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BP’s conviction of environmental crime highlights the importance for a robust Environmental Management System

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“We wake up every morning and enjoy the beautiful sunrise, we like to hear the birds chirp and we enjoy every single moment of the day by soaking up the sun and our wonderful environment. But unfortunately, as time goes on with the big industrial revolution it is noted that most companies around the world are not controlling their environmental impacts as they should be. This being one of the key requirements of the National Environmental Management Act of South Africa. BP has been in the news again. This time not for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the USA (which was probably the USA’s biggest environmental damage in history), but rather a lot closer to home, in South Africa, where they failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Management Act,” says Managing Director & Lead Auditor of WWISE, Muhammad Ali. 

Almost exactly 9 years to the day (April 2010), the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, caught fire and later sank in US waters of the Gulf of Mexico. By the time they managed to stop oil leaking from the ruptured well head (on 15 July), approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf. People dependent on fishing and tourism were severely affected, along with those in other industries, including some farther from the Gulf Coast. The explosion and spill gave rise to many lawsuits. After a long, drawn out legal process on 4 September 2014, the judge in the federal Multidistrict Litigation proceedings issued a ruling finding BP grossly negligent and guilty of wilful misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Despite this hard lesson, we received news more recently of BP again being found guilty. This time by the Pretoria High Court, on eight counts of building service stations in South Africa without environmental clearance. One would have thought that previous incidents involving the environment would have made BP more aware than ever of the need for a robust Environmental Management System.

“This is an important milestone for South African businesses as BP is now the first company in South Africa to be found criminally liable for an Environmental Crime”, says Ali.

An effective, robust environment management system in accordance to ISO 14001: 2015 is imperative for all organisations to succeed and to ensure that their legal requirements are addressed and followed. Business owners and CEO’s must not disregard what has happened with BP. They should take it as a lesson that the green scorpions and the law regarding Environmental Issues needs to be taken seriously, or face prosecution,” adds Ali. “We have world-class environmental legislation as well as ISO 14001 standards to guide us. There is no excuse for this type of ignorance any longer.”

ISO 14001 is the international standard that outlines the requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). With over 250 000 organisations certified with the ISO 14001 standard, it is the most widely implemented standard in the world. The most recent version of this standard was published in 2015 and is referred to as ISO 14001:2015.

“An environmental management system consists of policies, processes, plans, practices and records that outline the rules determining how an organisation interacts with the environment. While any company, regardless of its size and industry, can have an impact on the environment and therefore benefit from being ISO 14001 certified, the system needs to be tailored specifically to the business in question as not all businesses have the same “relationship” with the environment,” says Ali. 

ISO 14001 ultimately demonstrates an organisation’s devotion to the environment by implementing steps to minimise or eliminating their negative impact on it. 

What’s changed?

ISO 14001:2015 replaced ISO 14001:2004 which became obsolete in 2018. While the most notable difference between ISO 14001:2015 and its predecessor is its structure. ISO 14001:2015 now has the same common high-level structure (Annex SL) as all ISO management systems. The new structure allows for a more strategic focus on the standard and facilitates its integration with other ISO standards.

In addition to this, the other notable differences are:

  • With ISO 14001:2015, businesses are required to take the organisational context into account. Organisational context refers to as the environment in which your business operates – organisations must consider the internal and external factors that can influence its environmental goals. Businesses will have a better understanding of the possible risks and opportunities that may arise and therefore be better prepared should problems occur.
  • Top management within an organisation is required to show commitment and leadership to the EMS. Previously, a management representative held this responsibility.
  • ISO 14001:2004 required businesses to simply commit to reducing its negative environmental footprints. Now, ISO 14001:2015 also requires the organisation to focus on having a positive impact on the environment.
  • ISO 14001:2015 has 10 clauses instead of the four in ISO 14001:2004, and instead of 12, there are now 16 mandatory documents.
  • ISO 14001:2015 outlines more detailed requirements for both internal and external communication within the organisation regarding environmental management.

Structural Outline of ISO 14001:2015

The ISO 14001:2015 structure is split into ten sections. The first three are introductory, with the last seven containing the requirements for the environmental management system. The seven main sections are:

  • Section 4: Context of the organization
  • Section 5: Leadership
  • Section 6: Planning
  • Section 7: Support
  • Section 8: Operation
  • Section 9: Performance evaluation
  • Section 10: Improvement

Why organisations should become ISO 14001 certified

ISO 14001 certified organisations can enjoy a variety of benefits:

  • Improved relationships between the organisation and its clients as well as the community as a whole.
  • Businesses that implement an environmental management system will save money by reducing incidents that may result in a lawsuit. This will ultimately lower insurance premiums for the organisation.
  • An advantage over non-certified businesses when tendering for new contracts.
  • Employees are happy knowing they work for an environmentally conscious company.
  • A decrease in the amount of waste a company produces during operations.
  • An increase in stakeholder trust.

The certification process

Simply put, the certification process for ISO 14001 can be broken down into three steps:

  1. Perform a gap analysis – this will assess your current EMS and compare it to ISO 14001 requirements. By doing this, you will be able to identify areas that need more work.
  2. Perform a formal assessment – this happens in two stages. First, analyse whether your business is prepared for assessment and if the necessary procedures and controls for ISO 14001 have been developed. If there are gaps, the chosen certification body will identify them and advise you on how to rectify the problem. If all requirements are in place, the certification body will assess the implementation of procedures and controls within your organisation to ensure they are working effectively.
  3. Certification and the future – once your business has passed the formal assessment, you will receive an ISO 14001 certificate which is valid for three years. Thereafter, your client manager will continuously assess whether your system remains compliant.

If you would like more information on ISO 14001’s effect on an organisation, read our case study: MTN Carbon Footprint Article 

WWISE develops systems, repairs, maintains and improves them to ensure optimal competitiveness and efficiency for the client companies. To speak to a consultant on how we can assist your business to prepare for  ISO 14001:2015 certification , send us an email admin@wwise.co.za or call us on 08610 99473. You can also visit our website at https://www.wwise.co.za for more information on other ISO standards we can assist with as well as other services we provide.