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Would schools and colleges benefit from ISO 14001?

According to government statistics in 2015, the United States had in excess of 260,000 schools and colleges. Given the modern emphasis on education and the fact that the population continues to grow, this is only likely to expand in the future. It is, therefore, obvious that these organizations are huge consumers of energy and resources, and would, therefore, benefit from controls being in place, from both an internal cost and an environmental impact point of view. So, given that this is a sector that has largely been overlooked in terms of ISO 14001, what would the benefits be of implementing ISO 14001 in the educational sector?

Schools and colleges: What do they consume?

As mentioned above, the educational sector has been largely ignored in terms of environmental impact, but the environmental considerations and impact of schools and colleges can be great. Let’s look at areas of potential concern to understand where an ISO 14001 project could be of benefit:

  • Utilities: Colleges and schools are huge consumers of electricity and gas.
  • Water: With over a quarter of a million establishments in the U.S. alone, water consumption from these buildings will be significant.
  • Consumables: Again, educational establishments are huge purchasers – from everyday items like paper and printer cartridges, to IT equipment and furniture, sports equipment and facilities services for their buildings themselves – and each one potentially has its own environmental impact.
  • Food waste and general recycling: With the number of students onsite daily, it is clear that the amount of food and general waste will also be significant, and needs to be managed correctly.
  • Car and travel emissions: Again, the number of students travelling to campus marks this out as a potentially significant environmental aspect.

In the last five years, there have been a number of colleges that have started their own “sustainability programs” to help reduce their respective environmental impacts, but compliance with a known standard like ISO 14001 could be of great benefit in reducing this collectively huge environmental impact from the sector. So, what benefits could ISO 14001 bring, and how could this be done?

ISO 14001 in schools and colleges: How and why?

An ISO 14001 implementation in a school or college would obviously need to meet the same requirements as any other, and require the formation of an Environmental Policy, which you can read more about in the article How to write an environmental policy. Identifying the environmental aspects that affect the organization and managing these accordingly is generally the area where the biggest benefits can be seen, and we have listed some of these above; so, let’s consider how these can be managed to yield the greatest benefit:

  • Utilities: Establish a strategic plan regarding use of electricity and other utilities. In many cases, a large percentage of electricity can be saved by ensuring that classrooms, corridors, and other areas are not using electricity when empty. Consider energy-efficient lightbulbs and sensors in all areas to prevent unnecessary consumption. Consider the possibility of solar panels to supplement or even replace electricity use. Consider water consumption, and encourage people to use sparingly by educating with posters and email campaigns to students.
  • Consumables: Formulate a policy that deals with “best practice” to reduce consumption. Ensure double-sided printing is utilized, color printing is avoided where possible, and printing cartridges are recycled. Educate the students. Use environmental criteria to supplement your purchasing policy – ensure that it is understood that environmental considerations are taken into account when purchasing, and inform and educate your supply chain to enable them to meet these criteria. Read more about this subject in the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance.
  • Food, waste, and general recycling: Again, huge environmental savings can be made if you can educate your people and supply chain. Work with your food suppliers to minimize waste and ensure that what is left is recycled as intelligently as possible, and that as little goes to the landfill as possible. Ensure plastic bottles are recycled – many students have them in their hands at all times! Again, education and communication of these policies, strategies, and objectives can play a massive part in improving outcomes.
  • Emissions: Encourage car sharing where possible, as well as use of public transport, and look at initiatives to provide conditions to cycle to work – many state governments provide tax allowance for this and it can be a major health, environmental, and physical benefit simultaneously.

Planning these strategies and programs within your ISO 14001 implementation can bring many cost and environmental benefits to your school and college, so is that where it ends?

Positive outcomes – now and in the future

Implementing ISO 14001 can bring all of the stated benefits to your balance sheet and the environment, but a well-managed implementation can achieve more than these relatively short-term results. In the article How to perform communication related to the EMS we examined the communication aspect. If you include your student base in this vital element, you should see results quickly. Environmental issues are very topical, so as well as mitigating your current risks and meeting objectives, you have the chance to educate and equip the student base of today and work base of tomorrow with the knowledge and awareness to help prevent unnecessary damage to the planet. If that isn’t a reason for implementing ISO 14001 in schools and colleges, what is?

Why not use our free  ISO 14001 Foundation Course to enhance your knowledge of the standard?

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.