Sustainability Management Systems

SGP Update

In order for a company to consider adoptions of sustainable business practices, there must be a formal mechanism in place. The most often-used mechanism is the Sustainability Management System, a concept similar to the well-recognized Environmental Management System.

Both follow the same basic four-step framework — Plan, Do, Check, Act —however, the SMS goes beyond environmental issues and encourages companies to adopt and consider programs based on the sustainability platform of people, profit and the planet. Simply put, an SMS is a framework that can help a company achieve its own sustainability goals through consistent control of its operations

The intent of an SMS is to encourage a company to continuously improve its overall performance. One important note: An SMS does not dictate a level of performance that must be achieved. Each individual company’s SMS is tailored to that company’s business and goals. The theory is that by systematically looking at each area of the company’s operations, an SMS can provide:

  • Improved worker health and safety
  • Reduced costs —by improving efficiency less materials, time and energy are wasted
  • Increased business opportunities — customers may start requiring their suppliers to have an SMS
  • Increased employee awareness about the production process since an SMS encourages employee involvement in identifying problem areas
  • Improved public relations — an SMS reflects a company’s commitment to minimizing its impact on its employees and the surrounding community.

Key to the development of any SMS is the support and commitment of top management. Management must understand the benefits of an SMS and what it will take to put one in place. Management also has a role in ensuring the goals for the SMS are clear and consistent with other organizational goals.

Remember, the entire purpose of an SMS is to encourage a company to continuously improve its performance by following a repeating cycle. A key element is the development of a sustainability policy. In a previous column in the June 2009 issue of Sign & Digital Graphics, we exclusively focused on how to develop a sustainability policy. I encourage you to re-read that article.

After your sustainability policy has been established, the next step is implementation of the plan. Following that implementation, the company evaluates its performance through a series of audits to see whether the objectives and targets are being met. If targets are not being met, corrective action is taken. The results of this evaluation then are reviewed by top management to see if the SMS is working. The company then implements the revised plan. The cycle is repeated and continuous improvement occurs. This is the very simplistic overview of a fully functioning SMS.

After policy development, the facility should establish baseline metrics of the operation. These metrics will allow the facility to gauge where the major issues are, such as VOC emissions or disposal of waste. The facility should start by focusing on areas over which the facility can control and have an influence. For example, a facility probably has control over the amount of water used, but it does not have power over the way the water is received.

Once baseline metrics are established, a facility can set goals, objectives and targets. Remember, sustainability is all about continuous improvement. A facility decides to embark on an SMS because it truly wishes to fundamentally change business operations. Any goal identified should be consistent with the overall business mission and plan as well as with the key commitments established in the sustainability policy. An SMS is a systematic approach, so all elements must be connected to one another.

The final part of the planning stage is the establishment of an action plan for meeting the identified goals. This includes designating responsibilities within the organization, establishing a schedule and outlining clearly defined steps to meet the targets.

Following through with the action plan using the necessary resources (human, financial, etc.) is the next step. An important component of implementation is employee training and awareness. Every employee can provide sound ideas about how to improve the performance of the facility. Based on the action plan, facilities need to assess training needs and requirements, define the training objectives and select the right method. Training is tied into the objectives and targets outlined in the previous planning step.

Once a facility has reached this stage, then it continually reviews it operations to set new objectives and targets, but there still is a question as to the worth of an SMS. After development of an SMS, a facility can become certified through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Program. Development and implementation of an SMS only is one of the critical steps toward gaining this industry certification.

Establishing an SMS requires change. It changes the way management and employees think about the environment. An SMS takes all of the elements of a business and views them all as one system. Equipped with this new way of thinking, facilities constantly can look for new solutions to improve operations.

For more detailed information on developing an SMS program, visit www.sgia.org/govt/sustainability.