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September 1, 2023

ISO14001 – learning so far

For organisations to grow, it is important to ask yourself the difficult questions that can go unnoticed or unanswered. Why ask a question that will make you feel uncomfortable? I wonder how many people are put off from doing ISO14001 for that reason?

I want to reassure those who are thinking about the certification – it is the perfect way to ask yourself those questions and manage the answers. It will improve your business.

The #ISO14001 certification and stage one audit has focused our minds to ask those difficult questions of ourselves in relation to the environment. It has allowed us to reflect on whether we are doing enough.

  • Enough to play our part in reducing the impact of climate change
  • Enough to satisfy our staff who are driving our sustainability agenda,
  • and enough for our clients and suppliers who are increasingly focused on ethical production values.

We knew the answer we would get back – no, we’re not doing enough and we could do more. But asking ourselves those difficult questions also allowed us to realise what we had achieved. What started as an audit that tested us turned into a positive experience (so far!).

When we started on the ISO14001 journey, there was (and still is) a lot to process and deliver in a relatively short amount of time. Like many going through this certification, we still have to focus on the day job that pays the bills, manufacturing medical products. So we had to find resources to undertake the stage one audit with a further commitment to achieve stage two and certification.

Reaching stage one has forced us to stop and review our progress and impact of change. This is due in part to requirements of stage two but also a recognition that the journey we started was not the one we expected. I hope some of our findings to date will help others thinking about investing in their own ISO14001 journey.

  1. Communication is key – at the heart of ISO14001 is communication. It is not an aspect we would have appreciated six months ago. We have a small team who remain passionate about the environment but we needed to capture their practice, keep them informed of what we are trying to achieve and keep them onboard. If you want to ensure a successful stage one, make sure everyone knows what you are doing and why.
  2. Hand in hand with net zero – we have two projects going on, ISO14001 and our road to net zero. Different projects, same goals and completely complementary. While stage one is an audit, none of this work is wasted as it all highlights the practical side of making a difference to the environment. Every step in the audit has practical implications for change – that necessary change should be built into your net zero strategies.
  3. Pick an auditor you can work well with – we found achieving stage one an iterative process so having an auditor you work well with made a big difference. Interface were there to help us through while keeping an important distance.
  4. Patting yourself on the back – probably the biggest learning point. We are incredibly proud of our staff but it wasn’t until we were auditing practice we realised how many localised improvements or ways of working were making the difference. When we went to look at a new process, in many cases we found our colleagues had already seen it and implemented it. This made such a big impact on achieving stage one. It is worth a pre-audit before the audit to see what teams are delivering and to test the landscape.
  5. A fantastic audit of business practice – audits can be scary as they uncover aspects of the business owners and staff don’t want to see. But we found our audit process to be almost therapeutic in the end. Yes it had surprises but looking back now, it was more than a sustainability audit – it reviewed how we worked with the supply chain, our distribution, our production. It has made us better as a business.
  6. An opportunity to stop and reflect – stage one was a perfect opportunity to stop and reflect on our entire production line, from supply chain to distribution. We spend a lot of our time talking to our manufacturing and innovation partners but not enough actually reflecting on how we work together. ISO14001 gave us the opportunity to do that and it has made a difference to how we work internally and with our partners.

Having achieved stage one of ISO14001 we now have six months to achieve stage two. We firmly believe we can do that given the cross over between our net zero strategy and the certification process. As the team works together on the next stage, I will continue to share the insight in the hope it helps others in our position. We have definitely felt the value of sharing and asking questions of others.

We are also always happy to chat about our experiences so please do get in touch either via LinkedIn or through our website. I’d love to hear from you and your experiences.