3 key challenges of ISO 14001 implementation in an SME

Many SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) are now recognizing the multiple benefits that having an ISO 14001:2015-certified EMS (Environmental Management System) can have on both the performance and reputation of the business, as well as benefits to the environment as a whole. Despite this, there are specific challenges that remain for SMEs in particular; so, what are they, and what can measures be taken to overcome them?

The three challenges for SMEs

Whether your organization is a startup, an SME, or a large established business, there are many benefits that having an ISO 14001:2015-certified EMS can bring to your business. In a previous article, How can a startup benefit from ISO 14001?, we looked at the benefits from startups, especially when you can begin your EMS implementation in the very early days of a business by integrating the processes and methods required for compliance into your daily routine. If, however, your business has reached SME status, things may be different. It may be that you are still not financially secure, or that while your organization is expanding, there are not always funds available for projects such as ISO 14001:2015. Therefore, there are three main challenges that seem to surface during every SME ISO 14001:2015 project. Let us look at them in some detail, and describe how they can be approached and resolved:

1) Cost – we can’t afford it! The cost of a project has implications for any business, whether large or small. While there will be an initial cost to establishing an ISO 14001:2015-compliant EMS, the benefits must be considered, like any other project. Would your organization refuse to invest money in the sales team, or in advertising in the hope of winning new business? Like any of these processes, having an ISO 14001:2015-certified EMS can give you an edge and win new business, as well as saving cost on waste and incorrect use of resources. The potential cost of fines and penalties due to non-compliance is also a significant factor here, where the cost of compliance is significantly less than the cost of any penalty levied against an organization who fails to comply – or the resulting damage to its reputation. Another previous article, How to ensure your ISO 14001:2015 implementation is profitable, should help convince the SME top management that ISO 14001 is a cost-effective project, while How much does ISO 14001 implementation cost? can provide some guidelines on what to expect in terms of cost.

2) Time – we don’t have any! ISO 14001:2015 is perceived by many SMEs as a project that will use up lots of employee time that should be spent on vital daily activities that most SMEs depend on to survive and flourish. This isn’t strictly true. While there are areas of training, knowledge, and competence that may need to be worked on for many employees, ISO 14001:2015 is about the processes within your organization relating to environmental matters, and how your organization chooses to use them. For example, when your purchasing team make a purchase, if you have an EMS that uses only certified or accredited suppliers, the purchase will not take any longer than an organization who will buy from any supplier – however, the benefits will be seen nonetheless. You can learn more about this in the article How to drive your supply chain to ISO 14001:2015 compliance, but the principles will remain the same within your SME after the initial “knowledge-gaining” process. The decisions made can be guided by the processes of your EMS, and your initial time investment in employees will yield long-term benefits for your company and the environment.

3) We don’t have the resources and/or knowledge! Naturally, this is related to the “cost” element above. In a previous article named Where does ISO 14001 fit into your business? we asked just that question, and this may prove a good starting point for any SME considering ISO 14001 implementation. While a consultant may be a viable (but expensive) option for your SME, there are many online tools and services that can be used to improve employee knowledge and guide your workforce towards readiness for ISO 14001 certification. In the article Is the management representative still the best option to coordinate the EMS according to ISO 14001:2015? we examined that while the appointment of a single management representative for your EMS is no longer mandatory, it may still be a good option for your organization. Perhaps appointing an environmental “champion” who studies the 14001:2015 standard – it is critical that you buy it – and helps implement your new processes, along with help from online sources, could be the most cost-effective implementation for your business. Either way, improving your employee knowledge base is easier in the digital world that we live in now than it has ever been before.

Is ISO 14001:2015 right for your SME?

SMEs are huge contributors to the world economy, and likewise have a huge collective impact on the greater environment. Whether your SME is pressured to meet environmental criteria by the market it operates in, by its customers, or by a desire to improve from within, the reasons to implement ISO 14001 are great, as we considered in 6 key benefits of ISO 14001. Given that the SME market is one key sector where environmental improvements and changes in attitude can be of great benefit to this generation and the generations after, it is vital that your SME finds the resources and the desire to make ISO 14001 a priority. Why not decide to be a leader, as opposed to a follower, and start your journey towards ISO 14001:2015 certification today?

To see other benefits of ISO 14001, download this free white paper: How can ISO 14001 help your business grow?

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.