The construction industry has had to deal with ever-increasing complexities when it comes to compliance with environmental regulations and legislation. Last year’s update to the ISO 14001 standard was designed to help businesses reduce the cost of environmental compliance, while allowing them to capitalise on new opportunities. But did it achieve this?
Compliance with environmental legislation has historically been a complicated process for the sector. Many businesses have found themselves in situations where the cost of keeping abreast of compliancy changes has weighed just as heavily as the threat of fines for non-compliance.
When it comes to staying environmentally compliant, businesses that have adopted a robust environment management system (EMS) have led the way. By developing effective strategies and processes to manage their environmental performance, they have been able to avoid many of the pit-falls commonly associated with non-compliance.
They have also realised a number of benefits, such as cost savings from reduced waste output and energy use, lower administrative burden, ease of demonstrating compliance to potential clients and improved reputation.
The 2015 update to the standard, known as ISO 14001:15, was designed to help businesses reduce the cost of compliance as well as capitalise on opportunities. Construction businesses, whether adopting the standard for the first time or updating from an existing one, have found in ISO 14001:15 a suite of useful measures aimed at enhancing opportunities to address their own environmental impact.
It has also helped them to deal with some of the complex challenges encountered by the construction sector, such as responsible waste management.
construction sector standard iso 14001
The new version of the standard increases focus on environmental performance through the development and use of a planning process rather than simply a compliance procedure. It encourages businesses to think about a broader range of factors that affect the environment and the risks associated with those factors.
Businesses already operating with a robust EMS have found that ISO 14001:15 directly taps into this, feeding continual improvements and allowing environmental performance to be consistently monitored and reviewed.
The standard requires that environmental management considerations inform a business’s strategic planning processes. In the year since its launch, senior management teams have needed to become more actively involved with their EMS processes, ensuring their organisation’s environmental objectives and strategic goals are properly aligned.
Ultimately, this has made it easier for businesses to stay environmentally compliant, but it has also meant that sensitive areas such as waste management can no longer be left to chance. As a consequence, increasing numbers of businesses have sought to ensure compliance by outsourcing waste management to third-party specialists.
Last year, waste management services provider Reconomy managed the disposal of approximately three million tonnes of waste – a significant proportion of which was attributed to the construction industry. In order to help keep its clients environmentally compliant, Reconomy successfully diverted 93% of the waste it handled away from landfill.
By helping construction businesses to identify the scope of their environmental impact, ISO 14001:15 has ensured that any preventive or corrective actions are managed more effectively. By keeping on top of the situation in this way, the standard has helped to reduce the threat of non-compliance for many firms.
As an example, fit-out and refurbishment specialist Overbury was an early adopter of ISO 14001:15. It unlocked a number of key benefits as the company moved to the new standard, improving legal compliance and delivering greater efficiencies in its environmental management.
According to Neil Pike, head of business improvement for Overbury, the standard’s revisions supported the company’s focus on achieving complete client satisfaction. During a video interview with BSI Group, Pike summed up the advantages of ISO14001:15: “It gives you the freedom to embrace effective management, focus on what your organisation’s outputs should be and bring efficiencies across all areas of the business.”
With Brexit in the air, IS0 14001: 15 is a cost-effective risk management tool for an unpredictable period. As an accountability framework, it sets out responsibilities for environmental compliance – from the top of an organisation right down to its supply chain. It should also help to deliver peace of mind for the construction sector by ensuring that this critical area of business practice is no longer hidden from view.
Paul Cox is managing director of Reconomy