Overbury: Tales from ISO 14001:2015 trailblazers

04-04-2017 Darren Chadwick

We spoke with Liz Collett from Overbury about the company's trail-blazing transition to the new ISO 14001:2015 standard

National fit out and refurbishment specialist Overbury was the first company in the UK to achieve certification to the new ISO 14001:2015 standard through the British Standards Institute. I met with Liz Collett, Environmental and Sustainability Manager to understand more about why they were so keen to transition to the new standard early and what the process was like.

Why is ISO 14001 so important for Overbury?
Good environmental management is a must for the construction sector and as an early adopter, we are able to better demonstrate our leadership in this area.

We need to have ISO 14001 to be considered for tenders, but it’s also important that our management system really delivers for us. Transitioning has allowed us to streamline and improve our system. 

We’ve had ISO 14001 since 2005 and embedding environmental considerations into the way we work has made our business better in many ways.

As well as delivering cost savings, having ISO 14001 means we can be sure that all our systems are up to scratch which minimises the risk of getting things wrong and damaging the environment or our reputation. Embedding environmental considerations in our business has also allowed us to innovate, and we’ve been able to exceed our customers’ expectations in many cases. This critical trio of efficiency, risk management and positive impact makes ISO 14001 an important tool for Overbury.

Why were you keen to transition early?
We knew we had to transition and so thought, why not be first? Giving ourselves a deadline helped us to generate momentum to deliver the changes we needed to make.

We also found that aiming to transition early helped us to look at the process as a positive opportunity, rather than something we had to do. We transitioned both our 14001 and 9001 systems at the same time, which helped tremendously.

What were the main challenges?
There are some significant changes to the new standard, which focus on leadership and the context in which a company operates in. These changes also bring some challenges about how to document the new system which can definitely be tricky to navigate! It’s really important that you have a solid understanding of the new standard – the changes are much more than cosmetic.

Leadership and talking the ISO language
On the leadership front we are lucky that we already had strong support and commitment from our senior management team, but we needed to improve how we recorded the evidence of their involvement and support.

We knew that the auditors would want to spend more time with senior managers and so we needed to make sure that they were properly prepared for this. At the basic level, this meant setting senior managers’ expectations about what the audit process would entail, and addressing the important challenge of “ISO language”. Environmental issues are considered in pretty much every part of the business, but our teams are not all familiar with the language used in the ISO 14001 standard. As the environment manager, I needed to get our teams “audit ready”.

I wanted to make sure staff at all levels were comfortable with the concepts used in the standard and how they relate to the issues they manage in their day-to-day roles. I also sat in on the audit interviews to act as a translator if I needed to.

Context and life-cycle impacts
The new requirements that relate to the business context and life-cycle impacts posed some interesting challenges and some unexpected benefits.

Although we had a pretty good understanding of why we manage environmental issues, we found that documenting our impacts, the expectations of interested parties and the internal and external issues brought added complexity, and it took a few attempts to find a solution that worked for us.

We used the construction project life-cycle as a tool to help us meet the new “life-cycle consideration” requirements and I was pretty sure we already had a good understanding of issues and impacts that apply at each stage. However, every conversation I had with internal stakeholders brought up new and useful ideas and so I would really recommend going into this process ready to find new things.

Going first
Whilst we were keen to adopt the new standard early, it definitely brought some challenges. One of the key ones was that there were no precedents and we were working with the draft version of the standard. Our auditors were also being audited by UKAS during our audit which added to the pressure, but as we’re audited eight times a year that’s something we’re used to.

We had a pre-assessment and readiness review with our certification body as part of our preparation for the transition and we found that this external guidance was invaluable in making sure we were ready.

For companies who still need to transition, I would recommend you don’t leave it to the last minute. It can take some time to develop the new processes and get them properly embedded. There’s also a risk that there will be a shortage of audit slots in the run up to the deadline.

I would recommend looking at the transition as a chance to have a good look at your system and make sure it is delivering as much value as possible. Based on our experience, I have no doubt that it will make a hugely positive difference. 

Find out more about Overbury

Download our ISO Transition Guide to find out about the key changes and how we can help you

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