ISO 14001 Case study: Practical approach for EMS communication

Communication is one of the most critical aspects of operating an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). When communication is ineffective or even missing, performance can soon suffer, as both strategic and project level direction can be lost due to failure of employees to share understanding of both the agreed way forward as well as EMS objectives. In an ISO 14001 certified system, there are some specific communication requirements that we looked at in our previous article How to perform communication related to the EMS, and while these mandatory parts need to be fulfilled, as ever, there are certain elements to pay particular attention to in real life. Recently, I worked with an organization that faced some of these challenges when trying to communicate some details of a major internal initiative within its EMS, and the importance of communication quickly became evident. So, what can we learn from this instance, and what communication elements would it be advantageous to emphasize for future reference?

Why communication can make or break a project in your EMS

The organization in question decided to establish an initiative to reduce consumable use amongst staff, thereby lessening the organization’s environmental impact and seeking to find continual improvement, which you can read more about in our previous article How to achieve continual improvement of your EMS according to ISO 14001. This initiative had clear definitions, but was complicated by the fact that 50% of the staff worked remotely; therefore, there was some confusion about questions individuals had regarding recycling of paper, recycling of printer cartridges, acquisition of consumables in an efficient manner, and so on. It therefore quickly became evident that although a process needed to be defined and drafted, the communication, review and modification of this changing process would be the key to the success of the project. Should the communication fail, the project would either fail or prove less efficient and the positive environmental impact would fail to materialize. So, what steps could be taken to ensure that this did not happen?

Making communication work within your EMS: Some practical tips

This organization discovered that the more complex a project or process may be, the more important the level and quality of communication became. The involvement of leadership, which we examined in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015, also quickly became apparent. It stands to reason that when your organizational leaders take the lead in communicating a policy or change, then the employees’ perception of the importance of the project automatically increases, giving the project an increased chance of success. Therefore, when drawing up a communication plan for this new process, the following actions were taken:

  1. Communication of the reasoning behind the new process, the objectives, and the expectations of individuals’ involvement was handled through a conference call, with all available employees present.
  2. A follow-up email summary of the above conference call was sent out by the organizational leaders both to capture any employees not present, and to give all employees a written explanation, which would give all staff more time to digest the information presented.
  3. A process document was sent out to all staff. On receipt and reading, all employees were required to electronically sign the document to provide proof of understanding, and also add any comments or suggestions.
  4. All comments and suggestions were collated and reviewed and process changes made where applicable, with the changes to the process document communicated back and acknowledged through the same electronic signing channel.
  5. A “helpline” number was established for 7 days to ensure that any staff questions over process anomalies could be answered, and giving a point of contact for queries over acquiring or disposal of consumable and local recycling options. This line was directed to an employee with EMS responsibility, who also had experience of mapping the original process.
  6. After 7 days, the CEO sent a circular email thanking all staff for cooperation, feedback, and suggestions, declaring that the process was now finalized and underway. The objectives, measurement periods, and establishment of a KPI (key performance indicator) was also communicated, and the initiative formally commenced.

It was found that this process was implemented smoothly, the staff’s understanding of the “why and how” seemed to be excellent, and the KPIs in time supported this. Other projects that had been approached with a lesser or less well-planned level of communication were not so effective, however. So, what lessons can we learn from these two outcomes?

Communication: Ensuring an effective outcome

It became clear to me that three elements stood above all others when ensuring the effectiveness of communication of issues within the EMS: leadership involvement, quality of communication, and ensuring a loop exists to verify, improve, and execute the process. Concentrate on these matters, and you have a greater chance of your communication being effective; disregard them, and your results and subsequent performance against objectives will suffer. Ultimately, the future of the planet and its environment can be affected positively or negatively by the success of your EMS, its initiatives, and the communication related to it.

Download this free presentation: Why ISO 14001? to obtain better awareness 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.