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Environmental aspects in the manufacturing sector

Most readers will be familiar with what ISO 14001 stands for and the benefits that compliance and accreditation can bring. For details of benefits, please see previous blog post 6 Key Benefits of ISO 14001. The ISO 14001 standard is designed and written in such a way that it applies to businesses in all sectors, and benefits can be accrued no matter what sector your organization operates in. In a previous article, How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001, we looked at the benefits that can be achieved by identifying and taking action on specific aspects within an office, so it seems reasonable to assume that even greater environmental gains can be made by highlighting and reducing the impact of relevant aspects within a manufacturing workplace. So, what do we need to take into consideration to ensure that our manufacturing organization can achieve this?

Identify the aspects

There will be many aspects that affect the environmental performance of your business. Whether you work in manufacturing, services, or even the charity sector, many things that your staff do will have an environmental impact, even down to the decisions on how they travel to and from work, whether they use public transport – even the vehicles they choose to purchase for the commute to and from work. While we examined these in some detail in a previous blog post, we will now look specifically at the manufacturing process itself. Identifying the major environmental aspects is the critical starting point, and you can use this methodology:

  • Make an extensive list of all “inputs” to your manufacturing process; these should include items as diverse as raw material, electricity and utility costs, packaging, travel costs, and anything else you deem has an environmental impact.
  • Measure these accurately. Continual improvement is fundamental to the ISO 14001 standard, so having a firm grasp of your starting point is critical.
  • Formulate a plan to remove or improve these aspects, including how and when they will be assessed, using the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” model, ensuring that your objectives and performance is correctly communicated and shared with your team.

What now?

You will now have to work to reduce the impact of the environmental aspects you have identified, thereby lessening your impact on the environment. As mentioned above, you will depend on your review process to ensure that this is effective. So, is that all that needs to be done? Well, no. In a previous blog (see this article: Using internal audits to drive real improvement in ISO 14001:2015) we looked at how to use internal audits to drive improvements in your environmental management system, and this audit process can be used to identify aspects and impacts that you may not have considered, or even simply to examine your current process and extract further improvement. For example, in a previous manufacturing environment that was undergoing ISO 14001 implementation, our team made the following observations after a periodic internal audit:

  • Economies were made by trying to reduce the amount of cardboard used to ship manufactured product, but significant extra savings could be made by using miscellaneous incoming packaging to “void fill” the boxes that held the products, thereby ensuring a continual recycling of packaging equipment, a significant environmental aspect reduction and a bottom line consumable saving of $1500 per annum.
  • Recovery of components in the electronics industry: some years ago our team discovered at an internal audit when analyzing scrap that a process existed whereby expensive ball grid array chips could be recovered with a 95% success rate instead of purchasing new parts. This process saved up to $12,0000 per annum in a medium-sized electronics business, and the new process soon became industry standard throughout the sector and across the world.

None of these savings would have been realized without maintaining the discipline of reviewing, scoping risk, and internally auditing your environmental performance and aspects. Remember, environmental improvements generally go hand in hand with process improvements and reductions in waste, consumables, and energy. That means a benefit to the environment and your manufacturing operation’s bottom line.

A virtuous circle

So, we now have environmental aspects we have identified, assessed, and measured. We have decided on objectives and shared them with the team. We have formulated a plan to improve them, and have decided to use tools such as our internal audit process to support identification of supplementary aspects, and improvement of existing ones. In other terms, we have implemented the “Plan, Check, Do, Act”, which is at the heart of the ISO standard family, and have committed by our use of audit and review to ensure that we drive continual improvement in terms of our environmental performance. This can also be supported by the forthcoming ISO 14001:2015’s increased dependence on risk management, which must involve increased input from the top management team in terms of identifying and mitigating risk to the business, including risks that may affect the environment. If you can develop your EMS to deal with environmental aspects as outlined above, you should be in good shape in terms of benefiting both your bottom line and minimizing your impact on the planet we live in, and that we are duty bound to preserve for future generations.

Use this free Checklist of ISO 14001 Mandatory Documentation to help yourself with auditing the Environmental Management System.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.