Maintaining momentum on EMSs

The number of firms boasting ISO14001 certificates to testify that they have a sound environmental management system (EMS) continues to spiral. According to the latest data held by the International Organisation for Standardisation, there were some 66,000 certificates in existence in December 2003 - one-third up on the previous year (ENDS Report 359, p 6 ).

So why do companies do it? Why do they spend thousands of pounds on certificates confirming that they "do" environmental management? There is a spectrum of answers available to this question: Customers demanding a tick in the EMS box, head office looking to retrieve reputations after fiasco, head office wanting to appear socially responsible because competitors are, chief executive getting the "lean manufacturing" message and realising that environmental inefficiency is simply business inefficiency and risk. The list could continue.

Once on the conveyor belt, however - for whatever reason - companies have to maintain their certificates or lose face.

What has become clear after nearly 15 years of environmental management systems is that the efficacy of the systems always reflects the motivations of those operating them. When the initial motivations are weak so are the systems. When the motivations wane, the systems get stuck in a rut.

Our case study of BP’s Mature Business Unit this month examines how it is trying to "reinvigorate" its health and safety management systems by thinking hard about the way people behave in normal - and abnormal - work situations (see pp 21-24 ). Health and safety psychologists say systems are only as good as the people who "live them".

It also looks at how BP is extending this "behaviour-based" thinking to its environmental management system with the aid of robust challenges from certification body ERM CVS.

By following system failures back up the management chain, ERM CVS is succeeding in getting onto top management’s radar. The certification body has a loudly-stated ethos: to achieve control of environmental risks requires the same thought and managerial processes to motivate staff as would be required when managing any other operational risks.

It seems clear in BP’s case that "wanting to make a real difference to performance" is changing thinking beyond the environmental manager’s office - and could get the management system out of a rut.

At the same time another certification body - DNV - has introduced a new "risk-based approach" to all its management system certification work. A key deliverable of this is to engage top management and personnel and focus on the top risks affecting the business being certified. The revamp, it says, comes from analysing its clients’ changing needs.

The message is that, as environmental management systems come of age, those in charge of the more mature systems are realising afresh the importance of motivation in achieving change. Some certification bodies too are appreciating the need to move with the times to continue to add value for their clients.

The problem is that, of the companies holding the 66,000 ISO14001 certificates out there, many have yet to see the light. And that is why it is so important that the UK Accreditation Service and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment continue with their efforts to deliver a more consistent and credible approach to EMS certification (ENDS Report 360, pp 5-6 ).

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