Helping business be greener – all over the world

Environmental management systems are transforming the way businesses manage their environmental responsibilities and ECOS was at the forefront of this change. As a leading advocate for improving environmental standards across industry, ECOS was quick to spot the potential benefits of environmental management systems and was actively involved in the development of ISO 14001 and other environmental standards from an early stage.

The first environmental management system (EMS), introduced in the UK in the early 1990s, led to the development of the world’s first international standard ISO 14001 a few years later.

ISO 14001 provides a systematic approach to implementing an EMS helping organisations reduce their environmental impacts, meet regulatory requirements and improve overall environmental performance.  

ECOS primary role in the development of ISO 14001 and other environmental standards was to help businesses manage their activities, products and services in ways that reduce environmental impacts on the planet, human health and wider society.

Plan, Do, Check, Act – for the benefit of our environment

ECOS experts played a key role in developing ISO 14001 including structural elements such as incorporating environmental policies, controlling environmental impacts, commitments to legal compliance, setting objectives and targets and documenting improvements in environmental performance.

Using this basic ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ management framework, businesses around the world now have access a pioneering management system that helps them reduce waste, control pollution, conserve energy and improve resource efficiency.

As companies begun to take tentative steps in implementing an EMS, other benefits started to emerge, which ECOS was also keen to highlight.

Waste reduction and pollution abatement mean fewer environmental taxes. Insurance companies have lowered premiums for businesses with more transparent environmental risk management, and investors are favouring companies that demonstrated lower environmental impacts.

Implementing an EMS also shows significant improvements in business productivity, through reductions in resource consumption, reuse of waste materials and higher rates of production efficiency, which helps to reduce overheads and boost profitability.

Consumers too are showing a preference for more environment-friendly products, amid growing concerns that similar products in the marketplace were damaging the planet. The marketing term, ‘green competitive edge’ is a wakeup call to those companies that are still reluctant to improve their environmental credentials.

Finally, ISO14001 also influenced the EU level, resulting in an update of the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) to incorporate the ISO standard as the key EMS component of the Regulation, making the process of EMAS registration much easier for European organisations.

14001 was the first of many

Since the successful uptake of ISO 14001, a number of other ISO environmental guidance standards have emerged to help organisations manage those operations and activities that can cause significant environmental impacts. 

ECOS experts have been extremely active in this field, and contributed to a number of environmental guidance standards, including:

  • ISO 14005 – helping smaller businesses improve their environmental performance
  • ISO 14006 – supporting the ecodesign of products to minimise waste and improve efficiency
  • ISO 14040 – helping companies trace the impacts of materials through the supply chain
  • ISO 14064 – guidance on reporting greenhouse gas emissions
  • ISO 14067 – supporting guidance on how to measure the carbon footprint of products.

Supporting smaller organisations

ISO 14005 is one example where ECOS expertise has proved invaluable. It was clear from early on that while larger corporations were becoming certified to ISO 14001, smaller companies simply did not have the time or resources to engage in the process.

To help smaller businesses, ECOS promoted the idea of developing a ‘phased approach’ to implementing an EMS that would make the process easier for those businesses struggling to find the staff and resources to carry out the work. 

This idea, which was also supported by the European Commission and national standards bodies, was eventually adopted by ISO through the introduction of an SME-focused environmental management system.

ISO 14005 guidance standard, which took over five years to write, has similar features as ISO 14001 such as a responsibility to reduce environmental impacts, a commitment to legal compliance and a commitment to ensure policy objective are met. But with the addition of a phased implementation approach, the process of achieving improvements in environmental performance is now more feasible to achieve.

A later version of the standard, which ECOS experts also helped draft, now includes a simpler maturity matrix making the process of EMS implementation much more manageable for SMEs and other smaller organisations.  

The only international environmental NGO consistently working on international standards

ECOS is often the only environmental NGO working at international level to ensure businesses adopt the highest standards of environmental protection for people’s health and the planet. Negotiating to achieve the highest environmental standards can often be tough, particularly with some of the world’s most powerful industry representatives, whose primary purpose is to protect the interests of their companies.

But the knowledge and experience of ECOS experts in key areas such as pollution control, waste management, resource depletion and climate change, has helped convince even the most sceptical of representatives that improving environmental performance is in the best interest for business and the global economy in the long term.

The Chair of the ISO committee responsible for environmental management systems standards, Martin Baxter, commented on our involvement: The ISO 14000 series of environmental management standards are central to future sustainable growth of businesses. The contribution from ECOS has been particularly useful in ensuring those standards also take full account of the wider concerns of delivering a cleaner, heathier environment for all society and future generations.

The direction of travel

There are now over 350,000 businesses and other organisations certified to ISO 14001 and the range of other ISO environmental guidance standards continues to grow.  

The direction of travel is clear – consumers are becoming greener, investors are pulling out of polluting industries, and governments are introducing tighter regulations in the race to decarbonise. Businesses need to adapt to survive but many still need help.

ECOS continues to play its part but there is still much more work to be done.

ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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