Case study: Implementing ISO 14001 in an airport

Modern-day airports can be considered “high risk” sectors and have a significant impact on the environment, so it is no surprise that pressure is being brought to bear from special interest groups and government bodies in many countries to reduce this impact accordingly, with ISO 14001:2015 being the obvious choice to manage and control performance. These were exactly the external pressures that meant ISO 14001:2015 certification had to be attained by a small UK airport lately, and in this case study we will look at the key elements of this implementation and the resulting benefits.

ISO 14001 – Elements unique to an airport

It was quickly determined at the start of the implementation that there was a set of unique circumstances that were related to an ISO implementation in an airport environment, and a wide and complex set of initiatives that required a great deal of work and cooperation to achieve them. The same clauses have to be satisfied in an airport 14001 implementation as any other business, but there were some elements of the standard that needed specific attention, and these are worth examining:

1) Context of the organization – In the article Determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001:2015, we looked in detail at the new requirements of the standard in terms of this clause. Defining this context, and also understanding the needs of interested parties – examined in the article How to determine interested parties according to ISO 14001 – was a huge task. Firstly, a “scope of the EMS (Environmental Management System)” project was undertaken, identifying stakeholders such as employees, neighbors, shareholders, local businesses, federal government and regional government, support staff and contractors at home and overseas, suppliers, and customers. This took the shape of several forums involving representatives of these stakeholders to allow the scope of the EMS, the context of the organization, and a list of interested parties to be defined.

2) Controlling legislation – This was a key task for the organization. Complying with legislation is critical in any EMS, but keeping up to date and complying with changing regulations is vital in an industry as heavily regulated as air travel. In the case of the airport, a specific Compliance Officer was appointed, and her role not only included keeping abreast of regulations, but also lots of stakeholder engagement – whether with shareholders, airlines themselves, governmental or environmental bodies – to ensure that legislation was not only current, but that implementation was achievable and no adverse effects were felt by any of the stakeholder groups as a result.

3) Identifying environmental aspects – In the article ISO 14001:2015: How to set criteria for environmental aspect evaluation, we considered environmental aspects and their evaluation. While many significant aspects may exist for an airport the same as any other business, there was found to be a unique breadth of aspects attached to the airport environment; from massive fuel use by the airlines, to vast amounts of food and packaging waste generated by airlines and the organizations within the terminals, to large utility and water usages in the terminals, significant aspects were seemingly everywhere. The airport appointed an appropriately qualified “Energy Reduction Officer,” who worked with all stakeholders, including airlines and food restaurants, to produce a month-over-month reduction in consumptions. From more energy-efficient lighting and sensors in areas of the terminal, to working with the airlines to try and reduce aircraft idling times, to trying to ensure restaurants used recyclable packaging wherever possible, this role involved working with various shareholders to produce results that required review and improvement month over month.

4) Ensuring and maintaining competence and awareness – This was a challenge. Monthly environmental bulletins were released, employee forums held, and each contractor signed up to have an environmental communication in their respective staff meetings. An electronic signature system was devised for contractors to prove they were aware of all important environmental elements and any changes communicated that were vital to the operation and improvement of the EMS. While this proved to be a challenging element of the EMS duties, it was found that integrating an environmental element into everyone’s daily tasks – and orientations for all new employees, whether airport personnel or contractors – meant that an adequate level of awareness and competence could be achieved and sustained. You can learn more details from the article ISO 14001 competence and awareness: Why are they important for your EMS?

5) Operational control and emergency response – Operational control saw positive changes from implementing ISO 14001, including improvements to internal processes, achievement of objectives, and control of outsourced processes. Emergency response is also a critical factor for sites such as an airport, and greater input into and control of that process was gained from implementing the clauses of the standard. The article How to satisfy emergency response requirements in ISO 14001:2015 can help you with more information on this legal requirement.

Ensuring environmental benefits for an airport

As with any EMS, measuring and monitoring performance is the foundation of allowing actions to be taken that can guarantee continual improvement, and the airport was no different. Reductions were made in electricity consumed, food and consumables waste, and a new environmental focus was obvious in the culture of employees and contractors. Most organizations will look at the cost-versus-benefit element of such a project, and while the airport’s initial costs were significant – including employing some new staff members – it was estimated that these were recovered inside 18 months, making the project profitable from there onwards.

Given that waste reduction normally means cost savings, shareholders and stakeholders in individual internal business units soon saw increases in profit, and again, this meant that the project was viewed as a success. Given the reputational benefits that ISO 14001 certification also brings, senior management and board members were also delighted with the publicity and the outcome, demonstrating that even in a project of this size, profitability and environmental benefits can fit comfortably together.

Use this free online training ISO 14001 Foundations course to help your understanding of how to implement this standard in any kind of an 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.