Decision-Making Issues With Environmental Compliance (Part 1)
Decision-making in any part of a business requires two key components: data and the ability to use that data to assess the risk of each possible decision you can make. The ISO 14001 framework gives businesses the ability to understand and analyze risks to fuel decisions regarding environmental compliance.
Identifying environmental risks must be done in the context of local, state and national regulations and corporate requirements. Once you identify the risks, you can establish a baseline, but it all starts with data on things like energy, water use, disposal of chemicals or waste and every other business activity that could possibly impact the environment. Unfortunately, sometimes that data does not exist, or it’s scattered throughout a facility and must be collected manually. This makes decision-making difficult, as the necessary data for a smart decision will not be readily available.
Here are a few best practices that could improve decision-making regarding environmental compliance:
Data must be available
Many environmental managers and specialists feel that they spend more time gathering and managing data than actually working to ensure compliance. This means much of their time is spent entering data into spreadsheets rather than actually analyzing it and making it actionable for decision-makers. One possible solution is to automate data collection, though is a costly alternative if your measurement tools lack the capability to interact with data collection systems. As an alternative, you can find ways to automate your Excel spreadsheets using pivot tables if you find that automated data collection is too expensive. At the very least, you’ll be able to speed up the process of using those spreadsheets.
Another way to free up environmental managers’ time is to look for pre-existing municipal data. For example, many managers have to run around to different facilities looking at dial indicators to track their water use when all they had to do was contact their municipality. It seems obvious but very few actually do it. If you can find data through municipal sources, that could be a major time saver.
Data must be accurate
Data doesn’t only have to be available, it has to be accurate. Often, environmental data appears to be accurate, but actually isn’t due to environmental managers failing to check the accuracy of their gauges. Because of this, they rely on faulty data that hinders good decision-making.
This can be mitigated with a strong system of gauges with a thorough calibration process behind them - a key part of the operational controls requirements set forth by ISO 14001. Some businesses prefer to use preventative maintenance instead of calibration. This is a perfectly acceptable alternative. The key thing is to be sure you have some well-defined process to ensure the accuracy of all your gauges.
All findings must relate to the business
People who have been in ISO 14001 for a long time have already picked the low-hanging fruit and buttoned up certain compliance issues. At this stage, the goal is to go beyond identifying and mitigating environmental risks to balancing them. You must be able to balance risks, costs, safety, energy and other sometimes competing interests in the name of achieving compliance.
For example: You could burn your trash, which reduces the amount of waste leaving your facility, but that creates greenhouse gases and uses energy. Environmental managers must look at these competing risks and present that data to upper management so they can make these kinds of decisions.
One common pitfall to this is to “let science decide.” The argument is to simply gather the data - such as measuring energy use or greenhouse gases - and let it speak for itself when presenting decision-makers with information.
The problem with this purely scientific approach is that while it can tell you how much waste you have or how much energy something uses, it isn’t directly actionable unless you can frame it in terms of the risks to the business that those measurements represent. It’s all about how the data informs business decisions.
Decision-making for the environment is all about understanding, analyzing and assessing risks. This mindset can help you hone your decision-making once you get beyond the low-hanging fruit and decrease the possibility of falling into environmental noncompliance.