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ISO Certification: A Path to Business Sustainability

#talkingwith Catarina Raimundo / Percentil

Achieving ISO certification is a desired achievement for many companies. Catarina Raimundo, a talented consultant and auditor at Percentil – a consulting, auditing and training company in the areas of Quality, Environment and Occupational Safety and Health – has extensive experience in this field, helping companies achieve the necessary quality and sustainability standards. In this #àconversacom we dive into the universe of ISO standards and find out how they work, what challenges they raise and how they influence companies and businesses in general and in particular in the construction market. Come and find out with us!


What is ISO certification, and more specifically ISO 9001 and ISO 14001?

ISO certification (International Organization for Standardization) is nothing more than a management system, transversal to the organization. It is a systematization – or harmonization – of practices and procedures taking into account the experience accumulated in collaboration with multiple companies worldwide, duly adapted to local specificities and regulations.

This management model aims to impact the way the activity is managed, seeking to obtain systematized procedures among all employees and in all areas of a company, from production to marketing, through administrative, financial, support areas, among others. More specifically, ISO 9001 establishes the requirements to ensure that an organization is able to provide quality products and services that meet customer needs and expectations, while ISO 14001 has as its main purpose environmental protection, through the achievement of environmental objectives, with a view to reducing their impacts, meeting compliance obligations (legal and regulatory compliance) and improving environmental performance in general.

These standards can be applied to any organization, regardless of its size.

But how do they work in practice, and what does implementation consist of?

The standards are based on a process approach, requiring the organization seeking certification to identify, document, implement and monitor processes that affect the quality of products, services and the environment.

Giving a very practical example, the need to know the fuel consumption of machinery on site is identified, to monitor and better manage resources and also to ensure that they work in the best conditions, preventing fuel leaks that could lead to possible contamination of soils and water lines. Thus, not only should this need be known by those responsible and properly planned, but it should also be monitored. This is an example of a proposed practice in line with ISO 14001.

The implementation of standards is a multidisciplinary work with internal and external stakeholders. First of all, ISO standards are already defined and set out the requirements for certification – requirements that are updated periodically.

Based on these standards, an ISO consultant (internal or external) defines the practices to be implemented, taking into account the requirements of the standards and the specific needs of the organization. The principles of the standards must be followed even if they result in different practices from company to company. In fact, in more than 15 years as a consultant and auditor I can say that there are no standard experiences. Each system is unique because each organization is unique.

After all this work, you typically go through an internal audit process, which is essential for evaluating the management system in place and to improve and prepare for the external audit.

The last step is to move towards certification (e.g. ISO 9001 or ISO 14001), which is granted by independent certification bodies that carry out audits not only for initial award, but also on an annual basis to verify that the organization meets the requirements of the standards.

This process can take months or years to achieve certification (depending on the will of top management and the resources allocated) and always requires continuous improvement work.

What is the relevance of these standards in the construction market?

They are very relevant. Internally, they are a factor of systematization and operationalization of practices and optimization of resources. Externally, they are a factor of distinction. For most public tenders related to construction, certification is a requirement. In private tenders, while not mandatory, some companies are starting to consider the absence of certification as an exclusion factor. For example, it is not possible to get BREEAM certification if the general contractor is not ISO 14001 certified. We can say that they are a factor of parity with the competition.

And how do you value companies with such a process?

In my experience, they tend to be more robust companies in adversity and, in phases of economic growth, they also accompany it. The analysis and periodic review of a company’s management system helps it to reflect on the context in which it operates and how it may influence it, mitigating possible risks / adverse consequences, acting preventively.

They are also companies that care about their employees, the well-being of the customer, the environment and the community that surrounds them. I guess I could say they grow in the human dimension as the system gains maturity. With practices and procedures at “cruising speed”, they now have other kinds of concerns: reducing waste, the physical and mental health of their employees, work-life balance.

Integrating ISO principles creates value for companies and contributes to their sustainability.

What are the main challenges companies face when seeking ISO certification?

First of all, the lack of commitment from top management. There are processes that can take years if there is no will. The involvement of employees is equally important, as they often see it as something that complicates their lives, that is more bureaucratic – not least because there is this old tradition of ISO, more bureaucratic – so awareness and training are important. This awareness is very important so that there is enthusiasm and so that they see the added value of this process.

Compliance with legislation is also a challenge, since not all companies have enough resources for what is required and the changes, internal and external, that end up having to happen and that have consequences for the company.

What has the implementation process been like at Beelt?

Beelt already has, from the ground up, the intention to do it right, with several systematized practices. These practices are to continue, and will be part of the quality and environmental management system.

If, as said before, top management commitment is typically a challenge – certification being done by customer pressure – at Beelt it is the opposite! The process of implementing the ISO standards has revealed, on the part of the Administration and General Management, a great commitment, incentive and dynamism. Top management has been, as desired, the driving force behind the implementation of the standards. There is also great openness on the part of the employees with whom I have spoken.

I notice that Beelt has a transparent attitude towards its customers, particularly in communicating compliance with deadlines, and a willingness to do well, distinguishing itself from other companies. Beelt does it well!

I believe that certification will be another step towards success!


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