Marek Bidwell interviews Andrew Robertson and Peter McAuley from Hydram Engineering about their experience of making the transition to ISO 14001:2015.


Hydram Engineering is a precision metal fabricator based in Country Durham; its clients include Caterpillar and Herman Miller. Established in 1977, it has grown substantially in the last 10 years to become one of the largest sheet metal fabrication companies in Europe. Hydram Engineering successfully completed its transition to ISO 14001:2015 in April 2016, certified by SGS.

Andrew Roberston (HSE Manager) has been with the firm for 20 years, during which time he has implemented ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001. Furthermore, his many operational improvements have included high-efficiency lighting controls, low-vibration hand tools and waste reductions.

Peter McAuley is a project engineer whose job involves managing the contract to supply Caterpillar with loader control components, and has contributed to the 14001:2015 project.

How did you prepare for the 14001 transition and how much work was involved?

It started in December 2013 when we hosted the first meeting of the ‘ISO 14001:2015 Road Test Group’. It was interesting to find out about how the other companies were dealing with the likely changes, because they were from all sorts of different backgrounds.

We found the guide you wrote about preparing for the changes, ‘Making the Transition to ISO 14001:2015 – From Compliance to Opportunity,’ very helpful in making the transition; it explained the differences between the old and new versions and what to do next. From there, we drew up a checklist, and started reviewing and updating processes, creating records, and communicating with other people in the business. Approximately three man-days a week were spent between us on the project in the months leading up to the external assessment.

Who else did you need to speak to within Hydram?

In the initial stages of the journey had a lot of discussions with the MD (David Greatorex), working on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. That was a really good starting point for us, and it formed the basis for the rest of the changes – David was on board all the way through. Other than that, we ensured that the purchasing, design, and commercial teams were involved and up to speed with the new requirements.

What did you identify as the main changes you needed to make?

Our main concern was the new requirements for purchasing [clause 8.1]. In metal fabrication, most raw materials are specified by the customer, and the purchasing team was initially uncomfortable with the whole idea.

So we took a step back, and asked the commercial and design teams whether they considered the environment when pricing a job. We learned that they do advise customers, where appropriate: pop riveting rather than welding to use less energy; the use of mild steel rather than Zintec (zinc-coated steel), because it causes less trade effluent during pre-treatment. If they pass this information on to the administration team, therefore, it gets cascaded to the contract review stage, and ultimately to purchasing. We have reflected this in our sustainable purchasing process.

Furthermore, where we have direct control, we buy more environmentally friendly materials, such as recycled paper and wax toner cartridges that produce less waste. An environmental purchasing inventory has been produced and is used by the purchasing team whenever there is an opportunity to buy materials from our preferred sources.

The other main change was the environmental SWOT analysis; this was performed to address the new requirement for context [clause 4.1], which fed into a risk and opportunities register [clause 6.1.1]. This identifies a greater range of issues than the existing environmental aspects register, such as the risk of not complying with legislation, and opportunities to invest in energy-efficient technology. Moreover, we approached this from an entire business perspective, rather than merely taking an environmental stance, linking topics together.

In cascading the risk and opportunities assessment to top managers, we asked them to consider environmental risks and opportunities when making business decisions [clause 5.1]. Initially, they were unsure what this meant, but I offered examples of occasions when they had done this in the recent past – such as the purchase of a new paint plant that recirculates and reuses the waste powder, which is better for the environment and saves money.

What were the strengths of your existing systems?

For the reporting of environmental information, we already had a robust set of data, but we scheduled a specific internal audit to verify the data to ensure that it was reliable [clause 7.4]. This was done by a graduate mathematician, who was fully capable of getting to grips with the numbers, in conjunction with a trained internal auditor.

In addition, we also had a documented communications plan [clause 7.4] and a detailed set of management programmes that covered ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘resources required’ and ‘payback’ [clause 6.2.2].

Top management commitment is a further strength at Hydram [clause 5.1]. The directors want a sustainable business; therefore, it was not difficult to secure their support.

What was your experience of the transition audit?

To be honest, it was just like other audits we have had in the past. The assessor had the opportunity to speak to the Chairman, but he did not interview him in detail. I think he was satisfied by the detailed management review minutes I had written, as well as everything he picked up from us.

He did not interview anyone in the procurement, design or sales departments; however, he asked us about these things, and we showed him evidence of our commercial team’s contract review documents, which consider the environment, as well as the Business Plan.

What were the audit findings?

We received no nonconformities, either major or minor. There were five observations, one of which was related to the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015. This was a suggestion to provide information to customers of the carbon emissions associated with our products, as well as their disposal/recycling arrangements [clause 8.1 d]. We are now collating this data to put in the product specification.

Do you perceive that there were any benefits to your organisation or to the environment as a result of the changes to ISO 14001?

The main benefit for the organisation has been the expansion of the group of people who consider the environment, from one environmental manager to all the key decision makers in the business, and this has been cascaded down to everyone who can have an impact or influence, however small. This can only help to have a positive impact on the environment.

The new changes to ISO14001 run alongside the company’s business plan and the decision makers now consider the environment prior to making a decision.

What advice would you give to others making the transition to ISO 14001:2015?

I think that the external auditors are currently slightly unsure, so the best idea is to do it now, before they become more familiar with the new standard.

Also, start at the top by discussing the environmental aspects of the business plan with the directors and creating a SWOT/context analysis.

Give yourselves plenty of time and use the opportunity to promote the environment, not only at the top level but also cascading it down throughout the business, especially to people who influence environmental performance, such as those in purchasing and tendering.

Finally, I would recommend the guide you wrote.

What is the next step for your organisation’s EMS?

There are always opportunities for improvement. We need to improve some of the administrative aspects of the system, and we have a range of new actions arising from the risk and opportunities assessment, such as investing in training for the HSE and product design teams; we also need to consider renewable energy sources.

Marek Bidwell is Director of Bidwell Management Systems, a Chartered Environmentalist and visiting lecturer in Environmental Management at Newcastle University. Marek has led the design, development and implementation of environmental management systems at a plethora of businesses across the UK. He is the author of a series of articles in ‘The Environmentalist’ on the challenges of adapting management systems to the new standard, and the author of ‘Making the transition to ISO 14001:2015’; he was the facilitator for the practitioner-led ISO 14001:2015 Road Test Group.

This is the first in a series of articles entitled ‘ISO 14001:2015 – Lessons from the Early Adopters’ . Click here for other interviews in the series.