With original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) demanding ever greater value for money from their suppliers, electronics manufacturing services providers can find themselves facing increasing pressure on every front.
In order to remain competitive there's growing recognition of the need to continually improve, adapt and evolve the manufacturing process.
For many contract electronics manufacturers, this is meaning an increased focus on reducing the environmental footprint of their operations 'end to end' - from procurement and storage to product development and distribution.
When it comes to assessing an organisation's environmental impact, 14001: 2015 is arguably the most widely regarded standard.
This globally acknowledged framework has been established by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and provides a holistic approach to integrating environmental sustainability into every element of a business's day-to-day operations.
Although ISO 14001 is still technically viewed as a voluntary standard, for any company that's looking to gain a competitive edge it's now considered to be a necessity. And in some cases it can be the deal-breaker in terms of gaining, or not gaining, new business. Auto manufacturers Ford and General Motors, for example, demand that their suppliers are ISO 14001 certified, and they have done since the early 2000's.
So what's it all about?
At the heart of ISO 14001 certification is the creation of an environmental management system (or EMS) which is a set of policies, practices and records that helps a company determine how it interacts with, and impacts upon, the environment.
It's based on a fairly simple premise - plan, do, check, act. You put a plan together, you implement the plan, you check that the plan has been carried out correctly and then you act by making any changes where they're needed.
No two companies are the same, so each EMS can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the company in line with their own business processes.
As manufacturers are discovering, efficiencies can be found in a myriad of areas: whether it's reviewing the use of single-use plastics within the business, reducing the volume of product packaging, exploring more efficient energy conservation initiatives, introducing innovative storage solutions or implementing clean transportation schemes.
So what are the key steps to consider when developing an EMS?
The requirements of a successful EMS
The core requirements of creating an EMS are divided across seven areas:
1. Establishing context - this is the initial process of identifying the internal and external issues that affect your organisation, defining the scope that the EMS will need to have and deciding on the next steps.
2. Garnering leadership support - having active and ongoing commitment from the top down is key in defining the core roles and responsibilities of every member of staff and ensuring successful implementation of the EMS.
3. Planning - this is the process of assessing the risks and the opportunities, identifying your company's environmental objectives and understanding how these different organisational processes are likely to interact.
4. Management of resources - this is the act of pulling together all the resources, communication methods and document management systems that will be required to help the EMS operate smoothly.
5. Operation - in this stage a business looks to identify the operational requirements for an effective EMS and to predict any potential issues or risks.
6. Evaluation - evaluation works on the premise that 'if you can measure it, you can manage it'. Having methods in place to monitor your processes ensure your EMS remains compliant and functions well.
7. Improvement - an EMS will naturally evolve over time which mean, if or when things aren't going to plan, any issues can be put right.
What are the benefits of an EMS?
An EMS is built on a culture of continuous improvement in which businesses are constantly looking for ways to make their processes better.
It's a great way of fostering employee engagement by encouraging a group approach to environmental sustainability. Having your staff 'buy into' the value of the EMS, and encouraging their input at every stage, is vital for success.
An EMS is evidence-based which means companies are able to benefit from actual, accurate data to aid their decision-making and track their progress.
It can help companies to better manage cost control, whether through reducing energy usage, minimising waste or conserving materials.
And it provides reassurance for customers and stakeholders that their contract electronics manufacturer takes environmental sustainability seriously - that they know what they're doing where environmental policies and procedures are concerned, that they're a caring and responsible employer and that they're actively committed to the management of their environmental impact.