Testing PCBs

Circular Economy North East #1


Heating Trade Supplies Group:

Marek Bidwell talks to Mark Matteo, CEO of Heating Trade Supplies Group and National Boilers Parts about their contribution to the Circular Economy in the North East of England.

Mark Matteo

Mark Matteo, CEO of Heating Trade Supplies Group

Awareness is increasing that something is wrong with our traditional ‘take-make-break’ economy. The BBC’s recent ‘Blue Planet 2’ series highlighted the devastating ecological impacts of consumer waste in the oceans and consumers are growing increasingly sceptical of companies that sell products that have built-in obsolescence, costing more and adding to the waste crisis.

UK government agency, DEFRA, calculated that business could save around £23bn per year by using resources more efficiently and producing less waste. Theresa May’s government is committed to making sure this happens by promoting “reuse, remanufacturing and recycling” in their ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ published in February 2018.

When organisations embark on a journey to reduce waste they often set ‘zero-waste-to-landfill’ targets and focus on sub-optimal outcomes such as incinerating waste for energy. However, the real wins for the environment and business, are achieved when items are reused or remanufactured, thus eliminating waste altogether, often called ‘The Circular Economy’.

Heating Trade Supplies is one company who is turning this concept into reality. They started trading five years ago with the aim of saving money for heating engineers and maintenance companies on boiler parts and at the same time extending the life of boiler components – a first in the North of England. The factory receives faulty boilers parts, such as Printed Circuit Boards and heat exchangers, repairs and tests them in their dedicated workshops, before dispatching them with a 12 months replacement warranty. 

HTS Workshop

HTS Workshop, North Tyneside

I visited their workshop, near the north entrance to the Tyne Tunnel, and waste met by CEO, Mark Matteo. It is busy scene on arrival due to high demand for parts and repairs following extremely cold weather and snow in Britain the previous week. He tells me that it was all hands on deck over the weekend clearing the backlog.

I start by asking Mark what inspired him to set up the company. “I served my time as a Heating Engineer in Turkey, but then when I started working in England repairing boilers I was forced to buy entire replacement parts at a high price when I might only need one small component, and have to dispose of the rest of it, so I felt really bad having to pay several hundred pounds when I only need one component worth a few pounds. Many of the parts, especially the electronic parts, are fixable. They consist of three or four hundred components, but when there is a fault it is likely that one of only ten moving components has failed.”

Testing PCBs

Testing PCBs

Touring the workshop, I observe engineers swapping out components and testing the repaired items. Other staff are reconditioning heat exchangers for a second life. They clearly take pride in their work and show me the spotless results. Mark tells me that having a dedicated facility is essential: “Without a workshop, you are very limited because the only way to test a PCB is to fit it on the appliance. We have developed test rigs that mimic the each of the hundreds of types of boilers, allowing us to find out which components are faulty.”

Following the development of quality management system (ISO 9001:2015) the company developed a standard system whereby when they receive a faulty PCB, they not only swap out the damaged components but replace all the moving components on a PCB that commonly cause a fault. “The repaired board is practically as good as a new, if not better because our replacement components are higher rated than the originals,” says Mark. “Customers also have legitimate questions about the safety of refurbished components for gas boilers. All our work is carried out under the quality standard ISO 9001, replacement components are traceable to their country of origin and we obtain Certificates of Conformity from suppliers. We also employ a number of qualified Gas Safe registered engineers at the factory.”

Mark is clearly enthusiastic about the benefits of the service he provides, not only for the environment and the customer but also the local economy. He says, “every single item we refurbish would have been imported from other countries, so we believe that we are keeping the money in the country”.

Refurbished Fans

Refurbished Fans

Increasingly HTS are attracting larger corporate customers because the service offers a ‘win-win’ for them in terms of reducing the cost of replacement parts and helping them to meet their sustainability objectives. Some of these companies offer a guarantee to domestic customers that they will either get their old boiler working or provide them with a replacement. However, some domestic boilers are over 20 years old and spare parts are no longer available. “It happens very often that heating engineers have to replace the entire heating system in a house just because they can’t source a small part, but there is nothing wrong with the larger system,” says Mark. Walking around the warehouse I observe a library of stacked and labelled refurbished components, many of which come from obsolete models. He adds: “If necessary we can also manufacture such obsolete parts in a dedicated facility”.

Michelle Oliver, who is responsible for environmental management at HTS, shows me how they segregate various types of waste arising in the factory, including electrical waste that is beyond repair, which is collected by a licensed electrical waste reprocessor. Packaging material removed from incoming goods is shredded and used for packing parts to customers. Michelle says that the company is gearing up for assessment against the international environmental standard (ISO 14001:2015) in June.

Manufacturing PCBs

Manufacturing PCBs

I am keen to understand what the challenges are in this line of business, with a view to learning lessons for the wider circular economy.  “The biggest challenge the sector has is that it is seasonal,” says Mark. “When we are busy we are extremely busy, and boilers all decide to break down at the same time, so everybody needs parts. The other challenge we have is that, although it is great that we do a unique job, the downside is that there are a very limited number of qualified people who we can employ, so we have to look far and wide for skilled engineers, but we have now started training some local young people in these skills. So, expanding the business not as easy as expanding a usual mainstream business.”

Towards the end of our discussion, I ask Mark how he sees the wider political, economic and environmental challenges facing the country may affect the business. “I moved to the UK in 1998 to work as a Heating Engineer, and although prices of food and goods have risen substantially during this period the wages of a typical engineer have remained the same – we are all poorer. Fifteen or twenty years ago when we went to repair a boiler the customer didn’t care too much how much a part cost, but times are getting harder following the recession, oil prices are fluctuating, and people are wondering what Brexit will bring. For example, the day after the Brexit vote, bills for our materials went up 20% against the Euro and Dollar, so we can feel it. People are being a lot more careful to purchase energy efficient boilers, insulate their houses to insure against rises in energy prices, and it is the same with companies. They can’t ignore refurbish and remanufacturing options anymore. I think that our type of industry will become more and more important in the future.”

Following our meeting, I reflect on the success that HTS has had in stimulating the circular economy in the heating sector by employing eco-design principles such as modularity, durability, and efficiency, and hope that the lessons learned here will encourage innovation in other sectors.

Marek Bidwell is Director of Bidwell Management Systems, an IEMA Fellow and a visiting lecturer in Environmental Management at Newcastle University. Marek has led the design, development and implementation of environmental management systems in many organisations across the UK. He is the founder of Green Thinkers book club and author of a series of articles on environmental management systems and ISO 14001:2015.

ISO 14001:2015 Lessons from the Early Adopters #4



Marek Bidwell interviews Helena Tinker from Mmmu_logo_0anchester Metropolitan University about her experience making the transition to ISO 14001:2015.


Helena Tinker is the Environment and Energy Systems Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is responsible for the University’s Environmental Management System, Policy and Strategy implementation.

Manchester Metropolitan is one of the largest campus-based universities in the UK, with a total student population of approximately 38,000 and approximately 4,000 staff. The University has pursued an environmental sustainability agenda for a number of years and was ranked as one of the top three greenest UK universities by The People and Planet Green League in 2015 and the greenest university in 2013.

Manchester Metropolitan has implemented an environmental management system using the EcoCampus framework. They achieved bronze in 2012, silver in 2014 and gold in 2015. In early 2016, they were assessed against the final stage of EcoCampus (that includes the check and review stages of the standard) achieving EcoCampus Platinum and ISO 14001:2015 simultaneously.

In May this year, Helena presented a summary of the university’s journey towards ISO 14001:2015 at the annual conference of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges.

Give me a flavour of how you prepared for the 14001 transition?

When we were working towards gold EcoCampus in 2015, I reviewed early drafts of the ISO 14001:2015 standard to ensure the systems we developed incorporated the new requirements, such as leadership commitment and context analysis, and then tweaked the systems when the final version was published.

 I embedded the EMS across the organisation, building competency in other members of staff.

The system is split into 12 areas that link to our environmental policy and a member of staff is accountable for achieving the objectives and targets, defining roles and responsibility and ensuring legal compliance within their area.

I also integrated the EMS into other business processes across the organisation.


Environmental roles and responsibilities at Manchester Metropolitan University


What were the most helpful sources of information?

 The ISO 14001:2015 consultation workshops run by Martin Baxter from IEMA were useful as they gave an early insight to the changes being proposed.  Alex Hobbins from EcoCampus was also helpful; we worked together to understand the impact of the changes on our system.

What were the strengths of your existing system?

Manchester Metropolitan has been active in environmental sustainability for a number of years, so already had some excellent and challenging environmental programmes in place. The Environment Team were well resourced and staff across the university were already engaged in environmental issues via the NUS Green Impact Programme, which we had been running for a number of years. The University already had an Environmental Strategy and Policy with commitment from senior management. We reviewed and updated both documents to meet the requirements of 14001:2015. Further resources were also made available to deliver new environmental objectives and targets.



Environmental Vision, and Policy for 2020 at Manchester Metropolitan University


In early 2014, the university developed an objective to embed sustainability into the curriculum, and recruited a new member of staff to manage this work programme. This helped the University maintain our position in the People and Planet green/university league because there was greater emphasis on ‘education for sustainable development’ in the assessment criteria.

We were already delivering an excellent waste and recycling service with challenging reuse and recycling targets, but a full review of our waste streams and environmental obligations was required. We also formalised our systems and procedures to maintain compliance and increased our waste auditing activities.

What were the main changes you needed to make?

The clause/requirement we had not addressed was ‘context analysis’. To meet this requirement, I delivered a number of workshops with the eight environmental policy managers and their teams in 2015. We undertook a PESTLE analysis of internal and external issues that could affect the university achieving its environmental objectives. We then identified the associated, risks and opportunities and proposed actions to address the issues arising. It was a useful exercise as it helped us identify future challenges and our management response. I selected key risks and opportunities and our proposed actions and presented them to our Environmental Strategy Board for discussion, input and approval.

Did you find the process of identifying risks and opportunities useful, having already identified your environmental aspects?

We found it more useful than the aspects assessment exercise, especially for the travel and waste policy areas; it helped teams think about how their activities are influenced by internal and external factors. It encouraged them to think more holistically and manage our risks and opportunities.

 Examples of the external issues identified included changes and developments in government policy and our continued membership of the European Union, and ongoing improvement works on the Oxford Road Corridor in Manchester creating i enhanced bus and cycle infrastructure. It was useful to discuss the actions required to address the risks and opportunities associated with them and ensure they were incorporated into our action plans.

How did you tackle the new requirements for life-cycle thinking?

We already included procurement activities in the scope of our environmental management system as we were working towards level 3 in the Government’s flexible procurement framework.

 I worked with the procurement team to identify key products and services we purchased that could potentially have a high environmental or social impact. I then determined the environmental impacts associated with each lifecycle stage: Transport, Processing, Manufacture and Construction, Distribution, Use and Disposal; considered if we had control or influence at each stage; and then identified at what current actions we were working on, and future potential actions.

For example, we developed Environmental Design Principles for our building and refurbishment projects, to ensure environmental issues are considered in the design process.

Tell me more about how you worked with the University to embed sustainability into teaching and research?

Embedding environmental and social sustainability issues into the curriculum is one of our largest positive impacts, alongside offering extra-curricular activities associated with sustainability.

The University appointed an Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator who provides support and CPD opportunities to academic staff to embed sustainability into their curriculum.

For example, the Faculty of Business and Law’s mission statement includes: To develop socially and environmentally responsible ‘early career professionals’ for successful careers in management and the professions. Dr Jack Christian from Accounting, Finance and Economics has delivered ethics and sustainability lectures across the Business School for the last five years.

The University was also a pilot for the new Responsible Futures accreditation mark, an initiative driven by the National Union of Students to engage students in the sustainability agenda. The University’s involvement in the scheme helped contribute to the successful certification to ISO 14001:2015.

Did you need to make changes to your processes associated with communication with interested parties?

No, we documented current communication practices. We listed our interested parties, confirmed their needs and expectations, in terms of environmental communication and identified if it was a compliance issues.

We already published our environmental performance on an annual basis via our annual environmental sustainability report. This piece of work is led by our Sustainability Engagement Manager with input from key stakeholders across the university. Our most recent statement is available on our website.

How did the external assessment go?

Two auditors from NQA undertook the assessment, over three days.

 They undertook a number of site visits and interviewed approximately 40 people. They interviewed our Director of Services, who is the Chair of the University’s Environmental Strategy Board. They spent about an hour asking about the Boards role its structure and how our environmental objectives link to University strategy, and future risks and opportunities for the University.

In large organisations, it is impossible for auditors to talk to everyone involved in the EMS, but they said they would have loved to spend more time looking at particular areas in more detail. We have therefore agreed to spend a greater amount of time on issues such as procurement, waste management and sustainability in the curriculum, in our next surveillance visit.

What were the audit findings?

We had four minor nonconformities and a number of observations. One was associated with the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015.

It was linked to our evaluation of legal compliance. We use an environmental legislation update database called ELUS to help create a register of legislation. It was recommended that we link our legal internal audits of compliance to our register of legislation. This would provide evidence of our regular evaluation of compliance.

Do you perceive that there were any benefits for your organisation or the environment from the changes to ISO 14001?

The top benefits are: senior management commitment helps ensure we have sufficient resources in place to manage and improve our environmental performance, and the new monitoring and measurement requirements ensure robust KPIs are in place to review performance and continually improve Undertaking a PESTEL analysis helped identify future risks and opportunities and ensured we had plans in place to address them.

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

Always keep it simple; make sure that you have good leadership and commitment; embed the EMS into your organisation; and ensure that people are clear about their roles and responsibilities because you are not going to be able to do it all on your own

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

 We would like to improve our internal auditing system taking on board the comments from the external auditors, ensuring we document the root cause of any non-conformance raised.  We would also like to expand our programme on climate change adaptation and business continuity, working with the Head of Business Continuity. We will continually review our energy, carbon and travel performance and continue to deliver on our challenging action plans to meet our targets.

Using our experience, the university has established an advisory service to support other organisations to implement ISO 14001:2015


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


Environment Agency photo

ISO Transition Course for Environment Agency


In July, I was privileged to provide integrated ISO 14001:2015 and 9001:2015 transition training for the Environment Agency, near their head office in Bristol. As well as getting to know the enthusiastic internal quality and environmental management teams (featured below), it was my first visit to this green city, and a great chance to explore .


Environment Agency photo

Delegates on Environment Agency ISO 14001 and 9001:2015 Transition Course (July 2016)


One of the key themes of the course was the process approach to both quality and environmental management, and the teams mapped out various EA processes, identifying risks, opportunities and control measure at each stage.

Following the course Lex Massey (Internal Environmental Management Team Leader) wrote: “Thanks for last week, it was a really informative course and I can see lots of opportunities at the EA for the integration of both of the standards.” 


If your organisation would benefit from tailored transition training for ISO 14001:2015 and/or ISO 9001:2015 please drop me a line.


Marek Bidwell


ISO 14001:2015 – Lessons from the Early Adopters #3




NorthernMarek Bidwell interviews Kyle MacNeill from the train operating company Northern about their experience of making the transition to ISO 14001:2015.


Northern is the largest train operator outside of London. It provides more than 2,500 services every day and serves a network of 15 million people. Operating a fleet of 333 trains, it also manages 475 stations. Currently, Northern (formerly called Northern Rail) is at the start of a new franchise run by Arriva, which commenced in April 2016.

Northern Rail was the first organisation in the world to be certified to ISO 14001:2015 on 15th September 2015, by certification body NQA.

Kyle MacNeill has been the Environmental Assurance Manager for the organisation since 2012, since which time he has administered Northern Rail’s Environmental Management System (EMS) and acted as Northern Rail’s advisor for compliance, pollution prevention and nuisance.

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

We did a Gap Analysis when the Draft International Standard came out, with the aid of your guide ‘Making the Transition to ISO 14001:2015 – From Compliance to Opportunity’.

Luckily for us, our NQA auditor was appointed as their lead person working on the transition, so during surveillance visits prior to the transition he was helping us to look ahead. However, we found that we had already implemented most of the new requirements.

What were the strengths of your existing system?

We developed a tiered management review process about three years ago [clause 9.3]. This approach allows management teams at different levels of the business to review, and contribute to, environmental performance.

In 2012, when Northern Rail’s franchise was extended for two years, we performed a context analysis as part of our environmental strategy development [clause 4.1]. The resulting actions were devolved across the business, rather than being solely the responsibility of the environmental team, and the MD chaired the top group, signed everything off, and was involved in the analysis.

Dr Karen Booth, who was then our Head of Sustainability, led the context analysis, facilitated by a former Environmental Director from another train operating company. The actual work was done by our Environmental Review Group, which was comprised of the heads of each directorate across the business. The idea behind the analysis was that if we were devolving all these actions to the business, and expecting them to deliver, they needed to help create that vision. The analysis took into account people’s perceptions and opinions on the risks and opportunities available to Northern in terms of the environment, and the risks to the environment with regard to Northern.

Because ISO 50001 (for energy management) had already been delivered by our Energy Solutions Manager at the time, Gareth Williams, we had already established a process to capture energy opportunities, which we had extended to all environmental opportunities, as part of our integrated energy and environmental management system [clause 6.1.1]. We also had a way of identifying and grading aspects that could have a positive impact on the environment.

Regarding life-cycle thinking, we had reviewed our procurement processes to prepare for the BS 8903 standard, looking at the social, environmental and financial aspects of sustainable procurement. The Procurement Team was already on board and embedding life-cycle thinking into their processes, and two of our procurement managers were assigned to work on this [clause 8.1].

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

We were measuring contractual requirements with the Department for Transport and requirements from the ROSCOs (rolling stock operating companies), such as the requirement to use only certain coolants on the trains. Going forward, however, we started to capture other non-statutory compliance obligations, such as noise complaints associated with public address systems, whereby local managers made commitments either to shut engines down, or to ensure that public address systems were turned down. This was hugely advantageous to us because previously local managers had made commitments and then left the company, so that the complaints would arise again and the residents would have more information than we did; but now we do know about it and the process is more resilient [clause 9.1.2].

We also developed a process for identifying environmental risks to the business, such as flooding, landslips and track buckle associated with climate change. Each incident associated with these issues has been pinpointed on a map of the network, allowing us to identify hotspots. In the new franchise, therefore, we will be able to start focusing our adaptation work and investment in these areas, working collaboratively with our industry partners [clause 6.1.1].

What were the audit findings?

We had a corrective action against policy [clause 5.2c] – this required us to add a commitment to the ‘Protection of the Environment’, replacing the wording we had previously used, which was ‘Enhancement of the Environment’.

There was also a linked observation to amend the commitment ‘to improve environmental performance’ to incorporate a commitment ‘to improve environmental performance and the management system’ [clause 5.2e].

The other corrective action was associated with our ongoing audit programme [clause 9.2.2], which assesses operational control and elements of the environmental management system throughout the year. Whilst many of the changes we had made to the system until mid-2015 had already been subject to an internal audit, further changes had been made within the last six months that had not been captured. We therefore had to conduct an additional audit of the final changes with regard to the new requirements of the standard.

What led to you becoming the first to achieve certification against the new standard?

NQA conducted our transition audit based on the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS). When the final version came out on 15th September 2015, a comparison of the FDIS and the final version was made to identify any differences between the two documents that would fundamentally change the outcome of the audit. Because there was very little change, if any, we received a non-UKAS certificate initially, which was upgraded to a UKAS certificate once NQA had been accredited by UKAS for the new standard in November 2015.

Were there any benefits for your organisation, or for the environment, as a result of the changes to ISO 14001?

Yes, especially with the life-cycle work becoming a requirement of the ISO standard, because it gave us a great push to get things done. Even though we had already been working on it, we ensured that those changes were embedded prior to the standard being published. It also helped us to integrate the life-cycle thinking within project planning.

The new high-level assessment of environmental risk means more to the executive, and integrates with our business risk management system, which is discussed at a high-level Business Review forum.

Our MD has now embedded health, safety and the environment within the balanced business scorecard, so that all of the managers now have these criteria as part of their personal review process.

As more people implement the requirements of ISO 14001: 2015, the changes may also help us to obtain environmental information from our suppliers. We have always found it difficult to get detailed information about our scope 3 carbon emissions. Until now we have had to estimate those emissions, based on our spending in each industry sector. We are now targeting our top, high carbon contracts, to get specific carbon information.

Hopefully, the changes to 14001 will mean that suppliers will have this information readily available, as many more customers may be asking for it; currently, we are being asked to pay extra to receive it during the tender stage.

What was your experience of the transition audit?

When we retendered our certification contract about three years ago we also re-evaluated our needs. We wanted to incorporate added value audits to look at the management commitment from directors, through heads of department, to front-line management. The aim was to gauge levels of commitment at each level by asking questions such as:

  • Do you know that we have an EMS?

  • Is the EMS working for you?

  • How are you improving environmental performance?

  • Do you understand your environmental risks?

  • What environmental messages are you passing down to your staff?

  • Are you recording environmental issues in team minutes and project plans?

Our external auditor saw value in doing this, but the old standard limited his ability to raise findings in this area – this has changed with the new standard.

What questions were asked of directors during the transition audit?

The certification body checked that our environmental risks were flowing up into the Business Risk Register and the Environmental Review Group (ERG).

The assessor asked our MD, “How do you make sure that everyone who needs to deliver on the environment does so?” This allowed our MD to talk about resourcing and the environment being an essential part of our balanced scorecard criteria (good customer service, happy people working for you, a safe and sustainable environment). That is his vision for running a railway, so it is already part of his mentality.

The assessor also asked, “How do you make sure that your managers adhere to EMS requirements?” The MD said that every manager has to undergo a performance development review that includes a safety or environmental initiative; he also explained that all directors are held accountable for safety and the environment in their area.

Did the auditor spend time with other relevant departments, such as purchasing?

Yes, he interviewed both the purchasing and the estates teams.

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

Conduct a gap analysis of where you are at the minute, compared to the requirements of the new standard.

Create a summary for your Board of Directors, and ask them to delegate what needs to be done. That might even include some high-level actions such as specific directors taking accountability for specific areas such as design and procurement.

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

There are still lots of things that we want to do.

After we achieved 14001:2015, we developed a forecasting system for environmental objectives, which uses environmental information gathered from hundreds of locations within the business such as stations and depots. This means that, rather than simply reporting ‘we have produced x amount of waste each month’, we can forecast how far ahead or behind we are likely to be at the end of the year, taking into account a variety of factors. We can therefore effect additional changes during the year if we are going off track, or at least have an early warning system [clauses 6.2.1 and 9.1.1].

The next thing we will be looking at is integrating our system with health, safety and crime.

Currently, we are awaiting a huge investment, because we are at the start of a new franchise run by Arriva. We are hoping to do a lot of work towards improving biodiversity, which is a big opportunity for us because of our geographical range.


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

ISO 14001:2015 – Lessons from the Early Adopters #2





Marek Bidwell interviews Nigel Sagar from Skanska UK about his experience making the transition to ISO 14001:2015.


The Senior Environmental Compliance Manager for Skanska UK, Nigel Sagar has worked in the construction industry for over 30 years. His career has comprised of two distinct phases; for the first 15 years, he fulfilled a site role on civil engineering projects, with the remainder having been spent in the environment department. During that time, he has written, implemented and maintained several management systems compliant with ISO14001.

With approximately 5,500 employees, Skanska UK is one of the UK’s leading project development and construction companies; it is known for major projects such as the Gherkin and Crossrail.

Skanska UK successfully completed the transition to ISO 14001:2015 in March 2016 as part of an audit by LRQA of their integrated quality, health and safety, and environmental management system, which is called ‘Our Way of Working’.

Give me an overview of how you prepared for the 14001 transition?

I followed the development of the standard through each draft as it came out, and did a Gap Analysis to compare the requirements of the standard with the contents of our management system.

The seminars and webinars that were given at the time by Martin Baxter of IEMA, who was on the ISO committee, were really helpful, as were the updates posted on the CRA Europe website by Bryan Hughes, who was also on the committee.

I was attempting to identify not only the new aspects of the standards, but also the way in which they should be interpreted – that was the hardest element.

What was the outcome of your Gap Analysis?

There was a gap in terms of high-level risk and opportunity [clause 6.1.1]. Within ‘Our Way of Working’ we have risk registers both at a company level and at a project level. Although we are always looking for green opportunities, this was not well covered in our processes, so we had to develop something to improve this.

In other areas, we needed to increase the effectiveness of what we already had in place, ensuring everything was running smoothly.

We had been using a life-cycle approach for a while, driven by the Skanska Color PaletteTM [clauses 6.1.2 and 8.1]. We are endeavouring to move all of our major projects towards ‘Deep Green’ by undertaking a colour palette assessment at the tender stage; this is then continued through the construction phase, with a final assessment at the end of construction.

We report on the percentage of revenue taken by the business split according to the three outcomes on the colour palette: Vanilla, Green, and Deep Green. The Deep Green criteria includes net zero primary energy, near zero carbon construction, zero waste, net zero water, zero hazardous and unsustainable materials, the way in which the product is used, and eventually the way in which it is adapted, reused or recycled at its end of life. In other words, it was all in place, although some aspects had to be linked more clearly back into the design process.

Skanska Color Palette

With regard to communication [clause 7.4], the environment team in Skanska UK has a Communications Business Partner to support us internally, and we had already implemented an external communications plan that includes events in which we participate, sponsorships, and sustainability groups on which we are represented; for example, the Business Unit President, Mike Putman, chairs the Green Construction Board. We were therefore well placed in terms of communication.

Additionally, I identified the need to formalise our process for evaluating the effectiveness of training [clause 7.2].

Another aspect of the new standard that we highlighted was defining employees’ competence to do particular things [clause 7.2]. We were using an environmental training matrix, which is categorised by job title and includes mandatory environmental courses (such as courses for procurement and design staff). However, we have further developed the competency process to include specified professional membership levels tasks. Anyone can write an environmental aspect and impact assessment, but it now has to be approved by an associate member of IEMA or equivalent; similarly, anyone can write a project’s Environmental Management Plan, but they have to be reviewed and approved by a full member of IEMA or equivalent.

Did you have any problems with the new leadership requirements [clause 5.1]?

No; historically we have had a lot of commitment from top management. Senior Skanska UK managers have always attended either the opening or closing meetings. When we conduct management system reviews, that are held in the individual business streams and feed into the Skanska UK reviews, Senior Directors attend those meetings.

Did you find that the auditor asked more searching questions of senior management during the transition audit?

We completely reversed this by ensuring in advance that a number of Managing Directors were prepared to speak to the certification body. Examples of the questions asked included, ‘How did you put your business stream 2020 strategy together? ‘How do site-based issues feed into the strategy?’ ‘What are your environmental objectives and targets?’ and ‘What support do you give to people in the business on environmental management?’ The assessor found that the Managing Directors were well versed in our environmental issues, and having that top-level support makes it much easier.

The Skanska Color PaletteTM has been in place since 2009 and is easy to understand. Our target is to get a certain percentage of our projects into Deep Green and the Managing Directors understand and promote this.

Historically, members of the Skanska UK board have had a target to give a certain number of external presentations on environmental issues at fora such as EcoBuild. This was beneficial to environment team members because it gave them an increased motivation to seek relevant information to present, which equally increased their knowledge of the issues. They easily exceeded their target, which has now been given to the next level of management.

What was your experience of the actual audit process?

It was a learning process, both for our certification body and for ourselves. Now that ISO 14004 has been published, there is a lot more guidance on how ISO 14001 needs to be interpreted.

Our auditors are covering all three standards (14001, 18001 and 9001); some have more knowledge and experience of ISO 14001 than others. Those who have an industry background are good at understanding the specific challenges we are facing.

On this occasion, they spent more time interviewing managers from our central enabling functions such as procurement, HR, design and fleet. For example, employees from the procurement department were asked about our sustainable procurement policy and designers were questioned about taking a life-cycle approach. The assessors spent a week at our head office in Maple Cross as well as visiting a selection of our projects and offices across the UK business.

What were the audit findings?

For the transition and re-certification audit, which took a total of 55 days and covered all three standards, we received only two Minor Nonconformities for ISO14001:2015, with no Opportunity for Improvements or Observations.

The first was Minor Nonconformity was related to risk and opportunity [clause 6.1.1]. We had conducted a risk and opportunity assessment at Skanska UK level, and also at the individual business stream level, as part of the development of our 2020 business plan; each issue identified is linked to one of the five strategy areas in the business plan.

When visiting a particular project, the assessor found that the risk and opportunity assessments were not in the same format as the overall business plan risks and opportunities, although there was an aspect and impact assessment and a general risk register for each project. We consider that aspects and impacts are almost 100 percent certain to happen, whereas risks and opportunities might happen. One of the key opportunities for us is taking a project into Deep Green, but we cannot do this for every project.

Another complication is that if a client wants us to use their documentation on a project we have to do so, and therefore for some projects there was no section in the documents for environmental risk and opportunity analyses. This could continue to be an issue for us when working on projects with a client who is still working to the 2004 version of the standard and we will have to agree our approach to this.

The other finding was that environmental objectives [clause 6.2.2] were not fully documented.

We have a detailed plan for environmental objectives at a Skanska UK level, but when the certification body was visiting a certain project there was not a detailed plan for achieving all of the specific project objectives – what, by whom, and when.

Do you perceive that there were any benefits for your organisation or the environment from the changes to ISO 14001?

Although we were already doing many of the new requirements, their inclusion in the standard reinforces what we are doing. The changes in the new version are very positive and are certainly a step in the right direction. This can only bring benefits in encouraging more people to become involved in environmental management, not only in Skanska UK but also in our supply chain.

The changes may also make it easier for us to obtain environmental information from other organisations in our supply chain, helping us all to manage life-cycle issues more effectively.

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

Undertake a gap analysis, read the newly published ISO 14004, seek advice from your certification body and speak to other practitioners who are going through the process.

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

We are always looking to improve our EMS and make it more effective. Our priority in the next year is to make it more user-friendly. We will be making changes to “Our Way of Working” on the intranet to subdivide it into the different phases of the project, with the relevant processes and procedures linked to the project stages.

Another priority is to digitise more documents; for example, we intend to make documents such as inspection forms available on iPads and link them into BIM.

We are also planning to extend the use of the Skanska Color PaletteTM methodology to maintenance contracts including Facilities Management.

Through Skanska UK’s experience in the transition, we can now assist our other Business Units around the world in their transition via the Skanska ISO14001 working group, which I chair.



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

Hydram logo

ISO 14001:2015 – Lessons from the Early Adopters #1




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.


Will ISO 14001:2015 make a difference? A practitioner survey



The revised ISO 14001:2015 standard for environmental management was released in September 2015. There are many new requirements and areas with increased emphasis, including considering how relevant internal and external issues may affect the organisation and its environmental management system; increased responsibilities for top management; determining environmental risks and opportunities; considering the environmental impacts associated with procurement and the life-cycle of products and services; and ensuring that environmental communications are reliable.

In order to gauge the implications of these changes for organisations and whether or not they may lead to improved environmental performance, an in-depth survey was completed by ten organisations who are making the transition to from the 2004 to 2015 version of the standard. Participants were self-selecting, but they represented a range of industry sectors and sizes.

This research was carried out by Marek Bidwell of Bidwell Management Systems and Kirsten McLaughlin of WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff with guidance from Dr Phil Longhurst of Cranfield University.

Survey Questions

Introductory questions were asked about the nature of each organisation and their environmental management systems. A summary of these results is presented in Figure 1.

Participants were then asked to read a brief summary of each of the thirteen key changes in the 2015 version of the standard, before answering the following four questions about each change:

  1. How relevant is this to your organisation?

  2. How much change to your systems / procedures will be required?

  3. Do you believe this will lead to environmental benefits / improvements?

  4. Please provide a brief explanation of the scores you have given

The replies to questions one to three had to be categorised by the participants into:

  • High relevance / significant change / significant environmental benefit (Scored 4)

  • Moderate relevance / moderate change / moderate environment benefit (Scored 3)

  • Small relevance / small change / small environment benefit (Scored 2)

  • No relevance / no change / no environment benefit (Scored 1)

  • Don’t know (Excluded from results)


Figure 1

The organisations participating represented a range of industry sectors from manufacturing to transportation. Four of the respondents had more than 1,000 employees, three between 250-999 employees and three between 100-249.

The respondents were asked when they had first attained ISO 14001. The oil and gas company obtained ISO 14001 first in 1998, while the silicone liner manufacturer obtained ISO 14001 the most recently in 2014. Four of the organisations held the health and safety standard (OHSAS 18001) whilst nine held the quality management standard ISO 9001. These questions were asked because it was thought that the requirements of sister standards might help organisations to address some of the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015.

All of the organisations held at least one environmental permit (for air, water, or waste) except for the electronics firm.

Four of the organisations publish a publically available report that contains environmental information: Professional services, Oil and gas, Passenger transport executive and the Airport. This question was asked due to the increased requirements for planning communications under the new standard.

Finally respondents were asked “How would you describe the attitude of your organisation towards Environmental Management?”. Three of the respondents reported that their organisation thought environmental management was ‘highly important’, six ‘moderately important’, and one ‘slightly important’.

Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 4


Topic-Based Discussions

Each of the following sections contains an introduction to the new or changed requirement of ISO 14001, the results of how the survey participants ranked the change against three criteria, and a discussion of these rankings with particular reference to the written responses provided.


1.) Structure of Standard

The clauses have been restructured around Annex SL “framework for a generic management system”. Instead of clause numbers 4.2 (Policy) through to 4.6 (Management Review) the new standard will have seven main sections: 4 (Context), 5 (Leadership), 6 (Planning), 7 (Support), 8 (Operation), 9 (Performance Evaluation), and 10 (Improvement).

Typically, many organisations structure their Environmental Manual around the requirements of a standard, so it was hypothesized that this change will create some work restructuring this document. However, at the same time ISO 14001:2015 no longer contains a requirement for a documented environmental manual, so organisations may use this as an opportunity to reduce the complexity of their documented system.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 11th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 4th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 5th out of 13

The largely administrative benefit of this change was summed up by an organisation who develops and manufactures silicone release liners: “The actual management systems for quality and environment are already interconnected, therefore slight relevance and small change. Benefit will come from more and better integration, auditing and maintenance of the systems. Furthermore a more uniform system will be the result also making it easier to implement other additional management systems following the same structure.”


2.) Understanding the organisation and its context

This is a new requirement to: “determine external and internal issues that are relevant to the organisation’s purpose”. This means identifying internal and external issues that may affect the intended outcomes of its environmental management system, and also external environmental conditions that may affect, or be affected by the organisation. Once identified, these issues will inform the development of the environmental management system, including determining risks and opportunities.

Internal issues that may affect the success of the environmental management system (EMS) will be familiar to Environmental Managers. These may include conflicting organisational goals and policies, rapid change and limitations of human, technical and financial resources.

External issues that may affect the outcomes of the EMS include changing regulations and regulators, new innovation and technology — potentially leading to better pollution controls — and economic factors (such as the last recession) that restricted investment and changed consumer behaviour.

This clause also requires the organisation to consider how environmental conditions may affect the organisation (not just the EMS). This is a more strategic consideration and is linked to business planning and contingency planning. Examples include climate change risks such as flooding, disruption to global supply chains and soil erosion. Environmental changes may also create opportunities for some.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 9th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 6th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 2nd out of 13

These results show that respondents thought this change would lead to greater environmental benefit that most. “Will need to expand the aspects register to include how the environment can impact the organisation. For example, climate adaptation, flooding, resource scarcity, population increase and increased extreme weather events” says the professional services organisation.

“We are already aware of our context and the issues that can affect the EMS, including environmental conditions.  But the additional focus on this in the EMS may have some added benefit in terms of enhancing management’s awareness of how environmental conditions may affect the organisation,” says the aerospace manufacturer who ranged this topic as highly relevant, but only requiring a small change.


3.) Understanding the needs and expectation of interested parties

This new requirement requires an organisation to identify interested parties, determine their relevant needs and expectations and then determine which of these needs and expectations become compliance obligations. Once identified these needs and compliance obligations will inform the development of the environmental management system including the communications plan.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 13th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 13th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 13th out of 13

It is perhaps surprising that stakeholder engagement was ranked the lowest in all three categories given the effect of bad publicity on organisations following environmental incidents in the last few years. However, all six participants who provided a written explanation said that their existing environmental management system already addressed interested parties, thus explaining the low ranking. For example the passenger transport executive said: “We are currently undertaking stakeholder mapping for the organisation. We will need to formalise current relationships,” and the aerospace manufacturer said: “We already do this — there is no conceptual difference from the previous concept of legal and other requirements to which the organisation subscribes.” The professional services organisation said they will “formally identify their interested parties and their reporting requirements, especially any legal requirements for reporting.”


4.) Leadership and commitment

This clause places a greater emphasis on role of top management “Top management must demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the environmental management system” Nine specific areas are listed including being accountable for the effectiveness of the environmental management system, ensuring the environmental policy and objectives are compatible with the strategic direction of the organisation and integrating the EMS with other business processes.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 1th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 5th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 1st out of 13

One participant said: “It is important to engage with top management from a range of disciplines, for example: finance, human resources, facilities, procurement, and design, sales and marketing. This will then help when considering the impact of products and services throughout their life cycle. We will need to embed environment into Business Strategy. In the future it may be crucial to Business Continuity.”

There were a number of comments along the lines that there was a need for top management to be more involved with the environmental management system than it is currently. One respondent said: “The EMS has been ordered from top holding management level and is not actively supported by our management; therefore the EMS must get a much higher importance and place in daily business. When this is achieved a significant benefit is to be expected.” Another said: “If the intent of the required activity is understood by the executives and is filtered down to the plant management for actions, then there is hope of moderate change.”

The view of survey participants in this area is reinforced by examining organisations who are often cited as exemplars of environmental and sustainability practice such as Interface (the designer and maker of carpet tiles) and Unilever. The turnaround in environmental performance at Interface was driven by the late founder and chairman, Ray Anderson, who wrote a book based on his experiences ‘Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist’. Paul Polman, the Dutch CEO of Unilever, has gone on record arguing that being less bad is just not good enough anymore: “If the consumer goods industry does not move to a more sustainable model, most of its profits will be wiped out in 30 to 50 years, and if you are in food even earlier”.

Whether or not the changes to ISO 14001 will lead to greater top management engagement in environmental management remains to be seen, and is discussed by Marek Bidwell in this related article: http://www.bms-services.com/why-design-is-the-key-to-unlocking-the-benefits-of-iso-140012015/


5.) Environmental Policy

 Additional commitments are required in the policy to ‘protection of the environment’ specific to the context of organisation. These requirements are not prescribed, but examples include sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation & adaptation and protection of biodiversity & ecosystems.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 7th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 11th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 10th out of 13

Written responses to this change were brief along the following lines: “Will just need to broaden existing policy”; “This will hopefully make the policy more meaningful”; “Climate change will need to be formally considered.”; and “Often the scope is defined in the policy, so will need to reflect the requirements of the new standard, for example, the effect of external factors on the EMS.”

It appears that respondents are focussing on the act of updating the environmental policy document. Readers should note, however, that once a commitment is made in the policy it becomes auditable and evidence must be available that the organisation is meeting the commitment.


6.) Threats and opportunities

When the survey was distributed it was based on the Draft International Standard that required the organisation to “determine the risk associated with threats and opportunities”. This requirement was later changed in the final version, requiring the organisation to “determine risks and opportunities” in relation to its environmental aspects, compliance obligations, and issues associated with the context of the organisation. Nevertheless, the feedback provided by the survey is still considered informative, if this change is born in mind.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 8th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 3rd out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 8th out of 13

The metal products manufacturer, who ranked this change as high for relevance and moderate for environmental benefit said: “The methodology determined to be used for the best results in dealing with risk will be important and will be one of the most difficult areas in the new standard. The concern globally for risk and threats is consistently rising and causing review of many factors internal and external to the facility.”

The aerospace organisation, who also ranked this change high for relevance, but low for environmental benefit said: “We already identify environmental threats and opportunities that need to be addressed per our process for determining and managing significant environmental aspects.  This change may lead to business benefits in addressing risk/threats/opportunities for the organisation, but will not lead to any significant environmental improvements.”

Environmental managers are considering whether or not their existing systems cover this requirement. The professional services organisation said: “Need to expand existing aspects register, adopt a more quantitative risk based approach. May need input from other colleagues (sustainability team) to address correctly,” whilst the passenger transport executive said: “We already identify risks”.

Clearly, this is an area that will require chance for many organisations if they do no already consider environmental risks and opportunities, over and above environmental aspects, that was already a requirement of ISO 14001:2004.


7.) Planning to achieve objectives

The plan to achieve objectives (formally objectives & targets) must be more specific than previously, including:

  1. i) what will be done

  2. ii) resources required,

iii) who will be responsible

  1. iv) when it will be completed

  2. v) how results will be evaluated.

  3. vi) how it will be integrated into the organisations business processes.’

Records need to be kept showing plans to achieve the environmental objectives.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 6th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 8th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 3th out of 13

The results show that this change ranked higher for environmental benefit than the other two considerations.

The sentiment of a number of the respondents was summed up by the aerospace organisation who said: “We already do this, so for my organisation, the benefit may be more limited; however, for organisations that have not included this information in the past, there may be moderate benefit in the increased specificity and accountability in the planning process.”

On the other hand, one respondent who had previously expressed concern over a lack of top management involvement in the EMS said: “As said before management is not keen on EMS and therefore this will need a change of attitude. Benefits will be small because objectives will be distilled from commercial objectives rather than the other way around.”


8) Competence

The text is almost the same under this clause as in the 2004 version, but with the addition of a requirement to evaluate effectiveness of actions taken to acquire competence and identify competency requirements of persons working for on behalf of the organisation that could affect its environmental performance.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 12th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 12th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 12th out of 13

It is perhaps not surprising that this change was ranked of less importance by the survey group because it is already a requirement of the quality management standard, ISO 9001, and eight out of the ten participants had ISO 9001. This was summed up by the professional service organisation who explained: “This is already addressed in existing systems. Might need to pull the competency information to together or signpost from EMS, for example determining internal auditor competence.”


9.) Communication

This is a new requirement: to plan and implement a process for internal and external communications including: what, when, with whom, and how; taking into account compliance obligations. Information that is communicated must be reliable.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 10th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 10 out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 6th out of 13

The variety of responses to this topic were varied, depending upon the sophistication of participants existing communications systems. For example, the passenger transport executive who ranked the change required as moderate said: “We may need to formalise existing arrangements,” while the a vehicle safety systems organisation, who range the change required as high said, “Our communication procedure really needs an improvement to comply with this new requirement”.

The professional services organisation outlined the approach they would take to develop their communication process: “We will probably need to conduct a mapping exercise to identify who we need to communicate with, what we need to communicate and a method for delivering the information. This includes taking into account compliance obligations for reporting, for example, Green House Gas reporting, ESOS and the Carbon Disclosure Project.”

Three of the ten survey participants were small or medium sized organisations (SME) employing between 100 and 249 staff. These organisations ranked the relevance of this change lower, on average, than the remaining seven organisations who all employed more than 250 staff. The three SME’s all were manufacturing organisations and it is therefore likely that they perceived lower levels of stakeholder interest in their activities, compared to some of the other respondents such as the airport and offshore oil and gas organisation.


10. Value Chain – Procurement

There is a new requirement, to consider a life-cycle perspective when identifying environmental aspects including upstream issues, and a specific requirement to determine environmental requirements for the procurement of products and services, as appropriate. This may mean, for some organisations, considering the environmental impact of the products purchased, in addition to the environmental performance of company that supplies them.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 5th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 2nd out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 9th out of 13

Reponses to this topic were heavily related to the industry sector of the organisation and the complexity of their supply chain. The metal fabrication organisation, who ranked this change as moderately relevant said: “This will be a change that if understood correctly should add new perspective in both the program development and documentation as well as regulatory concerns and a higher review with new personnel i.e. purchasing or schedulers.” There is acknowledgement here that certain personnel will have greater involvement with the environmental management system than before as the scope of the system is extended to cover the supply chain.

For other organisations however, this new requirement was less important, either because they offered consultancy services, rather than a product, or they already include environmental issues when purchasing.


11.) Value Chain – Design and Downstream

There is a new requirement for the organisation to establish controls to ensure that environmental requirements are addressed in the design and development process for the product or service, considering each stage of its life cycle. This may include design, development, delivery, use, and end-of-life treatment of products and services.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 3rd out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 1st out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 4th out of 13

Respondents thought that these new requirement, for environmental design, would require the greatest amount of change for their organisations, with seven out of the ten categorising this a significant change.

The metal fabricator, that also offers technical support services such as die designers and metallurgists gave a similar response to the question on procurement: “This will be a change that if understood correctly should add new perspective in both the program development and documentation as well as regulatory concerns and a higher review with new personnel i.e. purchasing, product managers, schedulers and sales, if not engineers.”

Organisations who have little control over the design process, or who make standard commodity products, may struggle to apply this requirement. For example, one organisation said: “Our main customers are big and then we can hardly influence them. Having a relatively small market share our impact is minimal and the competition high.” The professional services organisation said: “It is difficult to apply this requirement to our business as we provide services / consultancy rather than a product. Will need some thought as how best to address to add value. This may be through environmental / sustainability design guidance, offering client options to clients”


12.) Performance Evaluation

This clause requires the organisation to effectively determine its monitoring and measurement activities:

  • What to monitor and measure

  • The methods to use

  • The environmental performance criteria (KPIs)

  • When it shall take place

  • How and when the results shall be analysed and evaluated

Although monitoring and measurement was a requirement of the 2004 version of the standard, the 2015 version is more prescriptive about defining the methods to use, establishing performance criteria, and analysis of results.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 4th out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 9th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 11th out of 13

For some of the respondents, this does not represent a change, so much as a strengthening of the existing evaluation process. The passenger transport executive said: “We will have to do what we already do, but more detail” and the professional services organisation said: “This is already being conducted, but we may need to pull information together into one place, or signpost from EMS. We will have to ensure of methods are consistent, reliable and possibly externally verified.” However, the developer and manufacturer of silicone liners said: “Evaluation is the hard part of any management system and will require the largest change in our daily business. Eventually it will have significant benefits but we are far from that point now.”


13.) Compliance Status

The requirements in this clause are more explicit than before, and they are broken down into three sections:

  1. i) determine the frequency that compliance will be evaluated

  2. ii) evaluate compliance and take action if needed, and

iii) maintain knowledge and understanding of compliance status.

Requirement i) is more specific, and iii) is new.

Survey participants ranked this change, compared to the other twelve, as follows:

  • Relevance to the organisation: 2nd out of 13

  • Change required by the organisation: 7th out of 13

  • Amount of environmental benefit: 7th out of 13

This was ranked at the second most relevant change by the respondents, with seven of the ten categorising it as highly relevant. Nine out of the ten participants also reported that they have one or more environmental permit, and it is likely that their regulated status increased the relevance of this change. As regulated businesses however, some already monitor their compliance status, for example the aerospace organisation said: “We are already doing this”, and the passenger transport executive said: “We’ll have to formalise what we already do.”

Other respondents believed that they had more work to do in this area. The manufacturer of vehicle safety systems said: “The new part of this requirement is not included in our existing procedure” and the manufacturer of silicon release liners said: “This was one of the findings during the initial audit. We do have a great system now but we are finding out that it is very hard to make sure the requirements list is complete.”



Taking an average across the ten survey participants, the following topics were ranked as the most important for the each of the three criteria:

Relevance to the organisation:

  1. Leadership and Commitment

  2. Compliance Status

  3. Value Chain – Design and Downstream

Change required by the organisation:

  1. Value Chain – Design and Downstream

  2. Value chain – procurement

  3. Threats and Opportunities

Environmental benefit:

  1. Leadership and Commitment

  2. Understanding the organisation and its context

  3. Planning to achieve objectives

However, there was some variation of rankings between participants for certain topics. Larger organisations ranked topic nine ‘communication’ higher than smaller organisations; organisations who had more complex supply chains ranked topics ten and eleven for ‘procurement’ and ‘design’ as more important than those in the service sector; and organisations with more mature (and possibly more strategic) systems ranked the ‘change required’ as lower for topic two ‘understanding the context of the organisation’.

It will be interesting to follow up this survey, after the transition period, to see if these opinions have changed.


About the authors

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

Kirsten McLaughlin has over 15 years’ experience in the environmental management field, her main areas of interest are Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14001, environmental performance improvements and Environmental Auditing. In ever advancing areas of environmental management she has successfully applied her management skills to deliver projects for public and private organisations in a variety of sectors including aviation, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transportation and construction. She has experience of working in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. Kirsten is currently employed as Company Environment Manager for WSP| Parsons Brinckerhoff in the UK.

Dr Phil Longhurst is a Reader in Environmental Technology and Head of Centre for Bioenergy and Resource Management.  His research interests include: the recovery and diversion of materials from landfill; energy recover from phytoremediation crops; risk assessment and studies on better regulation.  He leads study modules in the Energy, Environment, leadership and management postgraduate programmes at Cranfield University.


The authors would like thank all those who took part in the survey including the following: Kirsten McLaughlin of WSP/Parson Brinckerhoff, Daan Eerland of Loparex, Holly Reidenbach of BP, Andrea Szekely of Takata, Harriet Smith of Merseytravel and Andy Barton of Exeter International Airport.



Please feel free to make use of this research, but reference appropriately.  

Marek Bidwell 2016 

Hope for the Gorillas of Uganda


On 19th January 2016 I was privileged to join a small group tracking a family of Gorillas, called Mubare, in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The forest certainly lived up to its name, the total trek was over 8 hours and it took us half that time to find them. Our guides used machetes to create a path through the jungle, following the signs of the gorillas feeding, moving and their dung.

It was a profound experience when we finally caught up with the family – like peering into ancient history, a legend from my childhood coming true. The gorillas were at one with their surroundings, as nature intended: munching leaves, grooming, climbing trees, babies playing, mothers caring and the giant silverback protecting. Each individual had a unique appearance and personality.

I was keen to make this trip now, because I was under the impression that Mountain Gorillas may become extinct in the near future after read ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ by Dian Fossey. There are only about 800 hundred left, split between two forests: Bwindi in Uganda, Volcanoes in Rwanda, and possibly some over the border in Congo. In one of the most densely populated parts of Africa, much of their habitat has become farmland, and Bwindi forest is essentially an island.

However, during our stay, I met the local guides and guards who are passionate about protecting and studying them. In Uganda they have only lost one gorilla to poaching in the last 10-15 years and income from tracking permits is shared with the local community. Tourism also creates jobs for locals as guides, porters and in lodges. It is believed that the Bwindi population may have increased from about 400 to 500 in the last 10 years, and you will see from my photos that there are lots of healthy babies.

It was a coincidence that our small tracking group was joined by the Gorilla Vet (Dr Gladys), who has appeared on several television programmes, and set up the charity ‘Conservation Through Public Health’ that takes a holistic approach to protecting the Gorillas from disease by improving the health of the local community. This approach is an exemplar of sustainable conservation, creates goodwill, and gives me real hope for the future. On my reading list, is a book called ‘Wild Hope’ by Andrew Balmford who investigates similar conservation success stories.

If you like the photos and want to help protect the gorillas, you could do a lot worse than to travel to Uganda to see them for yourself. I can assure you, you will be made to feel welcome.


Our group of 8 visitors and a number of guides and guards

Our group of 8 visitors and a number of guides and guards setting off.

Our group of 8 visitors and a number of guides and guards.


The going get touch on the 8 hour trek the the impenetrable forest

The going gets tough on the 8 hour trek through the impenetrable forest due to mud, army ants, and spiky vegetation.

The going gets tough on the 8 hour trek through the impenetrable forest due to mud, army ants, and spiky vegetation.


At last we spotted gorilla dung; getting closer.

At last we spotted gorilla dung; getting closer.

At last we spotted gorilla dung; getting closer.

Finally, we see our first gorilla, munching leaves in the tree. Our guide (David) gives us some final advice, like what to do if a gorilla approaches you (as it did later)

Finally, we see our first gorilla, muching leaves in the tree. Our guide (David) gives us some final advice, like what to do if a gorilla approaches you (as it did later!)

Finally, we see our first gorilla, munching leaves in the tree. Our guide (David) gives us some final advice, like what to do if a gorilla approaches you (as it did later).


Gorilla bridge, "can I make Daddy play with me by pulling his sliver fur?"

Gorilla bridge, “can I make Daddy play with me by pulling his sliver fur?”.

Gorilla bridge, “can I make Daddy play with me by pulling his sliver fur?


Gorilla feet.

Gorilla feet.

Gorilla feet.

Eating, and playing, with a leaf

Eating, and playing, with a leaf

Eating, and playing, with a leaf.


What will the future bring for my family?

What will the future bring for my family?

What will the future bring for my family?

Despite their size, the gorillas made climbing look easy and graceful

Despite their size, the gorillas made climbing look easy and graceful.

Despite their size, the gorillas made climbing look easy and graceful

The Silverback, called Kanyonyi, moving off. Kanyonyi was named after his place of birth, meaning bird. He was born in 1994

The Silverback, called Kanyonyi, moving off. Kanyonyi was named after his place of birth, meaning bird. He was born in 1994

The Silverback, called Kanyonyi, moving off. Kanyonyi was named after his place of birth, meaning bird. He was born in 1994.


At the end, the silverback decides to call it a day, calls the females, and walks up the hill brushing past me. I can still smell his musky odour.

At the end, the silverback decides to call it a day, calls the females, and walks up the hill brushing past me. I can still smell his musky odour.

The long, steep, climb down

The long, steep, climb down.

The long, steep, climb down.

Some of our group, and Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka the Gorilla Vet, happy to be back at base.

Some of our group, and Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka the Gorilla Vet, happy to be back at base.

Some of our group, and Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka the Gorilla Vet, happy to be back at base.

The wait is over – ISO 14001:2015 published today!


ISO14001:2015 CoverThe eagerly awaited revision of ISO 14001:2015 was published today by the International Organization for Standardization. The standard can be purchased from ISO’s website for 138 Swiss Francs (£92.18).

I have been beavering away updating my guide to the changes “Making the Transition to ISO 14001:2015 – From Compliance to Opportunity” and I am proud to announce that you can also purchase this today from my website for only £15. Packed with useful analysis, diagrams, and examples, the guide will help you to understand the new requirements in ISO 1400:2015, and interpret them for your organisation.

Dozens of organisations have already used it to help prepare, for example:

“The ISO 14001 guide by Marek Bidwell (BMS) has been a useful tool for navigating and interpreting the standard. Not having an in depth background in environmental management, I wouldn’t have known where to start without it.” Peter McAuley, Project Engineer, Hydram Engineering

“Used the previous edition to this to provide further interpretation to the DIS standard and found it really useful. Proud to say our system has been certified to the new standard by our certification body… thanks again for the great service you provide” Kyle MacNeill, Environmental Assurance Manager, Northern Rail

Why design is the key to unlocking the benefits of ISO 14001:2015



Environmental managers I work with have expressed concern about the increased scope of the draft ISO 14001:2015 standard, in so much as it extends to processes and departments such as procurement and design that they have little or no influence over, and especially the need for greater involvement of top management with whom they already struggle to engage on the basics of pollution prevention and compliance.

I sympathise with this view to the extent that if you (as an environmental or sustainability manager) go to your top management with the approach: “ISO now says you have to do x, y, and z in order to maintain certification”, it is unlikely to go down well — you will be banging the same old drum, only louder.

Part of the reason for this anxiety is that environmental management is seen by some business leaders to be mainly about mitigating risk and, therefore, an operational on-cost. In the same organisations strategic decisions are made at a high level to restructure the business, develop new products and services, and move into new markets, without any consideration of the environmental or sustainability implications. Leaders then get frustrated with environmental managers for raising constraints associated with capacity or regulation.

However there is another way of thinking about environmental management — it is ‘what you do’ as an organisation, as well as ‘how you do it’. Not only is this way of thinking likely to do more favours for the environment (the life cycle impacts of your product or service may be ten times greater than your operational impacts), it is much more likely to engage top management in environmental and sustainability thinking — because what you do has implications for business strategy, customers and sales. Your portfolio of products and services is also fertile ground in which to grow environmental opportunities for your organisation.

The ‘ISO 14001:2015 Road Test’ group I facilitated last year concluded that four of the key areas in ISO 14001:2015 that will require the greatest amount of change for organisations are: an increased focus on leadership and strategy; determining and addressing risks and opportunities; environmental purchasing; and environmental design and development of products and services. I believe that it is the last of these – the design of your product or service from an environmental, and potentially sustainability, point of view (that I will refer to as eco-design) – is the key to unlocking the benefits of ISO 14001:2015. In this article, I will explain why, and how to make a start on this journey.

Whether your organisation makes products, buildings or infrastructure, or delivers a service — design is king or queen. It defines who you are and what sets you apart from your competitors. Design drives every other aspect of the business from the raw materials that you purchase, operations and risk on the shop floor, to your marketing and sales strategies.

My thinking about the centrality of eco-design for environmental management is illustrated in the following diagram:


Design is the key to unlocking ISO 14001:2015

Design is the key to unlocking ISO 14001:2015


Reduce operational risks

The design of your product or service has critical implications for operational risks; I shall illustrate this with an example from my early working life in the electricity distribution industry.

As an environmental manager I was involved with a range of issues such as oil leaks from underground cables, toxic chemicals (PCBs) used in transformers, monitoring and reducing the impact of a potent greenhouse gas (SF6) used in switchgear, and dealing with groups who opposed overhead lines due to their visual and wildlife impact. Management of these issues took a lot of time, and also money. Millions were spent on retrofitting transformers with secondary containment, installing large spill kits, and remediating contaminated land.

Some of these issues were always known to have an environmental impact, such as oil leaks; others had only become apparent more recently, such as the impact of SF6. Nevertheless, I learnt that network designers made key decisions at the planning stage such as whether the lines will be overhead or underground, the route, the capacity and type of transformers used, the switchgear technology to be employed (vacuum, air, gas), and the methods used for protection — all of which had major implications for the lifetime environmental and safety implications of the network.

For this reason I was at pains to include the network designers in the environmental management process. I knew that if eco-design principles were employed, such as removing toxic materials and the consideration of lifetime management costs, then problems could be dealt with up front, eliminating or reducing the pollution risk, associated regulatory risks, and clean-up costs.

As well as reducing pollution risk, eco-design principles can substantially decrease the lifetime energy costs of a product or project. This is as true when specifying low-loss, or higher-loss transformers (that may be operating for the next 40 years), as it is when constructing a building, or designing a washing machine. The challenge here is to effectively communicate to the organisation, or customer, that by paying a little extra up front, they will enjoy many years of savings. In my experience organisations also need to join-up thinking between capital and revenue budgets.

To give an example from a different industry sector: in ‘Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist’ by the late Ray Anderson (founder of the carpet company Interface, and frequently hailed exemplar of sustainability) he describes establishing a Toxic Chemicals Elimination team to eliminate ecologically damaging chemicals from all Interface facilities. The team had a hard time obtaining all the information they needed from their supply chain, but eventually developed and implemented a screening protocol. Not only did they screen out toxics such as lead and mercury, they reportedly saved money in the process, and reduced the number of discharges to air and water from their factories. While some of these improvements were mainly associated with the manufacturing process, they termed the initiative ‘benign by design’ — changing the substances used in their carpet tiles was a designer led process, but part of the benefits were enjoyed by manufacturing.


Build resilient supply chains

Companies are increasingly concerned about the resilience of their supply chains. The supermarket chain ASDA, for example, recently reported that 95% of their fresh produce range is at risk from climate change. As a result, they are implementing a framework to adapt to these risks that will involve looking into the detail of their most vulnerable products.

Informed purchasing departments can do a lot when it comes to green purchasing and building resilient supply chains, but there is another side to sustainable purchasing policy that goes to the heart of what the organisation does.

Last year I attended an informative sustainable procurement conference in Birmingham. There were a range of speakers who worked in sustainable procurement, from the BBC to a large ceramic tile manufacturer. These organisations had complex global supply chains, employing thousands of individuals, across several continents. There were discussions about the best way to engage with supply chains to ensure that social, economic, and environmental criteria were embedded. Techniques employed ranged from traditional questionnaires and supply-chain audits, to more innovative engagement with small groups of suppliers, using storytelling and role-play to effect change.

However, as the event progressed I was struck by the revelation that many of these purchasing managers are in a similar position to operational environmental managers. They are given a shopping list of what to buy and have to get on with it, doing their best to minimise risk. Towards the end of the day I plucked up the courage to ask a question to the panel: “Do you have the opportunity to influence what you are purchasing, or just who from?” The consensus answer was: in the main they can’t influence what they are buying because they have no role in the design of the product or service.

It stands to reason that in order to make a paradigm shift in the environmental and sustainability impact of your supply chain, some organisations may need to think about design of their product or service, with the aim of eliminating problematic product lines and materials, rather than shopping around for the least-worst procurement option.

One organisation I have worked with on environmental management is a metal fabricator – they have ISO 14001 and good environmental controls. One of their largest customers recently insisted that they switch from more environmentally friendly powder to coat their products to solvent-based paint. Although this change would mean greater environmental impact, and regulatory burden, they had little choice other than to lose the contract. A design specification made by that customer embedded greater environmental impacts in their supply chain. The purchasing department of that customer could send out a supplier questionnaire, and do monthly supplier audits – but it would never change the fundamentals of their solvent specification. The lesson is clear – the principle ‘benign by design’ also has implications for your supply chain, as well as direct operations.

A complementary way to reduce the environmental impact of your supply chain, and also increase its resilience, is to move from a ‘take-make-break’ business model, to a cradle to cradle, or circular economy model. There is a misconception that the ‘circular economy’ is primarily about operations – diverting waste from landfill at the back door of the factory. But in order to create products that can be readily disassembled so that their valuable, uncontaminated materials become the feedstock for the next products, they often need to be redesigned from the ground upwards.

Jaguar Land Rover, who also presented at the supply-chain seminar I attended, explained that learning from life cycle assessment studies of their vehicles has informed their decision to switch from heavier steel, to lighter aluminium, for car chassis. They reported that although the initial environmental impact of the aluminium is greater than steel, benefits are gained during the use phase for both the customer and environment, and the company has an ambitious strategy to work with myriad stakeholders to take back and reuse aluminium from their old vehicles to make new ones. Because recycled aluminium only has 5-10% of the environmental impact of virgin aluminium, they can potentially reuse it an unlimited number of times, reducing the environmental impact of their supply chain, whilst simultaneously creating a new source of raw materials for their vehicles – increasing business resilience.


New opportunities for product and services

Sometimes there is a perception that environmental friendly products only appeal to the niche market, and one has to suffer to use them — this is not entirely without basis. I remember buying ten, expensive, first-generation LED lights for our kitchen — they were about as effective as a candle and emitted an eerie blue glow. Needless to say, they are still sitting unloved in a box under the stairs.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this, and increasingly consumers are differentiating on issues that are complementary to the green agenda such as efficiency, and free of toxic materials, but they don’t necessarily think of themselves as green consumers. Who wants to be lumbered with toxic, heavy, inefficient products that are expensive to run, and difficult to dispose of?

Today there are a plethora of decent products on the market that tick green boxes without specifically being marketed as such: washing powders that clean at lower temperatures; lighter, more efficient vehicles with lower emissions; low-solvent paint; houses that cost almost nothing to run; and websites for sharing everything from your spare bedroom, to a drill. One of my favourite possessions that falls into this category is my portable radio — vital for an itinerant Radio 4 addict. My old portable radios often broke, and the batteries were constantly running out. I switched to a ‘Roberts’ radio that allows for the internal recharging of batteries when plugged in. It also has an unusually robust aerial, and detachable colour rims that can be switched to suit your taste or decor. I have no idea whether Roberts specifically designed this radio with sustainability in mind (it is not overtly marketed as such), but for me it ticks three eco-design boxes: it produces less waste during use, has increased durability, and has modular elements. Good design is good design – there should be no surprise when this is also the friend of sustainability.

By incorporating eco-design principles into your product or service, you shouldn’t need to compromise on performance or sustainability. Gareth Kane has convincingly made the case that greener products must compete on price, performance, and the planet. And in his book, Green Jujitsu, he explains that it is not necessary to turn members of staff into eco-warriors in order to get their input into sustainability objectives but rather appeal to each individual’s strengths and creativity. If those objectives are right objectives, they should be good for business, and stand up on their own merits.

In their seminal book ‘Cradle to cradle’, Braungart and McDonough argue that designers should aim for eco-effectiveness above eco-efficiency. The difference between the two is explained using the example of a building: an eco-efficient building is worthy but also uninspiring, it is air-tight, with humming air conditioners, non-opening windows, and tinted glass, designed to house machines, not humans; an eco-effective building, on the other hand, employs biophilic design principles of space, light, nature and ventilation – delighting users and reducing employee sickness. Both can be energy efficient, but the latter enhances the lives of the people who work there. They sum up the umbilical link between design and sustainability: “Our concept of eco-effectiveness means working on the right things – on the right products and services and system – instead of making the wrong things less bad.”

This principle can apply to products, buildings, and even cities. In his recent book ‘Happy City’, Montgomery gives example after example that residents of greener, relatively dense cities, designed for people rather than cars, enjoy happier and healthier lives. Montgomery cites studies that found people who live next to green spaces in cities not only knew more of their neighbours and had stronger feelings of belonging, but also experienced lower levels of property and violent crime. While greenery is good, the American dream of living in a detached home on a leafy cul-de-sac backfires, because of the negative effects of long commutes on health, social cohesion, and one’s bank balance. Low-density sprawl, devoid of shops and natural meeting places, has a particularly pernicious effect on the young and old who cannot drive. Therefore planning and zoning policies, dictated by city planners, can have a substantial positive or negative effect on the health and wellbeing of residents, and perhaps not surprisingly the same policies that are good for people also reduce the environmental impact of the city.

So by employing eco-design principles designers can sometimes make products and services more efficient, effective, and delightful. There is no simple formula to achieving this, but some organisations are travelling in this direction – is your organisation amongst them?


A note about services

Many organisations are one or two stages in a long supply chain and their direct environmental impacts only represent a small share of the total environmental impact of the product. With regards to a service the same logic applies; by considering the design of services you can maximise your positive influence. What is taught in a school will potentially have a far greater impact on the lifetime environmental impact of a child compared with the environmental impact of the building – however working on the two together could have synergistic benefits. The service-related environmental impact of a planning department in a council (what types of buildings and infrastructure go where) is of paramount importance compared to how much paper they use in the office. Again, the lion’s share of the environmental impact of a travel agency is about the service they provide: poor tourism practices have devastated the environment in some areas (such as Cancun in Mexico), while good practices also exist that tread lightly and are restorative.

Sometimes switching your business model from a product-based approach, to a service, can reduce your environmental impact. For example by leasing products, rather than owning them, customers are ensured that the products are maintained in top condition, and they have ready access to the latest technology. You may also be in an industry sector where a physical product is being replaced by an electronic one, such as the switch from DVDs to video streaming. This is known as dematerialisation and may also have lower overall environmental impacts.

Services don’t just happen, they are planned (or designed), and way you design them has implications for the environment.


Engaging top management

At the beginning of this article I set out a potential problem raised by environmental managers, that the draft ISO 14001:2015 standard has new requirements that are not traditionally part of your remit, and it simultaneously requires greater engagement with top management — with whom you are already struggling to engage on the basics.

However, I have argued that you can use the new focus on the design of your products and services as the key to unlocking other new requirements: building more sustainable and resilient supply chains, and identifying opportunities for your product or service, whilst underpinning traditional pollution prevention and compliance requirements — from the point of view of top management, what is there not to like? It is a new message that environmental management can add value to your organisation, as well as reducing risk — ‘from compliance to opportunity’.

I put this to the test on a recent visit to an architect’s practice for whom I provide an internal audit service. Talking to the Directors about reducing office waste and energy consumption was moderately interesting, but the conversation came alive when it turned to the subject of embedding eco-design principles (such as passive house, fabric-first, and biophilia) into their architectural process. This is not surprising because architects are normally passionate about their profession, and if eco-design can be shown to help create better buildings and happier customers then it is a win-win.


How to do it

I have set out reasons why eco-design should be central to any environmental management system  but how to do it?

Some organisations are already leading the field in this area and have tools that allow them to model the life-cycle implications of design changes on-the-fly. They can ask questions like: “What happens to the carbon or water footprint of our product if we reduce the packaging weight by 5%, or change from one type of material to another?”. However a full life cycle assessment may not be the most appropriate approach for all, and the draft version of ISO 14001:2015 specifically states that a full LCA is not required.

A simplified qualitative approach may be appropriate by asking a series of questions about your product or service associated with each stage of its life cycle. The answers to these questions could then be used to develop an action plan to reduce your environmental impacts, whilst simultaneously adding value to your organisation. No doubt it would be best to use a multidisciplinary team approach and you may wish to target them with a single product or service in the first instance. Ultimately consideration of eco-design principles should be embedded into your design process so that it becomes business as usual; the earlier that these principles are first considered the better the outcome for the product or service and environment. Initial considerations can be revisited and refined as the design and development process progresses. Ideally the outcome of changes will be measureable so that you can demonstrate environmental improvement, and justify any green-claims made.


Raw materials:

  • Do our raw material / ingredient / subcontract specification embed environmentally damaging practices into our supply chain? If so can we change the specification?
  • Are we maximising the recycled content in our raw materials?
  • Can we incorporate reused / remanufactured / upcycled elements into our products?
  • Can toxic materials be eliminated or reduced from our products and services?
  • Can embodied carbon and water be reduced from our products and services?
  • Does our product have any unnecessary components that can be eliminated? (Take it apart, have a look, challenge every component.)
  • Can our product be made lighter? (Thus reducing the raw materials input, transport, and disposal costs.)
  • Can the product be designed so that biological and technical materials (nutrients) are not mixed together (either in raw materials, or manufacture) in ways that they cannot subsequently be separated?
  • Is packaging kept to a minimum, and excludes toxic materials?


  • What environmental issues are our customers most concerned about with our project or service?
  • Would it be more beneficial for the customer and environment if we leased our product(s) rather than selling them?
  • Could we facilitate the sharing of our product / service rather than everyone owning one each? (A principle known as Factor Four – doubling wealth by halving resource use.)
  • Can our product or service be redesigned so that it produces less waste when in use?
  • Can our product or service be redesigned so that is uses less energy and water?
  • Can our product or service be redesigned so that it is less noisy, or reduces any other environmental impact during use?
  • Can our product or service be redesigned so that it is restorative – it gives back more to nature than it takes?
  • Can our product or service be designed so that it lasts longer?

(A key definition of LCA is functional unit. A product that lasts four times as long, but has double the environmental impact associated with its materials and manufacture would score more highly, especially if its use phase impacts are lower.)

  • Can our product or service be redesigned so that it mimics nature in a way that is beneficial to its form or function? (Known as biomimicry.)
  • Do our products and services maximise the opportunities for environmental education?
  • Do we provide information to our customers that explains how to get the maximum environmental benefit / reduce the environmental impact from our product or services throughout its lifecycle? (This is a specific requirement of the draft ISO 14001:2015.)

Upgrading / Reuse / End of life

  • Can the product be fully disassembled at the end of its life?
  • Is the product modular in nature? (Can parts easily be swapped and / or upgraded? Can the product have multiple functions?)
  • Do we / can we provide a take back service for the product at the end of life?


  • Have any of the changes made above inadvertently created new environmental impacts that need dealing with (trade-offs)?
  • Are there any eco-design quality indicators that you can employ that are specific to your sector such as BREEAM for construction, or an EU Ecolabel? Be aware, however, that external design standards can become tick-box exercises if not used with care.


If you have read this article and want to embed some of the ideas into your organisation, what is the first step and who needs to be involved? – let me know how you get on as I would like to gather some case studies of organisations who are doing this.


By Marek Bidwell (marek@bms-services.com)

Marek Bidwell is director of Bidwell Management Systems, facilitator of a cross-sector group of organisations road-testing the draft 14001: 2015 standard, and author of Making the transition to ISO 14001: 2015: from compliance to opportunity: http://www.bms-services.com/iso-140012015/


Further Reading

  1. Anderson, 2011: ‘Business lessons from a radical industrialist’, St. Martin’s Griffin
  2. Benuys, 1997: ‘Biomimicry’, William Morrow
  3. Bidwell, 2014: ‘Making the transition to ISO 14001:2015 – From Compliance to Opportunity’: http://www.bms-services.com/making-the-transition-to-iso-140012015-paper/
  4. Braungart and W. McDonough, 2009: ‘Cradle to cradle’, Vintage
  5. Kane, 2012: ‘Green jujitsu’, DoShorts
  6. Kane, 2013: ‘Taking Green into the Mainstream’ http://www.terrainfirma.co.uk/blog/2013/01/taking-green-into-the-mainstream.html
  7. Montgomery, 2003: ‘Happy city’, Penguin Books
  8. Telenko, C Seepersad, M Webber, 2008: ‘A compilation of design for environment principles and guidelines’, Proceedings of IDET/CIE
  9. Weizsacker, A Lovins, L Lovins, 1998: ‘Factor four – doubling wealth, halving resource use’, Earthscan
  • ISO 14040 series: Life-cycle assessment
  • ISO 14062: Environmental management – integrating environmental aspects into product design and development
  • BS 8903:2010 (Principles and framework for procuring sustainably)
  • Ellen Macarthur Foundation: www.ellenmcarthurfoundation
  • WRAP: www.wrap.org.uk
Go to Top