Businesses are more than ever under pressure to go green, eliminate hazardous materials from products, comply with global environmental sustainability regulations, and prove to customers they are doing all of the above.
But, as many high-tech companies have discovered, maintaining “good corporate citizenship” status when it comes to the environment goes well beyond promises and lip service. It requires investment, discipline, and a commitment for ongoing maintenance and continuous improvement. So how are companies managing this?
A comprehensive audit process is one way companies have gotten control of their environmental initiatives to deliver against an increasing number of compliance-related mandates from governments and supply chain partners.
Given the electronics industry's familiarity with ISO-related standards for manufacturing and quality management, it's common today to hear about companies pursuing ISO 14000-type certification. This family of standards, which focuses more on the production side than on how green a particular product is, provides companies with guidelines for establishing environmental monitoring systems and support techniques, greenhouse gas emissions specifications, and ways to incorporate eco-design into corporate operations.
Like other standards implementations, this is an all-hands kind of process, involving ongoing, cross-functional support and extensive data collection and data management. It's interesting to note, too, that ISO 14000 has become an integral part of the European Union's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).
To read more about the impact ISO 14000 has had on corporate effectiveness and efficiency, check out this report from CAPS Research. It's a bit dated, but it has some information worth reading, if a company is heading in this direction.
The downside of 14000 is that it's a more reactive kind of standard, meaning it addresses problems that have already happened or tackles compliance issues required under government regulations. It also tends to focus on more tactical and operational issues, as opposed to addressing environmental problems throughout the supply chain.
While, admittedly, I'm not familiar with more progressive auditing processes — by which companies can meet their current needs while also being forward-thinking enough to address future issues — I have come across a few sites that put environmental auditing into clearer perspective.
For instance, B Corp. has a PDF file that lays out the audit process, explains the differences among liability-, management-, and activity-specific audits, and includes additional research resources.
There's also this checklist, which provides a complete list of things related to communicating plans about the audit, tracking budgets and resources, developing competencies, etc. As difficult as it may be to swallow and as time-consuming as an audit check may be, it is one of the few ways companies can make sure they are approaching environmental compliance with integrity and provides tangible evidence they are doing what they said they would do.
If you've heard about new types of environmental audits or have a case study to share, please let us know in the comments section. It's something that could benefit the whole supply chain.