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Using ISO 14001 to manage and reduce waste in the electronics industry

Many organizations involved in the manufacture, assembly, or disassembly of equipment using electronic components will be aware of the advantages of having an ISO 14001-certified EMS (Environmental Management System). With waste in this industry – resources, energy, and components – being expensive, and sometimes hazardous, it makes sense to be aware of wastage and what can be done to prevent it. In the previous article, 7 steps in handling waste according to ISO 14001, we looked at how to categorize and handle waste, and this can certainly help us, particularly when understanding what is dangerous and what is not. However, when it comes to the electronics industry, what things can we do to help us understand how to manage waste and realize financial savings at the same time?

Identifying waste in your electronics process

In one of our previous articles, Using 14001 KPIs to reduce waste in manufacturing, we examined how using key performance indicators within an EMS could help drive down waste and increase profit. This is no different in the electronics industry, where we can split the areas of potential waste into three categories, as follows:

  1. Supply of raw materials: Whether your organization buys raw materials, or finished goods where you intend to perform a “value add” task before selling on, it stands to reason that you can probably identify waste here if you look in the correct places. If you are certified according to ISO 14001, then you have an obligation to try and ensure that your supply chain manages waste efficiently. Also, our article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance can help you identify and reduce waste and cost here.
  2. Production: This is probably the element of your product’s lifecycle that you have most control over. From unnecessary machinery running, to errors through lack of training or knowledge leading to material wastage, to non-conforming product causing the need to rework and the consumption of extra resources, the opportunities for identifying waste in your production area will probably be great. In some organizations, identifying this potential waste as an environmental aspect in itself can lead to increased focus and the collective will to reduce this drain on the environment, and on your organization’s profit margin. If you categorize your consumables accurately and measure your outputs from the production process, it is easy to calculate a relationship between the two and begin an initiative to drive the waste down. In the previous article, How to get management buy-in before ISO 14001 implementation, we looked at how to sell the project to the top management team, and illustrating this direct relationship between reducing an environmental impact and saving money is often one of the most effective examples.
  3. Post-production activities: ISO 14001:2015 states that an organization must be responsible for the whole lifecycle of its product, and this is one of the key changes in the 2015 version of the standard. Therefore, the planning that is done for any recycling, refurbishment, or disposal of a product can have a huge effect on the environment, whether positive or negative. Consider the number of televisions and computers used in today’s society, and consider the effect on the environment if there were no rules governing the disposal of these. It is, therefore, critical to the environment that every organization considers the material going into its product carefully, increases its recyclability wherever possible, provides return or recycling arrangements where possible and applicable, and complies with all legislation regarding the handling and disposal of all goods returned. This is where the ISO 14001 standard’s requirements on upkeep of legislation are critical, as many parts of the globe subscribe to the principles of the WEEE (Waste of Electronic and Electrical Equipment) Directive, an EU law that governs how recycled electronic material is measured at government levels. Knowing the legislation in your region and complying with it is vital to your organization’s compliance with ISO 14001.

Reducing environmental impact and cost in your electronics process

As stated above, if you can reduce waste in your electronics process, you can almost certainly reduce cost and increase your profit margins. Make sure you understand the terms of the standard and ensure that the reduction of waste plays a part in top management’s thinking when the environmental objectives are considered. In some cases, it is considered good practice to establish a process team to measure waste and drive improvements that reduce waste, as well as ensuring that your organization meets its legislative requirements in terms of collecting and disposing – all tasks that help the environment, cut costs, and ensure that no fines can be levied on you due to non-compliance with legislation. In a recent article, Ensuring that environmental objectives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction, we considered how these objectives align with the company’s strategic plan; and, with decreased waste giving an increased profit margin, this objective would certainly fit the bill. Whether you decide to use an improvement team, a monthly forum, or simply engage your employees one by one for suggestions, all but the most efficient electronics companies can identify and reduce areas of waste, both in the supply chain and internally. With the electronics industry and its products having a higher-than-average impact on today’s environment, finding and eliminating this waste can be a positive thing for all stakeholders.

Why not use our free online training  ISO 14001 Foundations course to improve your knowledge of the ISO 14001 standard, and apply it to managing waste?

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.