The system that transforms plans into action

ISO certificaat

After two years of hard work, ABN AMRO is the first major bank in the Netherlands to obtain sustainability certification ISO 14001. Although this technical term may not mean much to most people, certification has an enormous impact on the bank’s more than three hundred offices, many suppliers and tens of thousands of employees. We asked Building and Technology manager Rob Vermeij about this incentive for organisations to meet their environmental targets.

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system. It helps organisations change processes in order to embed environmental and sustainability targets. For example, cleaners need to use different products, waste should be separated, suppliers must comply with new rules and employees are expected to use their building’s climate control systems sensibly. The standard covers everything, and a protocol has been worked out for everything – even for every environmental risk conceivable. For example, the drains at our bank branches have to be able to handle a situation in which, say, petrol that has leaked from a parked truck does not end up in the sewer. Once all these processes have been put in place, from the ground floor up to the boardroom, an unannounced audit is carried out by DEKRA, an inspection service for ISO 14001​ (PDF 452 KB). If everything works properly, the applicant will receive certification. Certification is valid for one year – and the bar is raised every year.’

What was the outcome of the audit?

‘A spot check was held at a number of our branches. During these surprise visits, auditors inspected how waste was sorted, whether certain cleaning products were stored separately to prevent chemical reactions to leaks, etc. They conducted interviews with our staff to see if everyone understood the importance of compliance. The audit revealed that over eighty per cent of our processes were in order. We drew up a plan for the other twenty per cent. Sure, we had to work hard. How do you prevent a legionella infection, and what’s your plan should a calamity like this take place? Are you aware of the safety of the products used in your building? That kind of thing. You could tell that DEKRA is an independent organisation that doesn’t grant certification to just anybody.’

Why is ABN AMRO the first major Dutch bank to obtain this certification?

‘Implementing this system on our organisation’s scale is a big operation. More than three hundred branches have to work with it, many suppliers have to adapt their procedures and tens of thousands of employees across the organisation have to be informed of numerous different processes. That’s easier to do in smaller organisations, but on our scale it takes a lot of time, planning and dedication. One of the most important aspects is support at management level: all these changes have to be given priority in terms of decision-making. We therefore took two years to carefully prepare for certification: changing processes, training people, making new purchasing agreements. We now have a coordinator, for example, whose only responsibility is to make sure that all offices continue to comply with the certification criteria. And we monitor at a distance the energy consumption of each branch. If we register a peak, we call straight away to find out what’s going on.’

Why is certification necessary? Weren’t things arranged properly in the past?

‘It was all organised fine, but generally by individual branches, so there was little consistency. There were no fixed processes. We’ve always worked in accordance with the law, but we didn’t feel that was enough. We wanted to take a step forward in terms of sustainability. This fits in with our ambition and targets, one of which is to make all our offices carbon-neutral by 2020; ISO 14001 certification supports us in this. We have created a roadmap for energy consumption at all our buildings. DEKRA wanted to know how we will safeguard this objective: How will you make sure that you actually achieve these goals? With the ISO system, we work this out in processes, we draw up an annual plan and we use the ‘plan, do, act and check’ method to make sure the planned improvements are actually carried out. If we fail to meet our interim targets, we lose certification. So it’s a good incentive. Certification helps us to transform good intentions into action.’

Have you now reached your goal? Or is this just the beginning, and do you have further ambitions?

‘We have many more ambitions. Until now, we’ve only addressed facility processes: cleaning, waste, catering and technical services. The next step will be to have the HR processes certified.. Step three will be IT: replacing traditional monitors with LED-lit screens, using circular raw materials, that kind of thing. I believe this continuous improvement will also be visible in how we score in various external benchmarks, where transparency is key. And that’s exactly what this certification does – it makes visible how sustainable we are.

What is your ultimate goal?

‘Our ultimate goal is to help clients by sharing our knowledge with them. We finance hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of real estate in the Netherlands. They can really benefit from the experience we have gained with ISO 14001. We don’t keep the copyright of the business case to ourselves, but give our clients the ‘right to copy’. We also did that by using our Alkmaar branch as a sustainability blueprint for clients, for example. It would be fantastic if we could share the insights we have gained with ISO in the same way.’