Ensuring that environmental objectives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction

One of the key leadership requirements of the ISO 14001:2015 standard is the top management’s responsibility for ensuring that environmental policies and objectives are aligned with the strategic direction of the organization. This sounds reasonably straightforward, but what underpins this requirement, what does it really mean, and what steps must your organization take to ensure that it complies with the terms of the standard?

What does this mean and why is it important?

In the past, it may have been the case that some organizations could formulate environmental objectives that were easy to achieve, and while these objectives may have met the criteria set by the ISO 14001 standard at that time, perhaps they were of less benefit to the greater environment than if approached differently. For example, if a packaging firm had an environmental objective that was to limit the number of trips its vehicle made to the recycling site, that objective might be easy to achieve against a stated target. However, an objective such as the reduction of the amount of packaging waste generated may be more potentially beneficial to the environment if the organization operates 24 hours to supply many end users, but more difficult to achieve. So, while the first objective can be seen to be reasonably significant, the second has a potentially much larger environmental benefit if performance against it is managed efficiently.

Therefore, while the first aspect of transportation costs and environmental impact when travelling to a recycling center is valid, the second – reducing packaging waste in an organization that produces packaging 24 hours per day – can truly be said to be aligned with the “strategic direction” of the organization. In summary, reduction of waste over a continual 24-hour production cycle would realize profit increases to the organization and reduced damage to the environment on a much more significant scale than a reduction in one or two short recycling trips. If your organization’s strategic objectives are to increase profit and reduce environmental impact as significantly as possible, it is arguable that the second and more significant objective described meets with the organization’s strategic aims and objectives. So, now that we understand this, what can we do to ensure that our own organization’s environmental objectives and strategic direction are indeed aligned?

Aligning your objectives with your strategic direction

As mentioned above, this element of ISO 14001:2015 is part of the new and more prescribed requirements placed on organizational leaders and top management. It is therefore clear that the intention is to ensure that top management plays an active part in both defining strategic direction and environmental objectives, and ensuring that the two are related. Our previous article: How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015 can give you more advice on requirements now set for top management, and in this case, the element of aligning strategic direction with environmental objectives is as vital as any other major change to the ISO 14001:2015 standard.

Top management input is therefore clearly required to define the strategic way ahead for the organization, and likewise, to establish environmental objectives that match that strategic vision, and this cannot be truly established by anyone apart from top management. It is at this time that the opportunity exists in the management review process to examine the organization’s environmental aspects, redefine the environmental objectives, and ensure that these objectives run in parallel with the planned strategy for the company’s future. This “harmonized” approach can help all employees and stakeholders to work together at different levels while trying to attain shared goals.

For example, a haulage and delivery company I recently worked with were trying to align environmental objectives with strategic direction. Two environmental objectives were being discussed: one was improved planning of routes to make journeys more efficient, reduce emissions, and pass on the cost savings to make prices more competitive; and the second was to reduce environmental impact through the use of less energy in the company’s office. While both environmental objectives were deemed valid, it was clear that the first was in step with the company’s strategic direction – namely, less environmental impact, higher profits, and a greater market share due to being more competitive. The second could only deliver a smaller environmental and financial gain, and while important, this was not deemed to be in line with the organization’s “strategic direction.” So, given that, what benefits will this alignment bring?

Aligning environmental benefits with strategic direction – The benefits

The benefits of aligning these key elements in parallel as suggested by the ISO 14001:2015 standard should be clear and measurable. Firstly, the shared vision of strategic and environmental objectives that can be communicated to your organization can be a positive thing. Clear, related objectives that make sense to your employee base can be the foundation for improved performance. Secondly, the benefits from attaining these aligned objectives should be easily evident. Improved profits, reduced resource use, elimination of waste, and a measurably lesser impact on the environment will all result if your objectives are well crafted and aligned with your organization’s strategic direction. Ensure your top management are involved in the establishment, communication, and delivery of these shared objectives, empower your employees to make the changes, and you will see the benefits.

Our free online training  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations course can help you learn how to set environmental objectives in order to align them with your company’s strategic direction.

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.