Earth Day 2014: Green Cities & ISO 14001

Every April 22, more than one billion people across 190 countries recognize Earth Day. In honor of this year’s theme, Green Cities, we’re talking about how ISO 14001 is helping cities across the world take steps towards sustainability.

The EPA’s Stance on ISO 14001 & Green Cities
ISO 14001 is a voluntary standard that, like other ISO standards, is the result of international collaboration and represents global best practices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) participated in its development and even sponsored a pilot program back in March 2012 designed to show the benefits of an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) for public-sector agencies. Nine municipal organizations participated and reported many benefits that include better operational controls, improved communication, and a decrease in the cost of waste disposal.

“Hopefully this pilot project will demonstrate that the EMS approach for managing environmental activities is not only applicable and useful to private sector entities but also for local government operations,” says John Dombrowski, EPA Office of Compliance.

A Success Story: The City of St. Albert
Indeed, many cities are realizing the benefits of implementing a robust Environmental Management System and achieving certification with ISO 14001. The City of St. Albert in Alberta, Canada achieved ISO 14001 certification with the help of Intelex’s Environmental Management System, moving away from paper and spreadsheets to a web-based reporting system. By streamlining their processes in the Transit and Public Works departments, the City of St. Albert gained visibility into their departmental nonconformances and found opportunities to take proactive measures. Ultimately, they achieved an 80% reduction of nonconformances in these departments and annual audit cost savings of roughly $14,000 in internal resources.

These are the kinds of savings and improvements that a best practices approach can achieve for municipalities. An improvement in overall environmental performance and compliance is almost a given, but the benefits don’t end there. As the City of St. Albert case study shows, implementing ISO 14001 principles effectively can also increase a city’s cost savings associated with managing environmental obligations and help cities prioritize scarce environmental management resources. It’s a win-win!

Green Cities Are Smart Cities
In addition to the benefits already mentioned, cities that achieve ISO 14001 certification also receive a boost in reputation among external stakeholders and an improvement in public perception. In the U.S. there is stimulus money that has been tied to things like energy efficiency, green job programs and public transit improvements.

“The cities of tomorrow must be smart cities, utilizing scant resources to best effect,” commented ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele in a January 2013 issue of ISO Focus+ magazine. “Smart cities are needed to safeguard their inhabitants’ rights to a liveable, sustainable environment. When people live in close proximity, everyone and everything must work together. That’s where ISO comes in.”

You can read about the benefits of ISO 14001 in greater detail on the International Standards Organization’s website, and learn more about the role of Environmental Management Systems here.

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