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Sustainability - A Guide to Protecting the Environment

09 June 2021
In this article we look at some of the Standards (ISO 14001, ISO 50001, PAS 2060 & PAS 43) that can help your organization to become more environmentally aware, sustainable and resourceful.

It has become increasingly clear in recent years that we are having a negative impact on the environment. You only have to listen to the news or open your internet browser to see the importance of sustainability being spoken about, but there is still a clear need for industry to both understand the negative effects we are having on the planet, and better manage and mitigate against them.

Responding to our planet's ecological challenges, ISO 14001 supports organizations in reducing their environmental impact and understanding the effect the environment has on their business.

For a world continuing to face environmental challenges, this is excellent news. Within industry, doing one’s bit to protect the world has gone from being not much more than a buzz word to becoming a strategic business imperative in recent years. As society and the planet grapple with issues such as viruses, natural disasters, deforestation, overpopulation, climate mitigation and adaptation, etc., companies are continuing to recognise the need to manage their environmental challenges and contribute towards finding solutions to the issues facing us all.

Within ISO 14001, organizations are now required to look at their unique context and identify the effect the environment is having on their business. It involves taking new factors into account that are specific to their context, such as climate volatility, adaptation to change in the environment and resource availability. This is a big leap forward as the effect of the environment on the organization was previously not included in the scope of the standard.

Clearly, protecting the environment remains a key ethos of ISO 14001 as does the duty of each organization to commit to proactive initiatives to safeguard the environment from harm and degradation. This can include issues such as the sustainable use of resources, preserving the local biodiversity and ecosystems, and taking measures to prevent pollution.

The previous 2004 version of the standard required commitment to ‘prevention of pollution’, however this is nowadays seen as only a start and is deemed to be an ‘end-of-pipeline’ solution and not a proactive approach to the policy requirement of “Protecting the Environment”.

A country when we can see an environment that is green, tidy and clean is surely a successful country. Many businesses say that there is a need to protect the environment, but do not really make any effort to do anything about it. Are you one of these businesses? What can we do to encourage everyone to take action to protect the environment?

The recent surge in popularity of the PAS 2060 Carbon Neutrality Standard is a positive demonstration of the tangible and measurable actions that organizations are taking to show their increasing responsibility to our planet and do their bit to minimise or even eliminate their environmental footprints and reduce climate change.

Many environmental problems seem so big that only governments, local authorities or huge multi-national corporations can deal with them. One example is global warming. We need government action to reduce emissions from coal and oil burning power stations and to develop safer sources of power. These require tough regulations and huge investment. The loss of forests and other habitat is another problem. How can we as small and medium sized businesses stop the destruction of the Amazon or Indonesian rain forests?

Yet another example is waste. When people live and work in cities, they may not be able store or recycle waste, so huge landfills or incinerators are needed. But what practical steps can we take to work towards this requirement within ISO 14001:2015 or PAS 2060?

Preventing Waste

Businesses tend to produce large quantities of waste. From excess packaging to uneaten food, this waste extracts a huge environmental toll through increased deforestation, greater use of energy and filling up landfills. By using recycled and recovered products, businesses can reduce their environmental impact.

Policies that encourage customers to reduce their waste - such as offering a discount for using reusable bags or providing a recycling bin at the business - can help businesses become leaders in environmental protection. Offering disincentives for waste, such as charging a fee for plastic bags, also is helpful and as we have seen in news very recently is likely to be significantly expanded within the UK.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. This isn't recycling rebranded, it's full supply chain management taking into account resource management across the board - water, waste and energy.

The new version of ISO 14001 now requires an element of supply chain management and a life-cycle approach to be taken. For many organizations now, sustainability plans extend beyond their daily operations and into the entire supply chain. To determine your true environmental footprint, you need to take a fresh at everything from raw materials production to how consumers dispose of products after use to measure and minimise environmental impact.

Green Energy

Green energy is any energy that reduces the impact on the environment by decreasing waste or reducing the use of fossil fuels. Wind turbines, electric cars and solar energy are examples. Businesses frequently can save money by instituting green energy policies, using solar PV or wind turbines, buying ‘green tariffs’ or implementing a demand management system to reduce consumption at a time when the power grid is at greatest demand. When businesses institute green energy systems, they serve as role models to their customers and increase awareness of environmental issues.

ISO 50001:2018 is the newly revised international standard for Energy Management providing the most robust framework for optimising energy efficiency in public and private sector organizations.

Certification to this standard can help organizations demonstrate their commitment to continual improvement in energy management, allowing them to lead by example within their respective industries and ensure related legislative and regulatory requirements are met whilst again reducing their impact on planet Earth.

At one time it was considered sufficient to remain legislatively compliant however many organizations are now understanding that proactive environmental/energy management can also be good business, leading to more efficient, cost-effective and profitable results.

In conclusion, our choices, however small, do have a real impact. If each business took a small number of simple steps to work more efficiently and sustainably, imagine the positive effect this would have on the planet!