Jorge’s Favorite Pastime

Jan. 1, 2001

Have you ever sat down and figured how much time (and money) you spend each year dealing with regulators, explaining how what you’re doing meets their standards on one project, and then having to go through the whole exercise again with somebody else on your next project? Ditto when it comes to fielding complaints and doing make-good work.

How would you like to go through an entire year without any regulatory hassles, without spending your valuable time fielding complaints, without having to go back and redo work you’ve already completed? “Fairy-tale stuff,” you’re probably thinking. Still a pretty nice thought, isn’t it, and maybe it’s not so far-fetched, particularly if you consider that many of your troubles are rooted in a lack of standardization.

A Case for Standardization

As explained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO):

Standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics, to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.

For example, the format of the credit cards, phone cards, and “smart” cards that have become commonplace is derived from an ISO International Standard. Adhering to the standard, which defines such features as an optimal thickness (0,76 mm), means that the cards can be used worldwide.

International Standards thus contribute to making life simpler, and to increasing the reliability and effectiveness of the goods and services we use.

Put into the context of construction, ISO 14001 – an internationally accepted environmental management program – is the system of greatest potential benefit to contractors. For a quick look at the process you might want to go to and follow the thread to the specifics of ISO 14001.

ISO 14001 is a management systemrather than a performance standard. As such, it involves what I tend to characterize as a cultural rather than strictly behavioral process centered on proactive management and total employee participation. Rather than a proscriptive, “top-down” set of rules and regulation, ISO 14001 asks all people involved in an operation to define their roles from the bottom up, relative to the organization’s environmental policy.

In much the same way ISO 9001 addresses quality, ISO 14001’s framework allows you to identify and control significant environmental aspects of a project. At its core, it is a system that allows a company to set out its environmental objectives and then implement programs for measuring, correcting, and reporting on performance. But that’s only the surface. When fully implemented, the system allows you to anticipate and prepare for the kinds of challenges you’re likely to face in any project – especially the ones that get you in trouble with regulators, often require corrective action, and invariably take you away from what you get paid to do.

Under ISO 14001, an environmental management system (EMS) contains the following elements:

  • An environmental policy supported by top management
  • Identification of environmental aspects and significant impacts
  • Identification of legal and other requirements
  • Environmental goals, objectives, and targets that support the policy
  • An environmental management program
  • Definition of roles, responsibilities, and authorities
  • Training and awareness procedures
  • Process for communication of the EMS to all interested parties
  • Document and operational control procedures
  • Procedures for emergency response
  • Procedures for monitoring and measuring operations that can have a significant impact on the environment
  • Procedures to correct nonconformance
  • Record management procedures
  • A program for auditing and corrective action
  • Procedures for management review

Cashing In on Your EMS

Aside from the obvious advantages of standardization – reduction of pollution related incidents, decreased cost of remediation, fewer complaints, less regulatory hassle, and reduced insurance rates – there are a number of related benefits that will come from increasing the visibility of those standards throughout your entire operation. For instance, standards can help you define “best practices” that, in addition to helping complete the present project, become benchmarks for future projects. A well-constructed EMS can identify instances of redundancy in day-to-day efforts for regulatory compliance and includes procedures and metrics for measuring and evaluating wastes and the costs of environmental emissions. This information can help you choose proper BMPs and determine beforehand their probable results. Standards can be used to guide daily action and determine the overall appropriateness of pollution prevention strategies. And finally, a properly implemented EMS will lead to predictable environmental performance that can reduce and almost certainly limit the severity of incidents. That leads straight to an increase in your bottom line.

You can, of course, develop and manage your own EMS rather than going to all the effort of obtaining an ISO 14001 certification, but let me offer two thoughts here: (1) Consider the advantages of having an independent auditor oversee your EMS and help you refine your processes on an ongoing basis and (2) when asked about your EMS, think how much easier and more effective it is to say, “We’re ISO 14001 certified” rather than trying to explain the details of your company’s program. There are other benefits, of course, but none so important as what you can take to the bank.