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Staff Accomplishments

Researchers help public utility certify to rigorous environmental management system

August 2005
Over the past decade, the U.S. electricity market has struggled with availability versus demand, leaving many consumers wondering if their lights will work on any given day. With the electricity market in a state of flux, some utilities are turning to environmental management systems (EMS) to improve operations, reduce liability, improve community relations, and diversify their markets. In southeastern Washington State, Energy Northwest, a publicly-owned nuclear power plant, called on Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to guide them through the process of adopting and certifying to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 standard. While there are easier approaches to EMS implementation, Energy Northwest took the most rigorous approach and conformed and registered to ISO 14001, one of the most widely adopted international standards. Approximately 5,600 organizations in the United States have been registered to ISO 14001, including PNNL. An ISO 14001 EMS focuses on managing the impacts of an organization's operations on the environment, including the air, water, land, wildlife, other natural resources, habitat, humans, and the ecosystem as a whole. Companies certified to the standard demonstrate their commitment to environmental protection by integrating environmental considerations into organizational fabric at every level - from resources and responsibilities, to planning, practices, procedures and processes. As a recognized national leader in environmental and life sciences and research, PNNL was uniquely poised to support Energy Northwest through the certification process. Long-term company goals, including expansion and improved operations, motivated Energy Northwest's commitment to the three-year project for certification. However, PNNL Project Leader, Bet Zimmerman, said that their CEO's commitment to environmental stewardship was instrumental in leading the company to successful certification. "The power industry corporate culture focuses on product delivery to the public in a fluctuating electricity market," Zimmerman said. "Yet poor environmental performance can result in significant costs, including employee time to deal with spills and waste; loss of trust with the community and regulators; and financial costs for clean up, disposal and legal fees." Over the course of the project, PNNL provided leadership through all phases of the work. "We worked with them to decide which standard to certify to, helped them organize the project, and supported them through registration into the long-term maintenance and continual improvement mode," Zimmerman added. One of the team's early efforts centered on creating Energy Northwest's environmental policy - the management statement that marks the visible beginning of the EMS project for employees. The next step involved documenting and revising procedures to ensure consistency and avoid having to rely on "tribal knowledge" to many areas, not just those required by ISO 14001. Other aspects of the project included identifying and addressing Energy Northwest's environmental impacts, and strengthening the company's pollution prevention program. Federal and state government environmental agencies emphasize cleaner production and pollution prevention reporting; these factors are prominent in the ISO 14001 standard. "Early on we identified three pollution prevention opportunities for Energy Northwest, and conducted assessments on each," Zimmerman said. "The assessments addressed some of their most costly waste streams: diesel generator maintenance, energy efficiency, and spill management. Implementation of the recommendations from these assessments is expected to yield significant savings for the company into the future." Energy Northwest's ISO 14001 registration project also involved training and communication to ensure staff understanding of and participation in environmental management as part of their daily work. In addition, PNNL led internal audits that allowed for identification and correction of program weaknesses. The project culminated in a third-party audit of all of Energy Northwest's facilities, and the company's EMS was successfully registered to ISO 14001 in March 2005. At the end of the audit, the registrar auditor commented on Energy Northwest's excellent training system that resulted in employee knowledge of environmental management. "When we first embarked on implementing a company-wide EMS in mid-2001, we recognized that PNNL offered a wealth of knowledge and experience to assist us," said Victor Parrish, CEO of Energy Northwest. "PNNL staff supported the project in the spirit of Energy Northwest team members rather than as contractors. We would not have achieved ISO 14001 [registration] without the close support of PNNL staff." For more information, contact Environment, Safety and Health Product Line Manager Kelvin Soldat.

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