Sustainable corporate management entails a lot of effort: Commitment is a prerequisite, however it does not suffice alone. The environmental management norm ISO 14001 and the EU Eco Audit EMAS help with the planning and at the same time serve as an orientation and provide credibility on the market.
Don’t leave the light on, separate the waste, save water. Refundable bottles instead of cans, reuse carrier bags. Travel by bus, train or bike where possible, switch over to a green electricity provider…: There are many measures that enable one to organise one’s everyday life and own behaviour in a more environmentally-friendly way. In a normal household these measures are manageable. However, within a company it is more complicated, because each process has to be studied and evaluated from an economic point of view. Those who want to take an expedient, credible and effective approach, thus have to treat environmental protection like other operating processes, in other words: introduce an environmental management system. The aspects this entails are for example, energy consumption, emissions, waste or waste water, as well as indirect factors, such as the service life of products, administrative and planning decisions or the behaviour of contractors.
The international environmental management system norm, ISO 14001, assists companies in implementing the above-mentioned ecological goals. It lays down the operating organisational and procedural structures, regulates the planning, execution and control as well as setting down the areas of responsibility, behaviour patterns and procedures. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, over 260,000 companies and organisations from all types of industries are ISO 14001-certified worldwide – the spectrum ranges from small companies, to major industry groups, through to state authorities. “Our ISO 14001 certification includes all aspects of our company, but mainly focuses on our manufacturing process and the environmental impact of our products,” commented Joan Pera, CEO of the Spanish microfiber specialists, Arpe. The company is currently getting ready for its first ISO 14001 certification, which will be finalised soon. “Some of the most important actions and measurements include monitoring the environmental impact of our processes, promoting actions to reduce our impact or evaluating our suppliers’ environmental balance. We have integrated the environment into our daily management system and made it an important part of our culture. Throughout the year we monitor all of our environmental impacts, such as the consumption of raw materials, paper, ink or the energy used in our processes. We plan actions to reduce our impact, for example we have changed over to a new 100% renewable energy supplier, we use eco-friendly carton boxes and we are reducing the use of plastic tape in our packaging.“
Of course, generally it is about a more ecological business management as well as the conformity with the legally applicable framework conditions, but the focal points and the arrangement of the individual environmental management system differs from company to company. For example, at the Polish badge and magnet producer, Badge4u, the environmental management system comprises of the following aspects: “We separate our entire waste according to a strict waste separation system. We feed the entire offcut that arises in the course of the production – primarily paper, aluminium and steel – back into the raw material cycle. Wherever possible, we try to use environmental-friendly and recycled raw materials,” Marcin Pawlowski, the Executive Director, explained. “Furthermore, we have reduced our emissions, waste water and noise emissions and try to keep the energy consumption down to a minimum. Among other things, we have installed energy-saving lamps all over the company premises and our entire fleet of vehicles runs on gas. In addition, we are currently installing a solar system for our electricity requirements.” As a non-producing company, the Dutch importer, Araco, sets other priorities, as the Sales Manager, Michel Hofste, explained: “We now use a different logistics company to transport our goods, which boasts a very good emissions balance. In addition to this we try to organise the work routes of our employees in a more eco-friendly way, for example by forming car pools or in the form of a ‘bicycle plan’, which aims to encourage the team to use their bikes more frequently. Our fleet of vehicles comprises of economic models or even electric cars. However, beyond the logistics alone, we also want our company premises to be as environmentally- friendly as possible and also consider aspects such as waste disposal, electricity, noise and soil pollution as well as resource consumption in our environmental management system. Our thermal heat pump system is very important in this connection.”
Defining the contents and central objectives of the environmental management and realigning the processes accordingly and preparing everything for the certification entails an incredible amount of work: “It was most difficult at the beginning – we took more than six months to prepare ourselves for the first certification. Then, the process itself took another five months,” explained Pawłowski. After being awarded the first certification by an independent, accredited testing institute, the ISO 14001 stipulates that the companies are monitored in the form of internal audits to make sure the specifications are adhered to. Further regular, external audits are the prerequisite in order to have the certification extended. “ISO 14001 is not a snapshot for the point in time X, but has to be eternally anchored within the corporate culture like a ‘perpetuum mobile’. The maintenance of a sustainable environmental management system occupies approx. two working days a month, plus in terms of personnel there has to be an Environmental Management Officer,” commented Josef Bosl, Key Account Manager Artvertising at the Thuringia-based porcelain manufacturers, Kahla. “When recruiting personnel and training new employees we instruct them about our environmental management policy. Checklists support the managers in implementing the action plans.” The company presented its “Kahla Pro Eco Sustainability Strategy“ in 2009 and has been ISO 14001-certified since 2011. Bosl: “The sustainability strategy ‘Kahla Pro Eco’ is an important pillar of our corporate concept – alongside design and innovation – and is a matter the ‘bosses’ deal with. Our Environmental Officer, Christin Biedermann, is also a member of the management.”
In spite of all the expenses that are incurred for achieving and obtaining the certificate, it does also lead to cost savings: “The first certification process is the most complex one and if you can integrate the environment into your general management system, the effort invested will be compensated with the gains in terms of productivity and saving costs,” said Pera. “The reduction of energy consumption, plastic or paper, for example, has reduced our costs and balanced the effort of implementing the environmental management system.“
The supreme discipline: EMAS
Companies that want to take their environmental management a step further, have the opportunity to become EMAS-certified (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme). The key focal point of the EMAS regulation is the contents of ISO 14001, so any company that is EMAS-certified, is automatically ISO 14001-certified. If a valid ISO 14001 certification is to be upgraded to EMAS, the testing can concentrate on the fulfilment of the additional requirements. Which there are, however, plenty of (see the box for the substantial differences). According to the Federal Environment Agency, 1,800 locations are currently EMAS-registered in Germany. According to the European Commission, 11,583 locations and 3,773 organisations are registered internationally. One EMAS-certified company that is active in the promotional products industry is Schneider Schreibgerate. “We began at an early stage to implement resource and environmentallyfriendly processes – at a time when many people scoffed at this,” the CEO, Frank Gros, stated. “The first environmental inspection was carried out by TUV in 1995 at our Tennenbronn location. We were the first company in our industry to be awarded the EMAS certificate in 1998, which we have regularly revalidated since.” As with the ISO 14001, in the case of EMAS companies are free to choose their targets. After the targets have been defined within the various departments of the company, an external auditor checks whether these targets are relevant for EMAS. Subsequently, the aims have to be put into practice. “EMAS goes far beyond the guidelines of the ISO 14001, because in particular the generation and publication of an environmental declaration is obligatory, in which the environmental goals of the company and the degree to which they have been achieved has to be documented, which is furthermore validated by an independent auditor. EMAS is the strictest and most effective environmental management system in the world and is acknowledged as being the comprehensive instrument for credible environmental protection from different angles. For instance, for many authorities it suffices and no other audits have to be carried out. Furthermore, one saves having to go through the process of the Energy Management 50001, which like the ISO 14001 is already integrated within EMAS and which we would otherwise be obliged to have because of our size.“
But EMAS is not only an option for big companies. Companies with less than 250 employees, can furthermore on request have the interval of the auditing extended from three up to four years and the validation of the environmental declaration from one year up to two. The advantages of EMAS are obvious – due to its high requirements the label is currently the most valuable seal for environmental management. “Unfortunately, more and more greenwashing occurs and there are an increasing number of false or meaningless eco labels. EMAS allows a high degree of transparency, both internally and for all of the market participants,” said Gros.
The obligatory environmental declaration also plays a significant role: “All environment-related performances and in particular the environment policy including the set goals have to be published in an environmental declaration and made available to the public. We publish our input and output figures in the scope of our sustainability report as part of the environmental declaration,” explained Gros. “The sustainability report is made available to the public as a printed version as well as online via our company’s homepage. We communicate our approach on all of our sales materials and packaging and always attempt to address the theme in interviews or at press conferences. We are very pleased in this connection that our trading partners use the EMAS-related USPs to advertise our line-up on the market.” ISO 14001 doesn’t necessarily foresee the publication of an environmental declaration. However, many market participants choose nevertheless to disclose the contents of their environmental management: “It is very important for us to communicate to our stakeholders our environmental goals,” remarked Pera. “Our environmental policy also plays an important role in our marketing plan,” Bosl added: “In our marketing measures and in the external corporate communications, it is essential that the three fundamental pillars of the label ‘Kahla pro Eco’ – low emissions, fair & social – as well as ‘made in Germany’ are observed and integrated into our public appearances, i.e. at trade shows.”
Pawłowski also attributes high significance to the PR work regarding the ecological alignment of the company: “We are very proud of our certification and communicate it on our website, in the catalogue and at all trade shows. It is a USP, which distinguishes us from other companies. Every year more and more customers explicitly demand an ISO 14001 certification and sometimes we even win an order because we are certified. The ISO 14001 will definitely become more decisive in the future.” Hofste: “There are already a host of guidelines on environmental protection and the theme will become even more significant in the future. However in this connection, the question remains as to whether the ISO 14001 is the most important norm. For many customers, social responsibility verifications – such as BSCI membership – are currently more important. And further, new certifications on environmental protection will no doubt follow in the future.”
The market is in any case very demanding – far beyond simple test seals, as Bosl commented: “More and more companies don’t just demand a certificate, they also want to make sure the conditions are fulfilled themselves by visiting the factory at the production site.“ In this case, Kahla for instance impresses with their significant ecological performances including the generation and use of green solar-powered electricity thanks to a photovoltaic plant, reduced CO2 emissions thanks to investments in innovative technologies, saving water through the use of an own well and water treatment system as well as making packaging and advertising material out of recycled and FSC-certified paper. A heat recovery system and furnace off-gas waste heat utilisation system is currently being installed in the production halls.
Schneider Schreibgerate have also achieved a lot in their 20 years of EMAS certification. For example, the company has switched over 100% to regenerative energy sources and thanks to renovations and energy efficiency measures has been able to save 50% of the heating energy used in spite of having an additional building. Two thermal power stations convert the heat generated from the production into energy, one of which is lent to a local open air swimming bath in the summer. “We are especially proud that we have been able to motivate the employees to make their own contribution towards sustainable management,” commented Gros. “We have been operating a free bus for the employees for 25 years and in the meantime 91 employees have leased ebikes via the company. It is possible to hire electric or hybrid cars via the company and since 1998 it has been obligatory to travel to business meetings by train with a few rare exceptions. EMAS has helped with the implementation of all these measures, which however only work because the management provide a good example and the employees follow it through.”
An environmental management system alone simply doesn’t suffice – the consistency and commitment of each individual contributes towards sustainable ecological achievements. Incidentally, the latter applies equally for big companies and small private households.
// Till Barth
photos: Brit München, © WA Media; iStockphoto; Kahla Porzellan; Schneider Schreibgeräte