Examples of ISO 14001 objectives based on the different company sizes

When a company has an EMS (Environmental Management System), whether certified to ISO 14001:2015 or not, its effectiveness can only truly be measured by its performance against the objectives that have been defined. It therefore stands to reason that understanding the effectiveness of your management system can be affected by the relevance and accuracy of your objectives. It could be possible for your organization to believe that performance is good, when in fact the objectives may not be relevant, aggressive enough or perhaps not even directly related to the real core activities of your business. So, how can a company ensure that ISO 14001 objectives are relevant and truly help to drive improved environmental performance?

Linking objectives to your core activities

Recently I took part in a supplier audit where the organization in question was going through an ISO 14001:2015 implementation with the help of an external consultant. The organizational leaders were making suggestions on possible objectives for their EMS, despite only having just begun the implementation process. This led me to think: until you understand your organizational activities and their environmental impact, you cannot truly define meaningful objectives for your EMS. For example, many companies have a “carbon footprint” measure, as constant travelling can have a large environmental impact. This is managed through using conference and video calling, and applications like TeamViewer to limit the impact and reduce costs, as we examined in the article 6 Key Benefits of ISO 14001. This measure can be used for most organizations, but let’s examine some more specific examples of what objectives may fit to a particular EMS:

Legislation compliance. This is mandatory within ISO 14001, but should this be an EMS objective? This could be said to depend greatly on the sector in which a business operates. Let us consider two businesses at opposite ends of the scale, but within a close geographical distance – a fast food restaurant and a nuclear power plant. Failure to comply with legislation would have a far greater impact on the environment and stakeholders for the power station than it would for a fast food restaurant. With prevention preferred to cure, it is easy to see that an objective of becoming 100% compliant by reacting to legislation after its release would be critical to safeguarding the environment and surroundings. This objective may be less important to a fast food restaurant, which may find more value in an objective of recycling packaging and removing single-use plastic from its supply chain, despite also being aware that legislation must be met.

Reducing waste. Let us consider a nationwide restaurant business on one side and a local restaurant on another. While reduction of waste is desirable for any food business, it is easy to imagine the multiple environmental benefits that reducing waste can bring to a bigger business. It also means saving money and the possibility that the extra food can be redirected in to benefit others. Although this may be hugely beneficial to the environment with respect to the reduced impact, it will be less so for the smaller organization. Within the smaller business’s operating context, an objective which rationalizes their home delivery program may yield more environmental benefits than reducing a very small amount of food waste.

Responsible purchasing. Again, imagine the environmental savings that could be made if a nationwide car rental company decided to exclusively purchase electric vehicles. A local car hire company who has three rental cars could use the same objective, but realistically see a much lesser environmental benefit because of the size of the fleet. At the same time, an objective to cut carbon emissions by employing a device to stop engine idling in the 3-car fleet may be a more realistic and cost-effective measure to make a tangible environmental savings for the smaller company.

ISO 14001 objectives: Examples for different company sizes

Aligning your objectives with your company strategy

After consideration, it quickly becomes clear that one size does not fit all in terms of setting environmental objectives for a company. Even organizations in the same line of business may find different environmental objectives relevant, depending on several factors that may include size of the organization, context, the markets in which it operates, and how the activities of the organization fit with other aspects of the management system.

Ensuring that the environmental objectives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction remains a key factor, and ensuring the objectives are “S.M.A.R.T” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) helps to focus on driving towards completion in a methodical way. However, when working with a management team to define objectives for an EMS, a logical and mathematical outlook is needed. Ask yourself, “What is important to the organization and what is important to the environment?” If you can identify environmental outputs that fit both categories and they can be mitigated by a methodical approach, then you can begin to form relevant objectives for your organization.

For help with setting the objectives that are important for your company 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.