Solid Waste & Recycling


Three steps to prepare for ISO 14001 certification

One of the most important steps I took to improve my e-recycling business was creating a certified Environmental Management System (EMS). Investing my time to create an EMS allowed me to establish an organized and environmentally friendly set of standards and processes that made my business more effective and made my mission to protect the earth from waste more attainable.

However, getting your system to comply with standards such as ISO 14001 is not an easy task.  Certification requires a lot of preparation and the ability to critically look at the way you run your business.

Here are a few tips to prepare you for an EMS audit and ensure that your business is properly certified.

Create your processes and procedures

Before getting an environmental management certification you have to prepare by creating a rough draft of the systems you would like to have. Start by writing a mission and vision statement of what you would like your processes to be and how they will benefit the environment. If you understand what drives you to get a certification it will be easier to learn how you are going to get there.

Next, you will need to look at every process in your business and ask yourself what protections need to be in place that will benefit the environment, your business, and the customer. For example, with my e-recycling business, I looked at every process from data security to waste pickup to site upkeep.

I knew that my business needed a process that ensures our customers’ personal data was not at risk if they disposed of a hard drive. I also knew that we needed a process for waste pickups so we could ensure the pickup site was left looking cleaner when we left it.

Thinking of all these processes can be overwhelming at times, but I would recommend taking a deep breath and taking care of this step one at a time. Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful checklists that can guide you through the process.

Get a second opinion

You should personally go through all of your processes, but that does not mean you shouldn’t have a second set of eyes breaking down your systems. I would recommend bringing in another person or company who understands the certification process to look at your processes. A professional set of eyes looking at the way you do business will help you catch issues you didn’t know you had.

Be prepared to have your systems pulled apart and broken down and keep an open mind about any recommendations they give you. It can be difficult to have your processes critiqued but understand that the people breaking down your systems are doing so with good intentions and want you to pass.

Implement Corrective Action

It is easy to say that you are going to take the necessary steps to improve your processes to certification standards; however, the real challenge is following through and actually taking corrective action.

Look at recommendations you were given and figure out what you can do to fix them.

I recommend using the “5 whys” method as a way to walk yourself through a non-conformance problem. This method allows you to locate the root cause of a problem by forcing you to answer a series of “why” questions.

I have used this method many times to fix simple and moderate non-conformance issues. For working out more complex conflict performance issues I would recommend doing a cause and effect analysis also known as a fishbone diagram.

In order to correct your actions effectively, you need to learn how to do your job. Become a subject matter expert on the waste you dispose of. You will make mistakes if you are implementing your first Environmental Management System and that is okay as long as you learn from them and listen to the smart people around you.

I was told some hard truths the first time I tried to get my recycling company ISO 14001 certified, but I listened to suggestions and implemented new processes that corrected my non-compliant actions.

Getting your EMS certification requires a lot of work, but it will be all worth it in the end because people will know that your business positively affects the environment and you have the systems to back it up.


Karin Harris is the owner of e-Green IT Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a member of e-Steward’s Leadership Council.


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