Environmental management systems – outline of the process and benefits to business

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 1 September 2004

Keywords

Citation

(2004), "Environmental management systems – outline of the process and benefits to business", Circuit World, Vol. 30 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/cw.2004.21730cab.017

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Environmental management systems – outline of the process and benefits to business

Environmental management systems – outline of the process and benefits to business

Keywords: Environmental management, Legislation, Printed circuit boards

In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the amount of environmental legislation impacting UK industry and in particular the PCB industry. The over-arching aims of this legislation have been to improve the environmental performance of industry, to protect the environment from degradation and to conserve resources and minimise waste. Within the same timeframe public sensitivity and awareness of environmental issues has increased with the effect that environmental credentials have gained importance in influencing purchasing decisions; any business that can communicate a guarantee of high environmental standards enhances it competitive position. This change in approach is becoming increasingly evident in the PCB, broader electronics and automotive industries, as there is a growing tendency to use the supply chain to impose high standards of operations on business. In the past, supply chain pressures may have focused on improving quality standards or gaining an accredited quality system, but in recent years PCB manufacturers and assemblers have been asked to demonstrate the evidence of an environmental management system (EMS) or the availability of an environmental policy, as a prerequisite for entering into contract. It is a trend that is almost certainly set to continue, since many of the OEMs have begun to publish environmental policy commitments, placing an obligation on them to deal only with those suppliers that have certified EMSs in place. At the same time, many of the OEMs are also requesting their suppliers to demonstrate that they manufacture their products, components and materials in an environmentally acceptable manner. There can be little doubt that the OEMs are introducing these measures to support, the regulatory requirements of the WEEE and RoHS Directives, both of which are aimed at improving the environmental performance of electronic products, and whilst an EMS is not a guarantee that a company will be RoHS and WEEE compliant it does provide some assurances that a company is aware of environmental legislation that impacts its operations and that it has made some commitment to manage its environmental impacts and to integrate environmental values into its operations.

The function of an accredited EMS is to provide an independent verification that a system of controlling and limiting environmental impacts via a programme of planned and continual improvement that meets the legal compliance relevant to the business's activities in place. As well as providing evidence to regulators, customers, insurers and financiers of a commitment to improving environmental performance.

There are two independent certification schemes, ISO 14001 and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). There is little to differentiate the two initiatives, both require an organisation to follow a number of management system stages to formalise the company's policies, procedures and practices that control the environmental aspects. However, ISO 14001 does not place an obligation on an organisation to publish an environmental statement, which may provide a partial explanation to the higher uptake of ISO 14001 over EMAS (Hilary, 2003).

As the most common framework for adopting an EMS, ISO 14001 is one of a series of 20 separate standards produced by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) based in Geneva. The 14000 series covers environmental management processes, ranging from eco- labelling to life cycle assessment (LCA) of products. The ISO 14000 series is broadly based on the approach used in the quality management standards issued as the ISO 9000 series. ISO 14001 sets out the basic framework for the EMS and ISO 14004 standard provides the guidance for implementation. The ISO 14001 standard is comprised of five core elements: the environmental policy, environmental plan, implementation and operation of programmes to meet the objectives and targets, checking and corrective action and the management review. Figure 1 is a schematically demonstrates the five core principles of an EMS with respect to ISO 14001.

Figure 1 The five principles of an EMS

As a first step towards EMS implementation it is necessary to conduct an initial review of the company's activities which should address the key areas of environmental concern that arise from within the site. Whilst the initial review is not a mandatory aspect of ISO 14001, the information that is generated from conducting the exercise will provide the necessary information to design a purposeful EMS. In addition, the initial review will also indicate issues that may require further, more detailed investigation. The initial review should identify all the key environmental aspects of the company's activities, this broadly involves compiling a catalogue of all the materials used, energy inputs, emissions to air and releases to water that arise from all the activities on site. It also demands a review of legislation that affects the company's activities. This is a particularly useful exercise as it can often highlight areas of non-compliance and breaches of the law, which can then be addressed.

Following on, a company is in a position to write an Environmental Policy. This is a one-page statement that outlines the policies of the company to both employees and general public. The Environmental Policy should emphasize "compliance with relevant environmental legislation and regulations" and include "a commitment to continuous improvement and pollution prevention". A business will also have to declare its key environmental objectives, which will become the focus of its efforts to improve its environmental performance. The Environmental Policy basically establishes a framework for setting and reviewing environmental objectives and targets and it provides the direction for the remainder of the management system.

The ISO 14001 standard requires a member of top management to authorise the Environmental Policy, signalling a clear message of endorsement by the company to its commitment to environmental improvement and to a programme of planned and continual improvement, that meets legal compliance relevant to the company's operations. It is essential that the Policy should be comprehensive, it should relate to all the sites within the organisation that are encompassed by the EMS and it should provide an overview of the company's activities. It should also be honest and ethical and appropriate to the nature, scale and environmental impacts of the company's activities. The Environmental Policy should avoid making claims that cannot be met, and it should be written in non-technical language so that it can be communicated and understood by a wide audience.

The initial review will have identified the key environmental aspects of the company's activities and as a next stage a company will have to plan how the company's environmental impacts should be controlled and improved by the EMS. The ISO 14001 standard requires a company to identify which aspects of its activities are deemed to be significant and to describe the means by which the company plans to achieve targets that will meet specific objectives to reduce its environmental impacts. It is essential that an organisation plans achievable targets within realistic timeframes; for example, concerns over high energy usage may result in a commitment to reduce energy consumption by 10 per cent, this may involve setting targets to reduce energy consumption by 5 per cent in the first year, 3 per cent in the second year and 2 per cent in the following year. Once the various objectives and targets have been identified, projects to achieve them should be initiated with the appropriate people to manage and coordinate them. The planning stage also involves a detailed analysis of legal and other regulatory requirements applicable to the organisations operations so that compliance procedures can be adopted, within a system that records and updates relevant legislation.

Once it is underway, the EMS will establish the procedures, work instructions and controls to ensure that complete implementation of the policy and achievement of the targets becomes a reality. It is essential that sufficient resources and time be allocated to the individual with overall responsibility for implementing an EMS, as well as the full support of the board of management. The process of implementation can sometimes be difficult, particularly in SMEs as staff working in already multifunctional roles can be frequently interrupted or at worse, resources may be diverted away from supporting the EMS towards what may be viewed as the core areas of a company's operations (Hilary, 2003).

To support the EMS it will be necessary to initiate a training programme for every member of the workforce, to inform them of the objectives of the EMS and to raise awareness of environmental legislation and good practice procedures to ensure that the objectives are reached. Training and good internal communication are crucial to the success of the EMS since it will alert employees of their accountability and responsibility towards the business's planned programme of environmental improvement and it will enable them to contribute to its success. At first glance this may appear to be a great deal of effort, it may even be the first time a co-ordinated training programme is introduced into a company. However, a number of studies (Hilary, 1998; INEM, 1999; NALAD, 1997) have revealed that organisations that have adopted a formal EMS, frequently report that it is an effective method of opening up channels of communication between staff and management. It may also lead to improvements in the overall quality of management, can deliver improvements in skills, knowledge and attitude and encourage innovation.

All documentation pertaining to the EMS such as good practice procedures, training manuals, and legislative information should be properly recorded and, where applicable, should be made available in locations where it can be used for reference purposes. There should be system of internal and external communications, to receive and respond to information regarding the EMS. The EMS should also provide a procedure to record a response when operational guidelines laid down by the EMS have not been followed. In instances where the EMS has been breached there should also be procedures to mitigate and prevent the breach from being repeated.

In order to ensure that the EMS is effective in operation, is being properly maintained in accordance with the ISO 14001 standard and is meeting specific objectives, it is necessary to audit the EMS. An independent, accredited auditor will usually visit the site to make an initial assessment of a company's activities and determine the readiness of the business for assessment. At a later stage, the auditor will return to determine whether the EMS is in compliance with the requirements of the standard and with the legislation. If approved the business is awarded the badge of approval in record of its achievement.

In addition to audits the management of a company must meet at least once a year to review the EMS, to consider its appropriateness and its effectiveness with regard to the environmental policy. This will include analysing the results of the audit, appraising progress in achieving objectives and targets, and the implications of new legislation. The review will enable new targets to be set to meet the changing circumstances in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Aside from the competitive advantage afforded to companies with an externally validated EMS, there are other significant benefits such as improved legislative compliance and increased environmental performance, which may lead to cost savings via resource efficiency and the sustainable management of wastes. Additionally, companies with an accredited EMS are considered to be a lower environmental risk by on the Environment Agency based on its operator performance and risk appraisal (OPRA) system, compared to companies that do not have an EMS. In practical terms this means companies that are affected by the PPC regulations that have an accredited EMS in place, will benefit from substantially reduced charges. Furthermore, numerous studies have reported that amongst the many benefits of adopting a formal EMS are the attraction of new business and customers and the satisfaction that customers requirements are being a met. With continued pressures from overseas manufacturers, increasingly stringent legislation and supply chain pressures to demonstrate high environmental standards can any UK PCB manufacturer afford not to have an EMS?

For more information on the implementation of an EMS contact: E-mail: kgeraghty@rohmhaas.com

Further readingInternational Standard EN ISO 14001 (1996), Environmental Management Systems-Specification with Guidance for Use. European Committee for Standardisation, Brussels.

References

Hilary, R. (1998), An assessment of the implementation status of council regulation (No 1836/93) eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) in the European Union Member States (AIMS-EMAS), Imperial College, London. Available at Web site: http://europa.eu.int/comm/emas

Hilary, R. (2003), "Environmental management systems and the smaller enterprise", Journal of Cleaner Production (in press)

The International Network for Environmental Management (INEM), (1999), EMAS Toolkit for SMEs, Hamburg, Germany. Available at Web site: http://www.inem.org/emas-toolkit

National Association of Local Authorities in Denmark (NALAD), (1997), Guide for The Promotion of Cleaner Technology and Responsible Entrepreneurship. NALAD, Copenhagen.