Improving after ISO 14001

Congratulations, you’re ISO certified. Now comes the all-important period of time where you’re trying to make these changes sink in, and promote the guiding principles of ISO-requirements across the board with your staff members. Join us as we offer up a few tips to make sure your organization remains a well-oiled machine in the period following your certification.

We pay a lot of attention at the period before and during your transition toward certification, and today we’re going to be talking about some steps to keep your system – in this example, your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System – rolling toward continual improvement after certification. More specifically, we’re talking about the period of time following your first audit, when one of our auditors talked you through some improvements that could be made. Don’t discount their findings. They’re here to help you, and will be making suggestions that will ultimately act to benefit your organization.

This is a time that you can revisit any recommendations – or minor non-conformances noted by the auditor – to improve the standing of your business. Maybe these are things you didn’t consider at the time of your transition, or didn’t have the time for. While it will be another few years before your next audit, why not take the time to address the list of changes either suggested or recommended following your audit? Some of these requirements might have the caveat of a follow-up date attached, so make sure you prioritise accordingly.

An important part of this phase is to focus on re-applying your winning formula. We often use the analogy of a chocolate cake recipe; follow that and you’re sure to end up with a delicious slice of chocolate cake. In terms of a more tangible example, remember – and take note – of the steps you took in the first place to get ISO 14001 certified. Unless a new version of the standard has been released, you’ll be able to follow the exact same set of guiding principles as you work through your revisions.

We often talk about the importance of effective communication, which is particularly important at this time. Management and those in leadership positions have the obligation to consult closely with the auditor, as well as a responsibility to communicate with each member of staff if their position requires them to make changes to their respective roles and responsibilities. Don’t, for example just send off an email and expect them to get the message. Follow up that email with a face to face conversation to make sure they’ve got an understanding of what you’re asking for. Once you’ve put in the effort to implement a quality management system like ISO 14001, all that hard work could be undermined by a lack of communication with your staff. If they don’t understand the set of goals and principles you’re now shooting for, all that work could be in vain. What we’re trying to get you to do here is embed the learnings and new practices you’ve implemented into your business’ culture, that way the learning process for your staff members is expedited in a more natural manner.

On a similar note, an important part of this process is defining responsibilities clearly. If your environmental management system is asking to nominate one staff member or more for the management of that system, make sure they understand the requirements of this role way ahead of time. The EMS will only be as good as the person monitoring it allows, so ensure you’ve picked someone with initiative, that isn’t of course swamped with work as is. You don’t necessarily need to hire an extra set of hands to monitor your system, but assure that someone in the business is taking the time to make regular updates, remind you of key dates, and suggest new areas to improve. This role is crucial, so don’t overlook the importance of filling this role with someone that truly understands the principles behind ISO certification, and will act to promote this around the business, as well as keep an eye open for changes that could be made. It’s important to remember however to give this person all the help they require. If you’re in a leadership or management position, let them know they can come to you with any problem or suggestion, big or small, and make sure they don’t feel overwhelmed by the responsibility.

Up next, set up – if you haven’t already – an EMS log, diary, document; whatever you want to call it. This is a resource you and your internal auditor should refer back to on a frequent basis. You’ll want to fill it up with factors that truly matter to your business, you’re not just filling it up to look impressive. Feed the beast with customer feedback, reviews of corrective or preventive actions you’ve taken, as well as the results of these actions, and attempts to make risk-based decisions to address problematic areas of the business. This diary should ensure actions pivotal to your EMS – or wider quality management systems in general – are made on time, and will allow your team time and necessary resources to focus on improving other parts of the business. Again, communication with staff is important here, as they’ll be in a position to tell you what is working well, where the problems remain, which you’ll be able to feed back in to your diary to take steps in addressing.

The suggestions we’ve made so far are ultimately tips to make sure you avoid ever becoming overwhelmed by the situation. If you’ve taken the time to delegate roles and responsibilities, and you in turn – as management – support those in their roles, you’re in better stead to keep everything under control. In its optimal form, a quality management system when it’s set up is nothing more than a trusty bar fridge, purring away in the background keeping everything cool and under control. While it might take some extra time and resources in the early stages to get it up and running, ultimately it’s designed to alleviate stress, and give you more time to focus on other aspects of the business. This is possible only if you’ve implemented it in the right way, and have someone in charge of updating it, as well as making changes suggested by the standard.

It will give you the opportunity to converse with others in your business about things like addressing risk, in this context at least -lessening your environmental impacts, and also promote a cycle of continual improvements as you make changes, and monitor the impact of those changes. When these are done right, actions are planned and implemented in a scheduled, organised manner, and will allow your team to focus their resources in other areas.

In the end, it is what you make of it, so use some of the aforementioned tips, as well as the learning resources we’ve thrown up on our website to discover how to make your environmental management system or any quality management system work for you.

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