In this post I thought we could spend some time looking at the opportunities that can occur from effectively dealing with environmental risks. ISO 14001:2015 defines risks as ‘potential adverse effects’ and opportunities as ‘potential beneficial effects’. From dealing with a risk therefore there are many positives.
From personal experience I think many organisations are fairly good at determining environmental risks. However, they can sometimes have a problem with determining what opportunities dealing with and environmental problems present. The move towards understanding opportunities is a good one. It allows for some positivity so that leadership gains a good understanding of the reasons why they should allocate resources to improving environmental performance.
Why we need to identify the opportunities
In the 2015 version of ISO 14001 there was a move towards considering opportunities in addition to environmental risks. For those of you that have ISO 14001 certification or plan to gain certification soon having an understanding of opportunities is important. In particular there are requirements in the Planning clauses to determine the environmental opportunities associated with environmental aspects, compliance obligations and other issues (such as those associated with the interested parties). It is also a requirement to document opportunities. When developing objectives an organisation is expected to consider opportunities. Opportunities should also be covered in an organisation’s management review.
How to identify opportunities
I have seen on several occasions that opportunities are identified on aspects and impacts registers. There will often be an opportunities column next to the aspect and impact information so that the opportunities associated with dealing with aspects and impacts are clearly identified. This is a systematic and effective way to identify opportunities.
Environmental opportunity examples
Although the standard has several requirements either directly or indirectly associated with environmental opportunities. There is limited guidance on what can constitute an opportunity. It very much depends on what the impact of your organisation is on the environment. However, let’s take a look at a few examples (there will be others by the way).
- Financial savings – I have implemented a number of projects where financial savings can be made by dealing with an environmental problem. For example, minimising waste or reducing energy are just two examples of where an organisation can make some big savings.
- Regulatory – having an effective environmental risk management system will reduce the chances of an organisation breaching environmental law. For those risks that are governed by law, being legal compliant can have numerous benefits in its own right such as financial costs associated with legal action, reduced regulatory costs and a negative corporate image.
- Increased investment – investors are more likely to lend money to those organisations that have a low risk or at least at a more favourable rate.
- Staff – it can be easier to recruit or retain employees if they feel that they are working for an organisation that takes environmental performance seriously rather than one that has a ramshackle approach.
- Corporate image – an organisation that deals with its environmental problems in an effective way, particularly for high profile environmental problems well understood by society, will present a better image to customers and other interested parties. This could lead to increased sales and better relationships with regulators or the local community surrounding a facility.
It’s clear that not only it is important that an organisation understands how it impacts on the environment but also the opportunities that dealing with those risks present. Indeed, for those organisations that have ISO 14001:2015 certification it is a requirement. Opportunities can be numerous, but examples include those associated with financial savings, improved legal compliance, increased investment, staff and corporate image.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.