Communicating environmental performance information in the form of permits, league tables and public registers is a basic requirement for most organisations. Equally, communications acts as a conduit for sharing values and building an environmentally responsible culture both within an organisation and across a wide range of stakeholder interests. John Barwise reports.

Establishing a communications strategy is integral to ISO 14001 certification and Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS) registration as an effective mechanism for managing media interests, improving dialogue with stakeholders, and improving environmental performance in line with an organisation’s Environmental Policy.

ISO 14001 certification requires that the Environmental Policy should be communicated to “all persons who work for, or on behalf of the organisation”, including contractors. Clause 4.4.3 (Communications) refers to procedures in terms of:

  • internal communications across various functions of the organisation

  • receiving, documenting and responding to communications from external parties.

Communications and complaints from external parties is also part of the Environmental Management System (EMS) review (Clause 4.6).

EMAS registration requires a communications strategy for both internal and external communications, but goes further by requiring registered organisations to “demonstrate an open dialogue with the public and other interested parties …with regard to the environmental impact of their activities, products and services in order to identify the public’s and other interested parties’ concerns”. EMAS (Article 5) requires an environmental statement to be “designed for the public and written in a concise, comprehensible form”.

Communication enables organisations to make informed choices about how best to improve environmental performance, minimise risk and reduce impacts. ISO 14063:2010 Environmental Management – Environmental Communication – Guidelines and Examples is part of the ISO 14000 series and is a process-driven guidance standard designed to help organisations improve their EMS communications strategy. The standard is presented in a logical sequential format that follows the implementation of ISO 14001. The following section is a short summary of some of the key elements in the standard, with additional details on key elements.

Environmental communications policy

The policy should define the organisation’s vision, values and culture, and reflect local, regional and national characteristics, where applicable. It should include a management commitment to:

  • disclose information about environmental performance

  • engage in dialogue with interested parties

  • address key environmental issues.

The policy should also consider factors such as market and brand strategies, environmental aspects and impacts, legal requirements and voluntary codes of ethics, and should be communicated to interested parties, both internally and externally.

Environmental communications strategy

This relates to an organisation’s environmental activities, with respect to:

  • key environmental aspects and impacts

  • messages and communications techniques and tools

  • co-ordination between environmental managers, individual responsibilities and interested parties

  • time and resources needed to implement the strategy.

The strategy focuses on communication priorities and setting objectives that deliver the desired results. Examples of these priorities might include:

  • issues related to an organisation’s activities, products and services, and complying with applicable legal and other requirements

  • providing information to interested parties about aspects, impacts and performance, and establishing ongoing dialogue

  • minimising internal and external conflicts, and improving an organisation’s reputation

  • stimulating innovation and creativity, and improving public knowledge of an organisation’s products and services.

Identifying interested parties

As with ISO 14001, the range of interested parties is broad and includes managers and staff at all levels, but may also include:

  • customers and consumers, banks and shareholders, and insurance companies

  • suppliers, contractors and distributors

  • regulatory agencies and public authorities

  • communities, neighbours, professionals, non-governmental organisations and others.

Having defined the principles of environmental communications, established an implementation strategy and identified a range of interested parties, ISO 14063 goes on to provide practical ways of planning and delivering communications.

Planning

This section provides practical advice on identifying communications activities and setting targets. Key elements include the following.

  • Planning a communications activity — sets out the criteria for determining appropriate campaigns, eg alignment with the Environmental Policies, reaching target audiences, raising awareness.

  • Planning for emergencies — setting procedures for keeping communities and authorities informed at every stage, including potential risks to health or environment in the event of an accident.

  • Analysis — issues to address include identification of concerns and expectations of interested parties, public image of the organisation on key issues as well as effectiveness of the communications media.

  • Communications targets — consistent with objectives. If, for example, the objective is to raise local awareness of the environmental impacts associated with a new process or facility, the communications target might be to reach 90% of neighbouring homes within a set time frame. Other objectives and targets may include raising awareness of the Environmental Policy with contractors and supply chains.

Communications teams need to be confident that messages are clear and unequivocal, and that strategies are aligned to the Environmental Policy. Organisations that have implemented an EMS will have relevant data on policies, aspects and impacts, and evidence from key environmental performance indicators to support the communications strategy.

Environmental communication toolkit ISO 14063 advises that organisations need to tailor the information they provide to suit the needs of different audiences. Issues to consider for general public consumption might include, for example, using appropriate language and the use of graphics or electronic media to explain complex environmental performance data. This is also consistent with the use of non-technical language in Environmental Statements, as required for EMAS registration.

Equally, internal audiences that are familiar with their company’s range of products, activities and services will have a better understanding of the data that demonstrates how well the organisation is performing.

There are many different types of media that can be deployed to ensure that key messages are targeted at selected audiences. The following are examples.

  • Newsletters — an ideal vehicle for “getting the message across”. Environment articles are likely to reach a target audience helping to raise awareness about particular issues and encourage feedback.

  • Videos — people remember more of what they see and hear than what they read. “YouTube” videos can illustrate particular issues and processes and promote good practice, and can be watched at any time.

  • Posters and pamphlets — canteens, meeting rooms and reception areas are good display areas for Environmental Policies and performance targets. Other signage, such as the recycling logo and energy saver, can have the same effect.

  • Training and guidance notes — discussions, workshops and guidance notes are useful tools, including bespoke sector guides from trade journals.

  • Environmental reports — Environmental reports and statements are mandatory for EMAS registration and recommended in ISO 14001. These reports present the big picture in terms of energy and water consumption, waste and pollution, etc and can be adapted to appeal to both internal and external audiences.

  • E-tools — online services such as Croner-i, e-mailing and software tools are part of a growing family of electronic communication tools used in EMS implementation.

  • National/regional media — attracting the media, especially local media, can help to establish an organisation in the community and works particularly well where environmental performance is linked to jobs and the economy. Conversely, issues such as pollution leading to prosecution can attract adverse media attention and have a detrimental effect on a company’s image.

ISO 14063 includes a wide range of potential media outlets and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.

Feedback

Communication is a two-way process. One of the benefits of communications is monitoring and evaluating the response to particular communications campaigns. This applies to both internal and external audiences. For example, a campaign to minimise waste arising can be assessed by measuring the waste arising pre- and post-campaign. If there has been no discernible improvement, then perhaps the communications strategy has not worked. Similarly, if a campaign to engage local communities in dialogue about a particular issue results in fewer complaints, then the communication is working.

Monitoring the response to particular campaigns helps communications teams to evaluate the effectiveness of the communications strategy. Engaging with interested parties provides an opportunity to learn about their concerns, but also to influence opinions and perceptions. Internal communications that inform staff about the organisation’s environmental policies and aspirations help to build consensus and encourage feedback on ways to improve environmental performance overall.

ISO 14063: 2010 is part of the ISO 14000 series and is available from the British Standards Institution.

Last reviewed 4 June 2013