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Case study: How to implement ISO 14001 principles in a sales team

As environmental awareness is greater in modern society than at any time in the past, the focus is on all major organizations to reduce their impacts and carbon footprints, no matter what sector a company may operate in. Many sales organizations have a greater environmental impact than they realize, and therefore, developing an EMS (Environmental Management System) certified against ISO 14001:2015 becomes a necessity through stakeholder pressure.

One sales organization I worked with recently was new to the principles of ISO 14001:2015, but after purchasing the standard they became reasonably familiar with its objectives and ethos, but had difficulty with one element. After deciding to implement ISO 14001:2015, they discovered that the task of establishing and monitoring meaningful KPIs (key performance indicators) that truly measured the environmental performance of the business was one they found very difficult, and despite some long discussions with project leaders and internal employees, the “why” and “how” of establishing these indicators became the subject of heated discussion with no agreement reached. So, how did we go about clarifying this element and ensuring that the team shared the vision and objectives intended by the ISO 14001:2015 standard?

Establishing environmental KPIs in a sales organization

Explaining the “why” of establishing KPIs to this sales organization was easier than deciding “how.” Looking at clause 9 of the standard, “Performance evaluation,” and then discussing how “continual improvement” in clause 10.3 was judged, soon illustrated that just the same as in the sales sector, the environmental performance of the organization could only be evaluated by reviewing figures that were gathered consistently. It was therefore acknowledged that these KPIs would take rank along with sales and financial performance measures, given the importance of the environmental performance to the business and its stakeholders in recent times. In other words, this top management team had decided at this point that the environmental objectives were to be aligned with the strategic objectives of the business as a whole, an element you can find out more about in the previous article: Ensuring that environmental objectives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction. So, we now could agree on why we needed them, but what should they be?

Defining KPIs logically for your organization

Establishing environmental KPIs for businesses in more traditional sectors such as engineering or construction tends to be easier for the simple reason that waste can often be physical and obvious, and the cost implications are there for all to see. Educating the sales organization and its top management team was more difficult, but began with one “brainstorming session” where the following key questions were set:

  • Does your organization have an impact on the environment?
  • Does your organization consume utilities? (water, gas, electricity)
  • Do your sales people travel for business?
  • Is your organization based in an office?
  • Do you think you are affected by any legislation in environmental terms?
  • What is the level of awareness among employees on their contribution to the environmental protection concept?

On investigating the actual answers to these questions, as opposed to the company’s perspective, it was found that we were partway towards establishing meaningful measures of our environmental impacts, enabling us to mitigate and improve them.

  • Eventually, it was decided that the organization did have an impact, and therefore an environmental policy was required to govern and manage this.
  • Utilities were indeed consumed, and at an alarming rate – given that no one had ever measured and analyzed this. This was driven down with a Responsible Utility User Policy where improvements could be driven and the impact of the actions taken could be recorded. Initiatives like more efficient office lighting and solar panels were also investigated.
  • Business travel was constant and undertaken without planning. The formation of a travel policy where Skype, phone calls, VoIP, conference calls, use of public transport, and car share were all integrated, reducing the organization’s environmental impact and travel costs by 27% in the first year.
  • The organization was indeed based in an office and had never considered the environmental impact that everyday activities caused. Whether using computers, printing, or having lunch, there are normally areas to identify and mitigate waste. The article How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001 can assist you with this, while considerable savings can be made by managing your supply chain correctly, as you can see in the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance.
  • Every organization is affected by environmental compliance in its region, and a representative was elected to research, maintain, and help communicate the legislative requirements.
  • Continual introduction and refreshment trainings for the employees are important to maintain awareness for keeping adopted KPIs on the desired levels. KPIs related to trainings are set as “number of hours of environmental training per head per annum.”

ISO 14001:2015 – The selling point

The sales organization in question quickly became more environmentally aware, and hence, more environmentally efficient via the ISO 14001:2015 certification process; however, over and above meeting stakeholder needs, there was one major benefit. In the previous article How to get management buy in for an ISO 14001 project” we looked at the key selling points for your management team to undertake such a project. As mentioned above, the establishment of an EMS and the actions taken to improve performance resulted in significant cost savings in “year 1,” with the planned initiatives for “year 2” promising both the required continual improvement and yet more financial gains. With the dual benefits of environmental and financial gains, it is little wonder that sales organizations are increasingly turning to ISO 14001:2015 to satisfy stakeholders.

Why not use our free online training  ISO 14001 Foundations Course to learn more about ISO 14001:2015 in order to apply it to your sales organization?

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.