Can ISO14001 make co-ops environmental leaders?

ISO14001 is an internationally recognised standard covering good practice environmental management, with a focus on getting organisations to take better account of environmental responsibilities. It has been recently...

ISO14001 is an internationally recognised standard covering good practice environmental management, with a focus on getting organisations to take better account of environmental responsibilities. It has been recently revised to make it bolder and braver and a summary of changes can be found here.

But is it something your co-operative should avoid or take on?

At first glance, it appears a little dull and at worst, impenetrable. Get beyond the cover though, grow to know its ways and means, and it can transform how you deal with the environment and even the way you do business.

What is it?

ISO14001 is a tool, a framework, and a good one at that – although, like other guidance, it has its limitations. It doesn’t tell you what your environmental impacts are or how to improve on them (there are other tools that can help with this), or indeed how far to go. It simply provides a means to manage the impacts you work out yourself. It does demand that organisations are compliant with environmental laws, have an environmental policy, continually improve performance and have organised paperwork. And, like other formal accreditations, it requires external scrutiny in the form of an audit, typically once a year.

Is it for your co-op?

It’s good for any organisation that wants to be strategic about the environment and gain greater buy-in (from members, workers, customers, suppliers etc). Often the benefits of well-intentioned green projects and initial enthusiasm are lost to a lack of direction and engagement. ISO14001 brings priorities into focus, driving involvement across services and departments, and beyond an initial group of enthusiasts, building both profile and impact. Even if your co-op does not desire a stamp of approval or it’s not your style, the guidance will most certainly inform even the best environmental programme.

ISO14001’s flexibility means it is as appropriate for co-ops as it is for any other business, leaving it largely up to you to design a system that fits. The most important thing is to approach it with an open mind, and be prepared to see beyond the language and apparent formality, to the underlying purpose.

Making ISO work

Like most things, ISO14001 is what you make it. Think of it as an opportunity to learn, share and grow and it will help you make a difference and of course contribute to Principle 7. Here are 12 tips to make it the best it can be:

  1. Pull a team together, it’s hard on your own
  2. Buy or borrow a copy of the ISO14001:2015 standard
  3. Talk to co-ops that already have it
  4. Unpick what’s needed and let it sink in
  5. Scrutinise rules, practices and processes you already have and fit around them
  6. Draw up a plan and set a deadline for accreditation
  7. Be audacious and set challenging goals (e.g. see previous article about Future Fit)
  8. Keep it in house getting advice only to unpick the harder parts and stay on course
  9. It’s a voluntary tool, not a shackle, so be creative
  10. Environmental law is relevant to your co-op so find out about it
  11. Embrace audits, they keep things moving
  12. Be confident, you can do it

Set out on the premise that ISO14001 is a necessary evil then it will be a paper exercise that gets kicked into touch at the first sign of trouble. Understand it, embrace it, make it fit your co-op and it will support you to be a leader on sustainability.

Sion Whellens
Sion Whellens

Q & A with Sion Whellens, Calverts, printers and worker co-op

Why did you go for ISO14001?
We were already committed to being the best we could be on the environment anyway but as potential clients started asking for it, we thought we should look at it. We’ve been accredited for a while.

How did you find it?
Daunting. We were sceptical that it was a tick box exercise. If we were going to go for it, it had to be the best. That meant doing it ourselves, with a little outside advice for the hard stuff.

Has it been worth it?
Absolutely, we take real pride in it. It’s helped us tender and win work too. It’s been incredibly useful, not only for handling the environment but also for improving other business processes.

What about audits?

Audits are at the heart of it. Just had our big three-year audit and we got no non conformances!

What are the challenges?
Paperwork but this is limited to what’s manageable within our resources and priorities. A key issue is what to do when you have done all you can. For example, there is a limit to what we can do in our rented building but these things now inform our business decisions.

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