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Can procurement managers look beyond ISO14001?

7 March 2012

Chris Large of the Guardian Newspaper explores the question of how do you tell if a business is environmentally responsible? For many procurement teams this boils down to one question – does the business have ISO14001 (the International Organisation for Standarisation's environmental management standard)? However, just asking this question is not only too simplistic, it is actually counterproductive.

Using ISO14001, or any accreditation, as the test of environmental good health has two main problems. It forces a particular approach to environmental management upon a small business which may not suit it. It also focuses the supplier upon getting a certificate, rather than becoming environmentally responsible and sustainable. By specifying ISO14001 certification to any keen SME that wants to be green, the procurement manager is crushing their spirit, not helping them to learn and improve. The real test of environmental responsibility is whether the SME has a live, working Environmental Management System (EMS) that actually changes how the business operates. This EMS then leads to annual reductions in impact.

Any accreditation is only testing the existence of this system, just like ISO 9001 tests the Quality Management System. An SME's environmental management can be tested by asking three questions: How is responsibility for environmental management shared across all functions of your business? How do you monitor environmental performance? What improvements have you made to environmental performance over the last year and what are your priorities for the coming year? When this sort of dialogue is opened with suppliers, the process becomes much more collaborative. These qualitative answers allow excellent SMEs to be recognised above those that do the minimum to achieve the accreditation.

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