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Would local authorities benefit from implementing ISO 14001?

In today’s society, local authorities and federal governments are both huge employers and huge consumers of goods and services. Your local authority today is likely to employ around 8-9% of the population in certain areas, and the organization’s delivery and quality of service will affect every single person living in that area, usually in a multitude of ways. It therefore stands to reason that an organization that has a massive and sometimes mobile workforce, is responsible for a vast array of diverse services, and also has multiple complex purchasing and partnering decisions to make can also have a potentially great environmental impact on the basis of these choices. So, given that ISO 14001 is a very desirable accreditation for organizations in many sectors, it seems strange that local authorities do not always embrace the process that can effect a hugely positive change in reducing their footprints and protecting the environment for future generations. So, how can this be done, and what considerations would need to be taken to assist this change in thinking?

Local authority activity – The environmental aspects and impact

Local authorities and federal governments deal with many different activities in our local communities. Among them may be things as diverse as education, social services, refuse collection, building and planning, delivery of cultural events, collection of taxes, health and social care, leisure facilities, and care for the elderly, disabled, and infirm. With a list as long and varied as this, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start when implementing change of any type. However, implementation of an ISO 14001 project can be undertaken in many ways, either from top to bottom or by one department at a time; regardless, the benefits should be constant:

  • Consumables: A review of utility consumption, printer paper and so on can usually yield significant pro rata savings. Educate every person within an 8000-strong workforce to think about their choices when printing, leaving lights on, and using water unnecessarily, and you will see an almost instant benefit.
  • Travel policy: Encouraging car sharing, cycle use, and efficient planning of vehicular resources can reduce both costs and emissions, and also provide health benefits in many cases.
  • Positive environmental purchasing policy: Given most local authorities purchase vast amounts of goods and services, there is almost always scope to ensure that environmental performance is one of the key drivers, along with cost and value for money. This has an excellent ripple effect in driving your supply chain towards improved environmental performance, as we considered in the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance.
  • Cost savings: In these cost-conscious times, implementing ISO 14001 doesn’t only make sense in environmental terms, but all of the initiatives above will save your organization money, which is always an attractive proposition.

Utilizing the ISO 14001:2015 staples, such as internal audit, corrective action, risk-based thinking, and acting on results of customer feedback will also help to ensure improved service delivery, reduced costs, and environmental benefits. But, what clauses of the 14001:2015 standard specifically can help us to achieve savings within a local authority or federal government?

14001:2015 clauses: Which ones can benefit our project?

Obviously, when implementing an ISO 14001 project, all of the clauses of the standard have equal and vital importance when seeking compliance and accreditation, but let us look specifically at some that may aid us in this case:

Clause 4. Context of the organization: This is vitally important within an authority that has so many stakeholders and whose actions affect so many “customers,” “suppliers,” and “partners.” Understanding what the “context of the organization” means to all different departments and their respective stakeholders will help your project to be effective.

Clause 5. Leadership: This will be quite important to an authority that may employ thousands of people in many diverse roles with varied targets and objectives. The correct leadership can not only direct the organization towards achievable objectives, but also demonstrate and reinforce the importance of these objectives to the organization, stakeholders, and wider environment.

Clause 6: Planning: This is critical, in conjunction with the two clauses mentioned above. If a project covering thousands of employees is to be successful, the planning phase must be well constructed and measured to fit the delivery that will provide the “glue” to join the other component parts together.

So, on that basis, what benefits can we expect to see, and where?

ISO 14001:2015: The benefits to your local authority

As touched upon above, the benefits of implementing an ISO 14001:2015 project are manifold:

  • Protecting the planet and preserving resources for future generations
  • Reducing costs for your authority and its taxpayers, increasing improved value for money and quality of service
  • Transformational value downward: encouraging your supply chain to be more environmentally conscious and effective has a massive effect and a wide reach. In turn, if your suppliers also implement this practice, your local authority can begin a chain of positive practice that eliminates waste and has a positive environmental effect over a wide area.
  • Reputational benefits: adoption of ISO 14001:2015 across a local authority brings kudos, good publicity, and can be morale boosting for employees and stakeholders.

So, it is easy to see that there are significant reasons why a local authority or federal government would want to pursue ISO 14001:2015 accreditation. While the sheer size and context of the organization would provide challenges, the principles remain the same and the benefits are also constant. Using the “plan, do, check, act” cycle and measuring and monitoring correctly, benefits can be almost instant and significant. Ensuring communication to your organization is effective and shaped to fit your requirements also plays a large part in ensuring objectives are understood and worked towards, and the basis for continual improvement exists. In 2013, over 300k organizations became ISO 14001 compliant worldwide; surely, it is only a matter of time before governments place this requirement on local authorities and its federal departments. But, as we can see from the above, the benefits are great: why wait until that day, when you can start now?

For more information on requirements of the standard, visit our  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations online course.

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.