Birmingham City University: Their ISO 14001 transition story

We spoke with Deborah Southwell, Birmingham City University's Environmental Manager about their transition to the new ISO 14001:2015 standard.

Birmingham City University are one of the first UK universities to achieve certification to the new 2015 environmental management system standard. As part of our ISO transition articles, Brite Green Managing Partner Darren Chadwick caught up with Deborah Southwell, the Environmental Manager at Birmingham City University to explore their transition to the new ISO 14001 standard.

How did you approach the transition process?
I joined Birmingham City University in September 2016 and audit was already scheduled for January, which meant I had busy few months! In many ways though, it was really useful looking at the EMS and the university with a fresh pair of eyes.

What did you find helpful?
I found webinars from organisations that are transitioning very useful as well as the templates from EcoCampus. One of the big challenges for the new standard is how to document all the new requirements. The risks and opportunities and the needs of interested parties are the most challenging, so working from these templates really helped.

I found that working closely with colleagues across the university was critical. I’m a team of 1, so in order to get on top of the new requirements I needed to work with a wide range of colleagues from the Procurement Team to the Student’s Union, as well as academics and students too.

I’ve found that keeping things simple has really helped and I aimed to keep certain documentation down to 1 sheet per area.

I used a PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental) analysis to look at the risks and opportunities for the university, but I also assessed risks and opportunities for each significant environmental aspect.

With greater top management involvement expected from the standard, how did you make sure you had buy in from the top?
Birmingham City University leadership takes an active role with the EMS. Our management review is approved via the Vice-Chancellor, but I know that not all other institutions are able to have this level of sign off. The Chief Finance Officer joined the university a month after I did and it’s great that he was also keen to be actively involved, both in the transition and during the audit.

Given the changes to the standard, this involvement from senior management will help us to further integrate environmental considerations into the way the university plans its core operations.

The work we did to prepare for the new standard was enough to satisfy the auditors, but I’m aware that this is only the start. The new management system requirements pose some important strategic questions for the university, and we will need to demonstrate how we have tackled these issues in the coming years. This means making progress in all areas, including teaching and research.

As you’re in the Estates & Facilities Department, have you found you’ve been able to have influence across all the areas now required across the university?
I definitely have within the Estates & Facilities Department and Finance, which is where the Procurement Team sits. Less so on the teaching and research side, but this is a work in progress. I’m the only environmental resource in the university, so it’s a huge ask, but ESD (education for sustainable development) is on my hit list!

So far, I’ve been going from faculty to faculty, to benchmark what’s currently being done. There is definitely a lot of work to do and I will be raising this agenda with top management. One of the projects we are currently scoping with students and lecturers is the concept of an Ecohub, which if successful will help to raise the profile of the environment agenda and encourage collaborative projects across the university with partner organisations.

What were the auditors most interested in?
The auditors were most interested in assessing the new elements, especially leadership, context of the organisation, risks and opportunities. It will be interesting to see how the audits will change in the coming years as auditors get more experience of the standard and organisations will have to show how they’ve made progress in the new areas.

Download our ISO Transition Guide to find out about the key changes and how we can help you