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How to perform communication related to the EMS

The ISO 14001 standard is specific about how an organization should manage its communications, stating that a procedure should be established for both internal and external communications, and mentioning that a method shall be “established and implemented” should the organization decide to communicate details of its significant environmental aspects externally. Therefore, it is relatively easy to see that communication plays a major part in the management of the Environmental Management System (EMS), both in terms of inward- and outward-facing issues. After all, if your company is a large organization and has an environmental aspect that would have a huge impact if mismanaged (think coal mines, nuclear plants, chemical plants), then it is fairly obvious that a degree of input and cooperation needs to take place between the organization itself and stakeholders, as well as effective internal and external communication. So, how does an organization go about getting the balance right, while also conforming to the ISO 14001 standard?

Communication: Getting it right

It is a good idea to establish two communication logs on the EMS, one for external and one for internal communications. It can be good practice to hold a copy of each communication and give them reference numbers, so that the communication copy can be held on the system and referenced on the logs by date, details, and method of communication. As ever, logging of signatures to evidence delivery of communication is always good practice and will be useful when the auditor visits. But, given that the internal and external communications can hold a greatly different weight of importance, is it critical who delivers communications on behalf of your organization?

Communication: Who should deliver it internally?

There are two aspects to consider here for your EMS: the responsibilities of communication, and the new increased focus on leadership in the forthcoming 2015 version of the 14001 standard. In my opinion, although a management representative is not mandatory for the forthcoming 14001:2015 standard, it makes great sense to appoint a nominated person to deal with the subject of communication, for the avoidance of doubt. This nominated person should be responsible for the management, delivery, and logging of communication with respect to the EMS. Great care should still be taken over decisions regarding who delivers what internally and externally. It is critical that your employees continue to understand the importance of compliance and improvement versus the standard, and your organization’s leadership must illustrate that through leading by example as well as playing a key part in decision making and strategic planning. An equally key part can be shown by delivering vital internal communications; therefore, if this task is shared internally between the nominated person and top management, then the correct balance between functionality and leadership can be established.

Communication: Who should deliver it externally?

External communication is one area where top management should demonstrate increased leadership. Given that the top team will have had an increased role in the risk management and strategic planning processes, it makes sense that your organization will want to add weight and gravitas to external communication regarding environmental aspects to your stakeholders by ensuring they are delivered by the people at the top of your organization. It is highly likely, if you have an aspect that may affect your wider community, that your top management has already been involved in discussions, meetings, and risk management with your stakeholders and the wider community, so it will make great sense for external communication to be largely delivered by your top team. Remember, in these cases you may want to consider how your organization is viewed in terms of public relations, and using your top team to forge relationships with stakeholders and the wider community shows not only a commitment to environmental care and improvement, but is good for relationships in general, and if covered by the press can prove to be very good publicity. In my experience of most organizations, a member of the top team is usually happy to communicate good news, but the nominated person may be left to communicate more mundane information internally! But, please remember to log these events for your EMS.

Communication: What is the goal?

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all internal and external stakeholders are correctly informed to ensure your EMS is compliant, and continual improvement can be established. Clear, concise, and accurate communication is a fundamental component of this, and should be treated as such.  As long as communication issues are controlled by the responsible person and formally recorded on the EMS, then the top management team can make decisions regarding the frequency and content of these communications. This will ensure that the organization is seen to be taking its communication duties seriously. If the nominated person can ensure that this happens, all stakeholders can be well informed, educated, and happy with the information flow. That situation can only benefit all parties, and ultimately the environment.

Enroll in this free online training: ISO 14001 Foundations Course to learn more on how to perform communication.

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.