Guide to Environmental Sustainability Leadership

The globally accepted framework for environmental sustainability – ISO 14001:2015 – has a key change from the 2004 version. The new standard requires top management to demonstrate leadership and commitment to the environmental management system.

Digging deeper, we see that clause 5 of the ISO 14001:2015 is a significant innovation as this clause provides guidance needed by organisations in demonstrating leadership and commitment in relation to the environmental sustainability processes. As this is one of the new clauses in the recent high-level structure of all management systems, this clause cuts across all management systems in all disciplines.

In all honesty, this is a unique opportunity to enhance the environmental sustainability system and place the SUSTAINABILITY role at the center of business.

ISO 14001:2015 defines top management as:

“a person or group of people who directs and controls an organisation at the highest level”.

No longer would a “management rep” need to be appointed and the standard states that top management must take accountability for the “effectiveness of the EMS.”

This key requirement of the environmental sustainability framework sets the tone for the whole management system. It is important to note that if the defined scope of an environmental management system is limited to a particular function or section of the organisation, top management will therefore be those who direct and control that particular function or section.

Early implementers and forward-thinking leaders in organisations that have effective environmental sustainability systems are seen to be performing the following (even beyond the systems audit):

• Demonstrating leadership commitment via accountability and active support,
• Ensuring an environmental policy around material issues is established,
• Integrating environmental objectives with core business strategy,
• Outlining roles, responsibilities, resources and authorities for environmental sustainability processes,
• Promoting process approach, risk-based thinking and ensuring continual improvement.

Top Management can demonstrate leadership commitment by:

• Incorporating an environmental sustainability committee;
• Attending and leading environmental sustainability committee meetings;
• Encourage continual improvement and ensure this culture exists as a result of leadership;
• Publish articles and period newsletters relating to environmental performance and environmental management practices internally within the organisation;
• Encouraging employees and other relevant interested parties in improving environmental performance
• Involvement in internal audits of the environmental systems and processes;
• Allocating adequate budgets for environmental initiatives and training;
• Setting and communicating environmental objectives and intended outcomes of the system.

In conclusion, leadership commitment and visible environmental responsibility from top management are critical for the success of environmental sustainability systems and for the achievement of its intended outcomes.