Why mining companies should obtain ISO 14001 certification

Mining companies impact their surroundings with varying degrees of severity, whether adverse or beneficial. Environmental impacts must be controlled, and significant environmental impacts are avoided or mitigated in direct relation to a company’s ability to manage environmental aspects. According to ISO 14001, environmental aspects are those elements of a company’s activities, products, and services that can interact with its surroundings. This is where ISO 14001 certification makes a difference, both in how effectively a company manages environmental aspects, and how others perceive their effectiveness.

Environmental impacts of mining companies

A mining company’s environment is defined by its immediate and global surroundings ‑ air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelation. Its environmental management needs to extend to that same scope of responsibility.

For example, mining activities use significant amounts of energy for transporting employees, equipment, ore, and wastes. They also need power for ventilation and refrigeration, power drilling, and metallurgical operations. Even domestic and administrative duties in offices and for onsite accommodations require energy and power.

Mine wastes such as tailings and rock debris are sources of contamination and environmental impact. Mine effluents, runoffs, and airborne emissions are additional impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Miners themselves are targets for detriments to their health, such as smoke, toxic atmospheres, inhaled contaminants or irritants, and life-threatening illnesses like asbestosis and black lung disease.

According to ISO 14001, your organization’s environmental performance is only as good as your ability to manage your environmental aspects. Measurable performance indicators for mining companies include energy and water consumption, wastes and waste streams, air and water quality, noise levels, first-aid and lost-time incidents, and number of reported environmental incidents.

You can measure how well you manage your environmental aspects by setting measurable goals and comparing your success and failure against your Environmental Policy, objectives, targets, customer expectations, and regulatory requirements.

Case study: Implementation of ISO 14001 results in reduction in waste disposal and energy

An assessment of two major gold mining companies in Ghana illustrates what you can gain by monitoring your environmental performance. Reported in 2013 and covering 4-7 years of environmental data from before and after, this assessment for ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) certification found measurable improvements in selected performance indicators. For example, segregating wastes based on type, contamination, and best available treatment mechanism or disposal method reduced costs and mitigated pollution emissions. A conscientious decision made to use energy more wisely resulted in removing and replacing inefficient light bulbs and other electronic gadgets with more energy-saving designs. These energy conservation actions decreased energy consumption and overall energy costs, in line with their ISO 14001 Environmental Policy.

Significant increases in number of environmental incident reports by each company was noted. One company’s number of reports doubled, while another’s grew more than tenfold initially, with numbers trending upward for both. Contrary to conventional negative thinking about number of reports, this demonstrates increased awareness by personnel of their organization’s environmental responsibility. Identifying problems in one’s environmental performance allows for taking corrective action to improve their environmental management.

Environmental responsibility is not only ethical, but necessary

Unreported environmental insults and incidents are a threat to any company’s success and increase its liability. Mining companies worldwide share a history of negligence and environmental degradation by some, often with little or no transparency for investigation or public scrutiny. Being environmentally responsible is not only ethical, but necessary in sustaining any mining operation in today’s and tomorrow’s markets.

Measurable improvements in performance demonstrate commitment, competence, and capability in meeting environmental targets and environmental objectives. An ISO 14001 EMS provides proven guidance and tools for improved environmental performance that contributes to economic gains and fosters accountability.

Demonstrating sound environmental performance is one of many values miners and mining enterprises get from an ISO 14001 EMS. It shows that you have a documented systematic process to control and influence your products and activities, which impact or can impact your immediate or global surroundings. An ISO 14001 EMS provides objective evidence that you are implementing an Environmental Policy available to stakeholders and based on specific objectives and improvement targets. A certified ISO 14001 system provides for periodic audits and management reviews of system performance, tracking of corrective actions, and a commitment to continual improvement.

Benefits of ISO 14001 EMS certification

There are important differences between uncertified EMS and those certified to ISO 14001 by an accredited body. Certification is performed by an independent registrar accredited for competence in an industry, such as mining, and requires third-party audit. Both of these provide public demonstration of your commitment to being an environmental steward with a transparent and systematic approach to managing environmental performance. Adopting an uncertified environmental program, however, is an internal action without such a demonstration and hard to communicate to external stakeholders such as customers, clients, communities, or regulators.

Benefits that miners and mining enterprises have found from implementing a certified ISO 14001 EMS include:

  • ISO 14001 registration for market recognition, and stakeholder and regulatory appreciation
  • Reduced environmental risk and liability, an advantage over competitors
  • Cost savings through waste reduction, recycling, energy and water conservation
  • Effective management practices to achieve and improve environmental performance
  • Continual, progressive improvement to reap economic benefits
  • Increased recognition of environmental issues for timely prevention
  • Awareness of individual roles and environmental protection responsibilities
  • Improved personnel awareness of sharing environmental management responsibility
  • Lower insurance costs; lesser fines or fines avoided altogether.

Also check out the article 5 Tips to Build a Positive Environmental Culture in a Company to see how you can show your employees the importance of the EMS.

ISO 14001 for sustainable and competitive mining

It is a competitive advantage for any mining company to pursue and achieve ISO 14001 EMS certification. Popular and globally accepted, this voluntary, consensus-based EMS provides a tool belt of practical performance management measures for use at every level of your organization.

Effective environmental management means an educated and purposeful awareness of threats to performance, problem areas, and weaknesses in order to avoid or encourage a particular decision or action. A certified ISO 14001 EMS is a preferred framework for sustainable mining in a healthy environment.

To learn the usual steps for putting in the place your Environmental Management System in your business, check the ISO 14001:2015 Implementation diagram.