books: The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment, and the Bottom Line by Leigh Stringer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook: When It All Comes Together by Jeana Wirtenberg, William G. Russell, and David Lipsky (Greenleaf Publishing-AMACOM, 2008).
Examples of Environmental-Related Areas of Potential Concern
- Redesigning products and services provided to embody concern for the environment
- Water, energy, and materials used to produce manufactured goods
- Land, facilities, buildings, equipment, and raw materials to produce products
- Product testing practices
- Hazardous material handling, storage, and use
- Nonbiodegradable materials
- Waste from processes
- Pollution: air, water, land, and transportation emissions
- Health and safety of employees, suppliers, customers, and the general public
- Procuring green materials, products, and services using green practices
- Ergonomic workplace environment
- Life-cycle of products and after-life disposition
- Training and refresher training of all employees in environmentally sound practices
- Support of individual employees’ personal greening activities, e.g., carpooling, recycling, home energy use
- Alignment of organization with community greening efforts
- Capturing and acting upon customer and community concern for protecting and sustaining the environment
- Aiding suppliers in their greening activities
About the author
Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, Certified Quality Auditor and Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence. He is editor of ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, Fourth Edition and a co-editor of the ASQ Quality Improvement Handbook, Third Edition. He authored Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional (ASQ Quality Press, 2005), and Stepping Up To ISO 9004:2000 (Paton Press, 2003). He is active in ASQ’s Quality Management Division and the Thames Valley (CT) section management.
Westcott instructs the ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence refresher course nationwide. He writes for Quality Progress, The Quality Management Forum, The Auditor and other publications. He is president of R.T. Westcott & Associates, founded in 1979, based in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.