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Do you really need a consultant for implementation of ISO 14001?

Once your organization has been convinced about the numerous benefits of implementing ISO 14001, the most significant factor comes into play, especially for top management: the cost of the project. I have good news for your business – hiring an expensive consultant is not the only option; these days, there are many alternatives for the implementation and maintenance of an Environmental Management System. Your organization will need to balance, as for any other project, the cost and benefits of each possibility. In this article I will help you to analyze if you really need a consultant for the implementation by learning more about the advantages of an ISO 14001 consultant, as well as those of other solutions you can try.

Knowledge makes the difference

Understanding all the ISO 14001 requirements, and realizing that it takes more than achieving regulatory and statutory compliance for an effective implementation, are crucial before taking the first steps of this complex project. To learn more about the requirements of ISO 14001:2015, you can take a look at this Clause-by-clause explanation of ISO 14001:2015.

One way to obtain this knowledge about Environmental Management Systems is by hiring a consultant, who would bring the necessary know-how to fulfill all of the ISO 14001 clauses. But, as we will discuss later, it is not the only possibility and, even more importantly, it isn’t necessarily the most beneficial in the long term for your organization.

Benefits and drawbacks of hiring an external ISO 14001 consultant

Seeking external help to conduct the implementation of ISO 14001 can have some advantages, but also some drawbacks, for an organization. Usually, this is done under a contractual agreement whereby the consultant is committed to finishing the project within a specific timeframe, and for a specific amount of compensation. You will need to evaluate the following elements to choose the best option for the implementation of the standard in your business:

1. Expertise

An organization contracts an external consultant looking for the skills that are not available in the organization. He/she will write the necessary documentation, train the employees, and advise your organization during the different phases of the implementation. In addition, the organization will obtain an outside perspective that can help to enhance specific processes in the organization, which the people involved are not always able to discover.

However, you need to realize that this expertise will just last for the time that the consultant is working in your organization. This means that once the hired consultant ends his/her contract, the knowledge will also leave the organization, so you will have to consider hiring him/her again to maintain the Environmental Management System or to pass a surveillance audit.

2. Costs

To avoid any pitfalls during the implementation many people prefer to spend a relatively large budget contracting an independent consultant than training their employees or looking for other kind of solutions. Nevertheless, there are many small and medium size organizations that cannot afford this big investment, so is there any other alternative to successfully implement the standard? I have good news, there are some other solutions where your organization will not have to spend such amount of money getting the same results, for instance, on-line solutions that guide and support you along the implementation steps. I will discuss these options later.

3. Time

Hiring a consultant will definitely help you to become certified much faster than if the organization decided to conduct the implementation on its own. In this sense, productivity will be one of the most remarkable advantages since you will get the expected outcomes within an agreed time. Also, employees won’t have to spend time learning the specifications of the standard and could keep doing their normal duties.

4. Confidentiality

A consultant will learn everything about your organizational processes, including any vulnerability or weaknesses within your business so he/she can become a real threat. Because this information is so sensible to your organization you must evaluate his/her professional background to make the right decision. Signing Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can always be good option in case you decide to hire a consultant and protect your organization from any disclose of confidential information.

5. Quality

When looking for an expert in ISO 14001 you will find many people that claim having a large experience implementing the standard, but in fact there are not so many who can successfully support and understand your organization. Having said this, I recommend you to carefully check his/her expertise implementing the standard and more specifically in your industry and sector.

Additionally, even if you hire the right consultant, you will need to keep track of his/her activities regarding the expected timeframes and promised deliverables. In this aspect, good communication is crucial to choose the most appropriate person so he/she can fully understand your problems and constraints.

6. Operational knowledge

Because an external consultant usually lacks the specific operational and cultural knowledge of your organization, you will need to spend time explaining its processes and activities. As a consequence, the workflow of your employees will be affected.

ISO 14001 consultant – Do you really need one?
Figure 1 – Example of the evaluation of a consultant need in an organization

Alternatives to a consultant

These days, there are many alternatives to contracting an external consultant if you decide that this isn’t worth it for your organization.

You can go for the Do-It-Yourself approach, facilitating the necessary resources, like expert literature (books and publications) and training for your employees, either in a classroom or online. For more information, see this course: ISO 14001:2015 Foundations Course.

Another idea is to obtain documentation templates that will provide you with the best practices during the implementation, bringing some advantages such as dealing with standard technicalities. In addition, sometimes this kind of solution offers expert online support that can help you through the project, ensuring its success. For more information, you can check out this ISO 14001 documentation toolkit.

No, you don’t really need a consultant

To sum up, the answer to the initial question is that you don´t really need a consultant for the implementation of ISO 14001. By skipping a consultant, you will not only save money, but also gain many benefits in the long term. Even though your employees will need to allocate more time for carrying out the project steps, they will feel more engaged in the process implementation because they will actually be part of it.

See this free white paper for more details: Implementing ISO 14001 with a consultant vs. DIY approach.

Advisera Iciar Gallo
Iciar Gallo
Iciar Gallo has more than 10 years of experience in business consulting training and auditing, including a number of management systems such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001. She has worked for several international companies and prestigious universities, leading projects in Spain, Panama, Venezuela, England, and more recently in the USA. She has also worked as a teacher of several courses on environmental standards and at AENOR and Advisera. Iciar holds an MSc degree in Environmental Management and Control from the Technical University of Madrid and is certified as an auditor of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.