by Michael L. Walker, PE
Vice President, Principal Engineer

In the first five articles of The EI Group’s blog on “Building a Sustainability Culture,” recommendations were provided on launching a sustainability program at your business operation.  

  1. Launching a Sustainability Program at Your Facility? Begin with Some Easy Wins May 15, 2021
  2. Launching a Sustainability Program at Your Facility? Engaging Employees as Sustainability Stakeholders June 3, 2021
  3. Sustainability Sells: Building Brand Early in Your Sustainability Program July 20, 2021
  4. Selling Corporate Sustainability to Management October 10, 2021
  5. Building Your Sustainability Team: Characteristics of Effective Sustainability Business Leaders November 4, 2021

The fourth article in the blog series offered advice on selling sustainability to management via two avenues. The first was pitching your early sustainability program successes (the “carrot approach”). The second was warning management not to get left behind by their competitors who were already embracing corporate sustainability (the “stick approach”).

To underscore this competition driver, in recent years market drivers have played a more pivotal role in convincing management to embrace a corporate sustainable culture. In fact, even without new regulations or legal requirements, 90% of major US companies published a sustainability report in 2019, up from 20% in 2011. Sustainability has become a means of gaining market visibility and differentiation. This shift in business is about drivers in the marketplace and not regulation. Sustainability efforts at your facility may be driven by the requirements of multi-national companies with headquarters in Europe or possibly the requirements of customers within your global supply chain.

Sustainability is not a new idea. The conservation movement in the US in the early 20th century brought us National Parks based on a recognition that stewardship is an important element of continued success. In 1992, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by the United Nations (UN) and in 1993 a committee was formed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop a framework for a system to continuously improve environmental performance. The first version of the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System standard was published in 1996. As concepts of stewardship and sustainability continued to gain traction, in 2015, the UN developed a global guide for sustainable development. And in recent years, the UN Security Council has published numerous studies and other documents identifying the impact of climate change on State sovereignty and security. 

One way for business and industry to initiate or improve a sustainability program is to develop and implement a system to manage environmental improvements and sustainability, and possibly to secure ISO certification. In general, ISO Standards provide a method to measure sustainability performance and document program improvement. Unlike many US regulations, ISO guidelines are not prescriptive. ISO standards allow an extreme level of flexibility within their framework, with the scope of any ISO program defined by the operation owner and not by the standard. The primary ISO standards associated with sustainability are 14001 and 50001. ISO 14001, the Environmental Management System (EMS) standard, goes beyond compliance and provides an avenue for improving environmental performance, that is to protect the environment, mitigate potential adverse effects, fulfil compliance obligations, and control the manufacturing process (including incoming materials and outgoing products) to support improved environmental goals.  

ISO 50001 is the Energy Management System (EnMS) standard. At its core, it captures energy auditing and the identification of conservation opportunities. In fact, this is the only ISO standard that requires actual improved energy performance every three years to maintain certification.

ISO certification alone can provide a positive impact in the marketplace and also be a valuable tool in a sustainability program. However, like most things, “you reap what you sow.” An ISO 14001 program can be a paperchase that includes detailed written procedures and forms while not providing any real environmental benefit. For example, a manufacturing facility with a significant environmental footprint and several permit and compliance obligations (air, wastewater, stormwater, waste, SPCC) has maintained their 14001 certifications through several cycles, and yet non-compliance issues continue to surface regularly. Although, compliance is not the primary objective of an 14001 program, a process to support compliance is a minimum requirement of the standard. In short, the regular difficulty in meeting compliance obligations is indicative of a failure in their ISO process. Certification under ISO 14001 only demonstrates adherence to an environmental management standard employed worldwide.  

However, if you are interested in pursuing improved environmental or energy performance, implementation of both ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 will allow an operation to establish meaningful goals by defining a systematic process that makes goals specific and relevant to the organization and the site. A regional wastewater utility, for example, effectively uses their EMS to identify relevant and achievable goals, which have a meaningful impact on long term operating costs and environmental performance. The utility establishes milestones which are reviewed annually to measure progress. As one goal is met, another takes its place on the active list. These goals have included lowering electrical consumption, replacing older equipment with more efficient models, adjusting operating procedures to improve their environmental footprint, and reducing waste.

In summary, ISO 14001 and 50001 programs can be effective tools for your sustainability program. That effectiveness is entirely determined by tIn summary, ISO 14001 and 50001 programs can be effective tools for your sustainability program. That effectiveness is entirely determined by the commitment of the organization and its purpose in implementing the program. A successful 14001 and/or 50001 program will provide marketplace benefits, will be useful in developing or improving a sustainability program, and can be developed to fit the organization and its objectives. So, for those organization with ambitions to go beyond compliance and gain market differentiation, the flexibility of the ISO standards provides a framework to push a sustainability program forward.

How Can We Help?
The EI Group, Inc. (EI) provides a comprehensive array of services for the development and execution of sustainability initiatives relevant to your business. We actively seek ways to improve sustainability performance while supporting business goals. Contact us today at (800) 717-3472 or [email protected] to learn more!

EI’s ISO 14,001 and 50,001 Consulting Project Experience Highlights:
A multi-national pharmaceutical company located in the US is developing a plan for support corporate sustainability goals that require the involvement of all sites around the globe.

A US-based data center provider with facilities around to world is developing and pursuing an EHS sustainability program to improve market position in key locations.

A US manufacturer of specialty glass bottles, with French-ownership, annually reports to corporate their carbon emissions for inclusion in the company’s ESG reporting program.

A US manufacturer of industrial heat exchangers is implementing EMS & EnMS from instruction by headquarters in Europe.

A regional utility has implemented an EMS to improve their environmental and conservation initiatives.

Various manufacturers have secured grants to conduct energy assessments and make capital improvements to improve energy efficiency.