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How to Use Good Environmental Objectives

Author: Mark Hammar

Have you found yourself wondering how the environmental objectives, targets and programs are supposed to work in ISO 14001? Why does ISO 14001 require environmental objectives to be put in place? What are the targets and programs that are expected to be linked to these objectives? Navigating your way through these requirements of the standard can be difficult and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be, if you can think through the background of the requirements.

The What and Why of Environmental Objectives

By definition, an objective is “a thing aimed at or sought; a goal.” In ISO 14001 you are using your environmental objectives to identify, track, and notify employees and interested parties what the goals of your environmental management system (EMS) improvements are to be. They need to be made relevant at all levels of the organization that need to know them, and they need to be consistent with your environmental policy, since this is the overall stated goal of the EMS.

If you are a service-based industry, and your environmental policy talks about the importance of reduction in energy consumption and office waste reduction, then having an objective to reduce the amount of chemicals used in your building maintenance process just doesn’t make sense. It would be better to have an objective regarding the energy reduction involved in reducing the distance travelled by your delivery vehicles.

How Can the Environmental Objectives Work Best?

In the ISO 14001 standard they discuss objectives and targets together, and this can help you to understand them better. The best objectives are referred to as S.M.A.R.T. objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based), and this way of creating objectives makes a target an integral part of the objective. Below are explanations of how these five elements can be used to make for good environmental objectives and targets.

Specific. The first thing that is needed in a good objective is that it be specific, including a specific target. If your office has an objective to “reduce paper usage,” you could be talking about anything from one sheet of paper to reducing the amount of paper used by 80% by going exclusively to online document review. Are you talking about amount of paper, or cost of paper used? By being specific, your objective is easier to understand, and there will be much less misunderstanding by those trying to implement the plan.

Measurable. Hand in hand with the specific objective is an objective that can be measured. If you have no way of measuring how a process is performing now, then how will you know if you have made any improvement? The standard itself even mentions that objectives and targets should be measurable where practicable. An example of a measurable objective would be to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that is produced by your processes by 10%. If you have a waste disposal company that charges you by the weight of waste removed, you will be able to measure this quite easily. It is true that some things may be inherently beneficial without having a direct measure, such as replacing an ancient machine with one that is newer and more efficient, but these should be few.

Agreed. To make your objective happen you need to have it agreed upon by those who will be doing the work. If you want the office staff to work on an objective to reduce paper usage, it is beneficial to have their agreement that this can be done and how. If you were to come from outside and demand that the office reduce paper usage by 80%, when no one believed this to be achievable, you are off to a poor start, and meeting your goal is destined to fail. Having agreement also goes a long way toward making sure the objectives and targets are distributed to all relevant areas of the organization.

Realistic. By making your goal realistic, you can better gather the necessary cooperation of the people in the process that are affected by the change. As stated above, if no one believes that you can reduce paper usage by 80%, you are better off setting your goal to 45%. If you achieve better than your goal, or change it later when things are progressing better than expected, what is the harm in that?

Time-Based. Having a time associated with the completion of the objective allows for tracking your progress toward achieving your goals. If your objective is open ended, how will you know when you have achieved enough and be able to set a new objective and target for more improvements elsewhere?

So, instead of the objective to “reduce paper usage” in the example above, it would be better to have an objective and target like “reduce amount of paper used in the office by 45% from the current level by the end of eight months from the start of the program.”

How to Establish Environmental Programs

The last part of the requirements of section 4.3.3 concerns establishing, implementing, and maintaining a program or programs for achieving the objectives and targets. This is intended to be the plan, often written, that defines the who, what, when, where and how for the plan to achieve the objective and target. This can be one plan for each objective and target, or one plan for all together, but the plan is intended to define the path to achieve your expected results. For the example above, part of the program could be for the office manager to investigate which documents need to be printed and which could be reviewed and stored electronically as one step toward the goal. Next might be to investigate what electronic tools are available that will meet the document needs of the organization. Of course, additional steps would be added to reach the end goal in the time specified.

Why we Create Objectives, Targets and Programs

The main reason for environmental objectives is to provide a clear target for all employees in the organization to work toward the overall environmental goals. In effect, these make it possible for everyone to know where the environmental program is heading. However, along with reducing your impact on the environment, which is the main reason for implementing an environmental management system, the objectives you set can also help to reduce your costs due to waste. Often, it is the areas of biggest waste that are also the areas of largest environmental impact, and reducing this waste has the two-fold benefit of reducing your environmental footprint and reducing the cost to your bottom line finances. This is a win-win solution for you and mother earth.

To get familiar with the requirements visit ISO 14001:2015 Foundations online course.

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3 responses to “How to Use Good Environmental Objectives”

  1. David Brugman says:

    Hi. Just a note that you state the word “achievable” when you first discuss SMART objectives but then use the term “Agreed” when referring to the “A” of SMART. Agreed makes more sense since “achievable” seems too similar to “realistic”.

  2. Mark Hammar says:

    David,
    You are correct. I have seen both words used in the SMART acronym, and “agreed” is often a better word to use and more useful when explaining the concept.
    Regards,.

  3. Laura Storer says:

    I usually use the achievable to plan how we will go about achieving the objective, realistic is where i would usually document and possible considerations/restrictions that may arise.

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