Environmental Management Is Tough

February 21, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Interest in environmental management systems (EMS) is growing each year as customers, investors and the public become increasingly aware of environmental issues.

Leading companies are using well-designed EMSs to respond to these concerns and to provide financial and strategic benefits now and in the future.

The Right Place Program’s Office Furniture Industry Council (OFIC) is working to make businesses more energy efficient and to help incorporate environmentally friendly — as well as bottom-line friendly — practices through the use of EMSs.

“The Office Furniture Industry Council is a microcosm of the industry,” said Laura Blake, marketing communications manager for The Right Place Program. “We are working to make the industry more sustainable and have developed a document called the sustainability principles. It is designed to be used with an environmental management system.”

According to Blake, an EMS is a formal way for a company to measure and track its environmental impact. The sustainability principles add two pieces to the equation — social equity and economic performance — in addition to the environmental aspects covered in an EMS.

The OFIC has set up a subcommittee to focus on sustainability, called the Sustainable Business Subcommittee. Working in conjunction with the Sustainable Research Group, the subcommittee has developed tools to assist businesses in becoming more sustainable and increasing operational efficiencies through the use of EMSs.

Bill Stough, CEO of the Sustainable Research Group, added that an EMS “is a set of management processes and procedures that allows an organization to analyze, control and reduce the environmental impact of its activities, products and services and operate with greater efficiency and control.”

It provides a company with a systematic approach to document policies, develop objectives and targets, set controls, establish target indicators, review its progress and make adjustments.

Incorporating an EMS into a business, Stough said, can be a transitional process and something that needs proper analysis for each specific industry.

The challenge of developing a successful EMS is in defining what to manage and how to manage it, Stough said. Energy usage reduction and pollution prevention opportunities are two areas that offer immediate values, but are often overlooked in an EMS.

Stough looked at these areas and how the strategic integration of them can lead to significant improvements in a company’s environmental and economic performance.

To do that, the Sustainable Business Subcommittee turned to Knoll Inc., which developed a process in which a business can use its EMS to promote operational efficiencies.

The first step, said Kathy Jo Boerma, environmental compliance/health and safety manager for Knoll, is assessing what a business has.

“Take a look at the environmental interactions, your energy use, gas use, batteries, compressed air, chemicals, processes, waste streams, recycled goods, air emissions, storage tanks, departments and internal/external requirements,” said Boerma.

“Then take a step back and review what you do have. Identify your operating components, applicable areas and departments. What processes, activities and services are in each? And where are the opportunities?”

Thirdly, she added, the business will then want to quantify the findings. Find the main systems or products, measure the performance, and add numbers and graphs to make sense of them.

Next, add costs to the quantities to find out how much it actually costs to dispose of or maintain those items and if there are any recovery costs with these items.

After quantification and cost analysis is complete, look at all the information collected including costs, departments, and feasibilities and choose an aspect.

“To work on this aspect you will need a team. You cannot do it alone,” said Boerma. “You will need engineering, purchasing, supervision, management, planning, controller’s office and maintenance.”

The team should then set targets and address objectives for that specific aspect, and begin gathering information.

Boerma gave an example of a project that took two different paths toward completion, an environmentally friendly way and the way it had always been done in the past.

Her example was the transformation of a wet coat paint operation to a powder coat operation.

The target was set, the time frame was established to be one year, the initial cost and annual savings were determined, and the team set to work to determine the different aspects of incorporating this process into the company’s overall operation.

The team looked at energy cost comparisons, fuel usage, operational costs, labor costs, material costs, material usage and daily wage costs — all factors that would be dealt with during the process of such a day-to-day activity.

“An EMS incorporates environmental concerns into day-to-day activities,” said Mitch Boucher of Byce & Associates. “Energy is used daily and an EMS needs to be economically viable.”

He added that the return on investment is typically 25 percent to 40 percent. And this ROI can be achieved if the proper EMS is in place.

Boucher said a good EMS is determined by good backup material to support and justify the program, a continuous process management framework, a team approach featuring a leader with specific energy knowledge, detailed procedures for finding detailed resolutions to challenges, and a broad enough scope to encompass unique processes within each facility.

“Each EMS is different for each business,” said Right Place’s Blake. “And through our handful of products and learning opportunities the group will work with businesses to help them determine their current sustainability and to help make them more sustainable.”

The Right Place Program is offering an EMS Continuous Improvement User Group in March, a “Value of EMS for Small Companies” Sunrise Series program in May, an EMS Implementation User Group and continued on-site assistance. For more information on EMS, the OFIC and the Sustainable Business Subcommittee, visit The Right Place Program’s Web site at www.rightplace.org.    

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