Health and environment 

ISO14001 construction: sustainable development is possible

Construction engineer

For a lot of people, ISO14001 construction isn’t something that you’d normally expect in a project. In fact the words “ISO14001 construction” seem to be somewhat of an oxymoron, I mean come on, how can construction and land development be in any way friendly to the environment?

But actually, there’s a growing number of ISO14001 construction companies out there. Many have accepted the challenge of undergoing certification, bringing their production systems up to speed, and finding a way to make construction a sustainable and environmentally friendly  activity.

What’s ISO14001 construction anyway?

ISO14001 is one of those “ISO” standards made by the International Organization for Standarization. The 14000 series of standards sets the guidelines for companies to follow in managing their environmental responsibilities. Specifically ISO14001 sets the baseline for environmental management in whatever activities a company might do.

ISOThe current version of ISO14001 was updated in 2015, and is referred to as “ISO14001:2015”. The previous version was ISO14001:2004. This is something important to look for when you’re talking about ISO standards. There’s a lot of companies that are certified under previous revisions of a standard. This doesn’t mean their systems are invalid or their certification doesn’t apply, but it does mean they haven’t undergone certification under the latest version of the ISO14001 standard.

Note that immediately updating your ISO certification isn’t mandatory, and using a previous revision doesn’t mean anything if you’re within the certification validity period. A company could very well have ISO14001:2004, and their systems may be totally up to date with ISO14001:2015. Since certification is a process that takes time and has an associated cost, sometimes companies aren’t that quick to undergo a new certification, and you find those “previous year” designations still used out there in the field, even though systems and procedures are completely up to date.

The only way to verify this is to evaluate them and check them against the latest standard, to see how they stack up. Of course, most of the time it’s not worth the effort to do an independent standards check on your own, and it’s simply better to either accept their previous standard, or ask them to undergo a new certification.

Hint to ISO14001 construction companies that are working under outdated revisions: get certified under the new revision, it’ll save you lots of explaining and complicated questions from your customers.

How does ISO14001 construction help protect the environment?

Construction is an activity that has a lot of impact on the environment, that’s well known. Most people are familiar with the “utopian hippie image” of a huge tractor mowing down trees and spewing black smoke all over the place. An image which is unwarranted for the most part, but has some truth to it.

When you build anything, you’re going to impact the environment. And that impact starts from the moment you ask someone to help you out with a design. Put out that order, and a team of surveyors is sent out to check out your site… if they need to blaze a trail, they’ll blaze a trail through places that had previously had no people in them. From there on, it’s impact after impact after impact. And if you see it from the “CO2 emissions” point of view it’s even more serious: from the moment you make the first phone call, your construction project is chalking up CO2 emissions.

Any material you use comes from a factory, that used up energy in processing it. Steel, concrete, wood… they’ve all had a long trail of energy use and environmental impact way before you even purchase them. See where this is all going? If you’re worried about the 4 or 5 trees they’re cutting down to build an apartment building, you have no idea… you’re literally seeing just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re worried about environmental impact, ISO14001 construction companies are your best bet. The ISO14001 certification means they’ve thought out how they do things, and continually evaluate their activities to keep enviromental impact to a minimum. ISO14001 construction companies do their best to keep in line and make sure that your project damages as little as possible, and repairs what it does damage as best as possible.

What about ISO14001 and LEED?

ISO14001 constructionLEED is a green building certification, that many designers are implementing nowadays. A building which is LEED certified has been designed with environmental quality in mind, and it’s been thought out to keep the environment healthy, both during construction and during operation.

LEED and ISO14001 construction make a great team. LEED will keep your designers in check, while working with an ISO14001 construction company will make sure the LEED standards are followed to the dot. ISO14001 construction companies will already have procedures in place that help them follow LEED requirements, and will make environmental management on your project easier than ever.

Other neat stuff ISO14001 does for construction companies

Getting ISO14001 certified changes construction companies in many ways. One of the most surprising is in stuff that’s not related to construction! The certification process involves a lot of people in the company, and involves a lot of learning and relearning. Many people who have the experience of working in an ISO14001 construction company learn a lot of sustainable practices that they carry on into their everyday lives.

Planting trees ISO14001That has amazing effects. For example, the other day I was shocked when I walked past the main street near my house: they had cut down all the trees that lined the middle of the street! The trees that provided shade and wonderful greenery were now gone.

But this weekend I walked past again, and found out the rest of the story. The trees were gone because Volio y Trejos, a local construction company, had offered to help replace them. The trees that were cut down were aging and had problems, so city management decided to get rid of them. Volio y Trejos stepped in, and asked if they could do something to better the street after the trees were cut down.

With their specialized construction know-how and equipment, they got together a team that lined the entire street (about 3 blocks) with new trees, that were chosen specifically to support local wildlife and to thrive with the present weather conditions. In a couple of years, the entire street will be green again, and during flowering season the canopy will change from green to violet!

With all the tech and planning know-how they applied, it only took them half a morning to get the trees in. Amazing.

Of course, Volio y Trejos is ISO14001 certified. That certification really permeates, and has a positive impact even outside the jobsite!

ISO14001 construction: a bet for a winning project

Construction isn’t a very clean, neat or neutral activity. It’s got lots of impacts on the environment. But there’s stuff that we as owners can do to minimize that impact and even help damaged ecosystems recover.

One of the most responsible things that developers can do, is look for ISO14001 certified construction companies. In a high environmental impact scenario like we typically manage, ISO14001 construction is a load off our backs. Having a construction company that doesn’t need constant supervision and doesn’t need an environmental inspector chasing them around is a relief for any project, hectic as it may be.

Choosing an ISO14001 construction company, is one of the first and most important steps towards taking that load off our backs.


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