Savings all round

2 min read

With companies under pressure to meet new environmental standards, a performance system can help them cut costs as well as carbon emissions, says Heather Cholerton

UK manufacturers and engineers have much to gain by improving their environmental performance — not least the commercial benefits of becoming more resource-efficient, such as valuable cost savings and streamlined operations.

Businesses are also under increasing pressure to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, whether due to strict rules on legislative compliance and maintaining industry best practice or from growing customer and shareholder expectations.

Historically, many companies have relied on an 'ad hoc' approach to managing resource efficiency. Areas such as raw materials use, solid waste, effluent, water use and energy efficiency have been dealt with in isolation. However, there are real financial and operational advantages to developing a more integrated approach to this activity.

One technique is to develop an environmental management system (EMS) — a structured framework for managing and monitoring environmental performance and ensuring compliance with legislation.

It is a flexible, internal management tool and companies can choose to develop a bespoke system or follow the requirements of a national or international standard such as ISO14001 or EMAS.

For those new to EMS, a phased implementation approach is offered through British Standard BS8555 and piloted through organisations such as IEMA's Acorn Scheme. This breaks down the process of installing a formal EMS into 'bite-sized' stages and focuses on maximising the business benefits.

What will EMS involve? The first step will always be to secure commitment from the senior management team, which can help ensure the necessary resources are made available. An environmental 'champion' at senior level will also help to motivate other employees to get involved and ensure the success of the initiative. Company directors are also legally responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance, so it is vital they are involved from the outset.

The ideal starting point in getting senior support is to carry out a simple cost-benefit analysis to help identify the potential cost savings of adopting an EMS. For example, calculate the costs of the main raw materials, water, gas, electricity and waste disposal for the company over the previous 12 months. Then identify steps to reduce these and estimate the savings.

With input from a range of people across the business such as process engineers, health and safety managers and purchasing managers, a central EMS team can be established to ensure the activity has structure and momentum. The average timescale for implementation is about 12 to 18 months but this depends on the type of company and the level of commitment from all involved.

Once senior management buy-in has been achieved, the initial environmental review can begin. The objective is to revise or prepare an environmental policy; compile a register of environmental aspects (which refers to any area where a company's activities interact with the environment); identify money-saving opportunities and set objectives and targets for improvement.

The next stage is the most time-intensive and involves the development of the management programme — including writing systems and operational procedures and a structured EMS manual. Decisions taken during this time will shape the future EMS programme and must involve consultation with staff right across the business.

As with any proposal for organisational improvement, commitment and input from the wider workforce is essential.

Some employees will need more information about environmental issues than others, depending on the level of responsibility assigned to them. Those EMS schemes that carry formal certification will usually require you to carry out a training needs analysis, then provide evidence that relevant training has been carried out.

Thought will also need to be given to communication with clients and suppliers and how to raise awareness of the new system throughout the supply chain.

However, it is important to stress that setting up the EMS is only a starting point for improvement. Once steps have been taken, their effects must be monitored and reviewed, with further actions then developed, to ensure savings are made and environmental improvements are continued.

Heather Cholerton is programme delivery director of Envirowise, a government-supported environmental organisation for consultation, advice and documentation for UK businesses