Standard practice - certifying 14001

11th November 2012

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the environmentalist discovers how Scottish whisky company Glenmorangie and Oldham Council overcame the challenges of ISO 14001 certification

Glenmorangie – 14001 distilled

Glenmorangie has been making whisky at its Scottish distilleries for more than 160 years. To create its range of single Highland malts the company ferments a mash of local barley and mineral-rich water, before distilling and maturing it in oak casks. In some cases the whisky matures for more than 10 years before it is bottled.

The whisky creation process is energy-intensive, requiring the operation of large machinery and the repeated application of heat to separate the alcohol from the water. Whisky production also requires large amounts of water.

The company’s commitment to sustainability flows from its tradition of using local resources and employing people from the immediate vicinity, but has now taken on a more focused and formalised approach with certification to the environment management system (EMS) standard ISO 14001.

Although Glenmorangie is not a big organisation, with just 200 employees, implementing and certifying an EMS in just nine months is quite an achievement.

The impetus for 14001

Several factors influenced the distillery’s decision to gain 14001 certification. The first was recognition that the introduction of an EMS would embed the company’s environment goals and processes more firmly in the business.

As compliance manager John McMullen comments: “The company has always ‘done the right thing’ and avoided pollution and complied with legislation, but meeting minimum legal standards is not enough – we want to make sure that we are continually looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact further and the structure imposed by the management standard helps us to do that.”

Wider changes in the company and the Scottish whisky industry also played their part in prompting the company’s decision to opt for certification. In 2005 Glenmorangie was acquired by France-based LVMH group and, from the beginning, the luxury brand parent took a keen interest in the whisky firm’s sustainability activities.

“It has been a requirement in France for some time that businesses include data on their environment performance as part of their annual accounts, so it follows that the environment is high up any French company’s list of priorities,” explains McMullen.

There were also industry-led developments. From late 2008, the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) spearheaded a focus on the environment across the industry, encouraging whisky companies to develop a set of key environmental performance indicators. By 2010, the SWA, comprising the major Scottish producers, had introduced an environment strategy, agreeing targets to improve of the whole industry.

Combined with Glenmorangie’s own commitment to enhancing its performance, these developments were a strong influence on the company’s future sustainability agenda. The final driver for seeking certification was a far-reaching internal change to Glenmorangie’s business model.

In 2008, the company downsized and sold one of its sites, releasing capital to construct a new, purpose-built plant in Livingston. “Having the investment to design and build a more sustainable site from scratch was a huge opportunity to reduce the company’s impact on the environment,” says McMullen.

Towards certification

Implementing 14001 across the firm’s three sites in such a short timescale was an intensive process. McMullen emphasises that it is essential to have a clear project plan in place and devote enough time to the planning stage. “Plan, plan, plan,” he advises. “Develop the project plan with clear milestones and goals and be rigid in sticking to your short- and medium-term targets.”

It was also important to have the right people in place to deliver the project. “We had the full backing of the senior management team, which was critical, but we also created an environmental engineering role to lead the project,” says McMullen.

The employee who took on the lead role came from the operational side of the business and was in an excellent position to help integrate new environment procedures with day-to-day working practices. “The individual also had the drive and enthusiasm to manage the project through to fruition and, having worked in an operational role previously, was always making the links between efficiency and good environment practice,” adds McMullen.

Glenmorangie used Q-Pulse, a web-based information management system, to help it manage the data, reports, documents and spreadsheets necessary to demonstrate compliance with 14001. McMullen says that having an online system that acted as the central hub for all compliance data and other material helped to avoid duplication of time and effort.

To implement changes to working practices on the shopfloor and to promote involvement on the part of employees, the project leader set up a number of working groups at each of the main sites. The aim was to involve people at every level of the business, encouraging them to map out their day-to-day activities so that any gaps in environmental practice could be identified and improvements or additional controls put in place.

“We wanted to encourage ownership across the board, as it would be the whole workforce that would ultimately be responsible for implementing any changes we made,” says McMullen. In this respect, Glenmorangie’s size was considered an advantage, enabling it to manage communication more effectively and respond to change more quickly than a larger firm.

The environment team found that the most convincing arguments were those that made the link between improved environmental performance and efficiency. For example, when employees understood that activities, such as better waste management, not only reduced the company’s environmental impact but also generated financial savings, they bought in to the EMS more readily.

“It’s important to think out the training sessions carefully beforehand,” advises McMullen. “They should be targeted and aimed at improving people’s knowledge base, but the content should be pitched according to the audience. The reasons for any changes should be explained up-front, or else it is easy to come unstuck and spend a lot of time going backwards and forwards further down the line when people did not understand or were unconvinced the first time round.”

The training sessions at Glenmorangie involved all staff and took place on a regular basis throughout the certification process. McMullen says the sessions have raised awareness about environment issues across the workforce, with employees now realising the value of their own contribution to good practice. We have a very good level of engagement now,” says McMullen. “We have also incorporated sustainability issues into all site inductions, and contractors as well as employees are made aware of our environmental priorities.”

Working in partnership

Glenmorangie chose to work with certification body NQA to certify its system. It had just achieved certification to ISO 9001, the quality management standard, with NQA, so a relationship had already been established. Nonetheless, NQA underwent a competitive tendering process.

Glenmorangie commissioned NQA to undertake a gap analysis around three months before the final certification audit. Although not compulsory, McMullen feels that it was worth the investment, offering the opportunity to put right any outstanding issues before the final audit.

Although the analysis did not identify any significant shortfalls, McMullen maintains it was useful in highlighting a few areas where the company could have been a bit more effective. “We already had a number of systems in place,” says McMullen, “but the gap analysis allowed us to take a step back, re-evaluate every part of the business and plan a strategy for improvement.”

Making changes

Although Glenmorangie already had in place a raft of sustainability procedures and fully complied with the regulatory framework before certification, achieving 14001 has resulted in several significant environmental enhancements.

“We already followed good practice and had a robust approach to managing waste, energy and water,” says McMullen. “Areas where we perhaps had less evidence of good environmental practice included environmental risk assessment – but the experience of implementing an EMS has resulted in more process-type changes as opposed to big operational ones.”

The certification process has encouraged the company to examine in detail its daily working practices to search for every possible improvement, big and small. For example, historically Glenmorangie’s Broxburn bottling plant had used a water-intensive process to wash the machinery used for one type of whisky before the same machinery was used for handling a different blend.

The company has now introduced an innovative “whirlwind” compressed air system at its Livingston bottling plant which creates a vortex of pressure in the pipes to expel excess water. This has not only drastically reduced the amount of water used but also recovers more whisky, improving overall efficiency at this point of production.

Another example of how Glenmorangie now strives to go beyond compliance is its treatment of effluent. Although there is no legal requirement to treat the wastewater produced during the manufacturing process, and common practice has been to discharge it straight into the sea, the company is now researching different ways of dealing with this effluent.

Other enhancements include the adoption of an environmental performance index tool to score and compare the impact of the packaging used for the Glenmorangie single malts, and a pre-qualification environment questionnaire that all prospective suppliers must complete before the firm will consider working with them. The company is actively encouraging its supply chain to adopt more environmentally sound business practices, and is working with several suppliers to implement improvements. For example, one major supplier of glass previously used large quantities of cardboard to pad the pallets of glass bottles supplied to Glenmorangie. Although the cardboard was recycled, the supplier has since been encouraged to switch to reusable plastic padding to protect the glassware.

A learning curve

Some of the key challenges in working towards 14001 relate to employee engagement, according to McMullen. “It is critical there is buy-in from the shopfloor. To achieve that you have to present convincing arguments about why the company is taking a certain course of action,” he comments.

“For us a powerful argument was the link between reducing Glenmorangie’s environmental footprint and making efficiency improvements.”

McMullen’s other advice for companies considering a similar certification path is to allow a generous amount of time at the outset for planning: “Reviewing the legislation and the organisation’s compliance is time consuming, so have a clear timeline for each stage of the certification process. The importance of an executive team that is fully engaged and behind the project also cannot be underestimated.”

Finally, McMullen recommends developing a partnership with your certification body. “Going through the process, and particularly the involvement of an external auditor, makes it clear to our staff that this is a priority for the company,” he says.

“The renewed emphasis on training is particularly important and this alone is resulting in significant improvements in our firm; we recently had a minor chemical spillage and everyone reacted immediately in a textbook operation to contain the problem.”

Oldham Council – the tool of choice

Oldham Council took its decision to seek 14001 certification across all its services and buildings several years ago. But with budget cuts and slow progress the local authority faced a dilemma: keep on going or give up?

Strong leadership from the top and an enthusiastic policy team made the choice easier. After a concerted effort, which started in October 2011, Oldham Council achieved was certified in summer 2012, making it the first of the 10 local authorities that make up Greater Manchester to do so.

Twin goals

The council and its officers know they have a responsibility to protect the environment, and a duty to identify savings for the public purse. However, with numerous services to deliver, operations covering more than 150 buildings, shifting priorities and conflicting demands from those being served, this dual goal presents a challenge.

That has not stopped the council leading the way on the environment, however. For example, corporate multi-waste stream recycling has been in place for several years, with recycling rates across the borough doubling over the past five years. The council also operates rainwater recovery in its parks, which is saves £10,000 a year.

Although much has been done to improve the council’s environmental impacts in recent years, the activity was often ad hoc, benefits were not recorded or promoted, and momentum was difficult to maintain. A framework was needed to prioritise action, keep focus at the top and celebrate what was already happening. 14001 was the tool of choice.

Nonetheless, the initial momentum towards achieving the standard proved hard to maintain. The shifting sands of services and roles made it difficult to keep pace with what was required. The small environment policy team was facing growing demands on its time and found it difficult to spread responsibility for implementing 14001.

The Sustainable Change Cooperative – a Manchester-based environmental and sustainability consultancy – provided additional external support. Its role was to not only help with the technical aspects of implementing 14001, but also helped give the council officers involved the skills and confidence to really make the system effective.

Getting 14001 in place

The council agreed that 14001 would include all services (excluding schools) and buildings over which it had direct control. A steering group, led by the executive director for commercial services, completed an environmental review and impact map. The focus was on generating savings and new business as the council evolves with changes to services and public needs. There was also a strong moral duty to work more effectively on sustainability issues and share the outcomes with people across the borough.

It was recognised that as the number of assets owned by the council declined and services merged, environmental risks could be missed or could increase. The structure of the council’s impact register, the training regime and environmental audit cycle helps ensure new and changing services are managed effectively during an unprecedented period of change for local authorities in England.

The council found the process of developing an EMS a challenge, having started it some years ago. Looking back at its experiences, the Oldham team agrees that there are a few things it might now do differently if the EMS project was to be tackled from the start again:

  • the paperwork should be simple, relevant and limited to what is absolutely necessary;
  • key services and people would be brought on board earlier in the process and involved to a much greater degree; and
  • having experienced specialists willing to share experience, train officers and offer support throughout the process helps to save time and resources, as well as to maintain momentum.

What’s next?

With OHSAS 18001 certification already in place for its health and safety management system, Oldham is now starting to align the two systems more closely, with the ultimate goal of fully integrating them over time.

Performance indicators to measure progress are important to all public services and Oldham Council is no different. A lot of effort has gone into developing approaches to track how the authority is doing against these indicators, and these systems are now being used to intertwine elements of the EMS, particularly objectives, targets, actions and indicators, with Oldham’s other management systems.

With a growing confidence and knowledge has come greater understanding of how to use an EMS to best effect. The focus has moved from paperwork to action, promoting positive actions and dealing with issues that might cause harmful outputs before they arise. A new environment policy has been brought to life through a film, which involves people from across the council and has now been integrated into training programmes.

Putting the system in place is just the start, however, there is a never-ending “to do” list to tackle, more savings to find and track, and better links to make between the council’s services and practices.

The difference is that the policy team at Oldham now has the skills and confidence to do more, and has many more people willing to help. The focus moving forward is on maintaining momentum.

Key activities for the next year include: working more closely with contractors; aligning the EMS with other council processes; and further developing the team’s links with everyone in the council.


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