As more companies begin to track environmental issues through the supply chain, there is a growing need to address environmental management at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The automotive industry required its supply chain to certify to ISO 14001, however, other industries are not quick to follow suit even though ISO 14001 certification now stands at nearly 250,000 companies in 2009 – an increase of 18% over the previous year.
ISO has issued a handbook and CD designed in the form of a checklist to guide the SME in asking and answering a series of questions regarding the environmental activities of their organization. The checklist is in 16 parts. Each part covers a particular ISO 14001 requirement and begins with an explanation of the requirement as well as guidance on how to incorporate this guidance into an EMS that meets the needs of the organization and, perhaps, its customer. The CD provides the convenience of electronic navigation through the requirements and enables responses to each question to be saved and then printed in pdf format. This could provide evidence to the customer that there has been progress in implementing an EMS.
It is well known that companies have improved their operations and reduced the impact of their activities, processes, products, and services on the environment by using a systematic approach that seeks continual improvement. The benefits of addressing environmental issues, however, not only cover protection of the environment, but are also linked to business performance and profitability while improving the company’s image, enhancing access to export markets, providing a common reference for communicating environmental issues with customers, regulators, the public and a host of other stakeholders. So, what’s not to like!
SMEs are afraid of the cost associated with implementing an ISO 14001 program. Even while there is an eventual payback associated with the efforts, there will be a considerable amount of up-front money. They know that they will have to purchase the standard and make a lot of changes in how they operate. Believing that one has to be certified in order to get credit for using ISO 14001 keeps many companies from considering this important standard. They only need to certify if a customer requires certification. Using a checklist could be of value even if the ultimate aim is not third-party certification of the standard. To order this checklist, you can go to the ISO website: http://www.iso.org/iso/publications_and_e-products/checklists.htm#PUB100268
Some companies are taking a more direct approach with the SMEs in their supply chain. A consulting firm is hired to perform a gap assessment at each facility in the first tier. The suppliers will realize that they are already doing many of the things that are required for an ISO 14001-conforming EMS. It might be easier for them to use the recommendations for improvement to assemble a sound EMS. In time, the SME will have a viable EMS in place. At that time, they can decide to use ISO 14001 to check their own system for conformance. The customer can have a “second party audit” performed to help the SME further improve its program. All of this can be accomplished without ever seeking third party certification.
There are a number of internet resources available to SMEs when their customer does not get directly involved as described above. No matter what the motivation, SMEs can gain some significant recognition from their customers by paying attention to their EMS.