IBM leverages ISO 14001 for sustainable business

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A meaningful, systematic approach to environmental management has made IBM one of the world's most environmentally conscious companies. The globally integrated IT company leverages ISO 14001 for a comprehensive corporate policy on environmental affairs. Here, Wayne Balta, IBM's VP of Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, tells us more.

With nearly 380 000 employees and serving clients in more than 175 countries, IBM is the world’s largest technology services company. And according to this year’s Computer Business Review, IBM is also one of the greenest tech companies in the USA.

IBM has a long track record of environmental leadership. Already back in 1971, the company was an avid champion for environmental responsibility with the issuance of its corporate environmental policy, and it has sustained its commitment ever since. In 2012, 43 data centres in 19 countries in the European Union were awarded “Participant” status in Data Centre Energy Efficiency based on the EU Code of Conduct for Energy Efficient Data Centres. This honour represents the largest portfolio of data centres from a single company to receive this recognition to date.

Over the past five years, IBM has spent over USD 80 million in capital and USD 463.6 million in operating expense to manage its global environmental programmes.

Applied to its operations globally, IBM leverages ISO 14001 to foster common practices and solutions, continual improvement and worldwide consistency. The result is a more effective and efficient environmental management system (EMS), no matter where in the world the company does business. Here, Wayne Balta, IBM’s VP of Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, explains the company’s EMS, the value of ISO 14001, and how environmental policies contribute to IBM’s success.


Wayne Balta, IBM’s Vice-President of Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety.
ISOfocus: IBM is often quoted in the press, commenting on the usefulness of environmental management systems. What is the strategic importance of ISO 14001?

Wayne Balta: IBM’s corporate environmental policy commits the company to environmental leadership in all of its business activities. Our global EMS provides the framework needed to sustain such leadership and achieve our environmental goals in a systematic and consistent manner, no matter where we operate in the world. This methodical approach to environmental affairs management ensures IBM proactively focuses on controlling the environmental intersections of its operations and continually improves its performance.

IBM formalized its environmental programmes and commitment to leadership with the issuance of its Corporate Policy on IBM’s Environmental Responsibilities in 1971. Implementing and securing a single worldwide registration to ISO 14001 provided an opportunity for us to further examine our long-standing management system, and to leverage the standard as an impetus to enhance our EMS.

The ISO 14001 process has helped IBM maintain environmental leadership, while transforming itself from a vertically integrated systems manufacturer, to a provider of high-value innovations and services with strategic imperatives involving cloud computing, analytics, mobile, social and security technologies. As IBM’s business has changed over the years, so too has our global EMS as it continually identifies and controls our environmental intersections involving new business opportunities.


An adsorption heat exchanger (above) will convert heat to cool air using vapour, water and silica gel.
IBM was awarded the first single worldwide ISO 14001 registration, encompassing product development and manufacturing. How has this evolved over time?

IBM was the first major global corporation to earn a single worldwide ISO 14001 registration – less than a year after the standard’s publication. In truth, implementation was perhaps a less daunting task for us than for some companies, since we have had a strong, centralized EMS in place for over 25 years and it already contained most elements of the standard. The scope of our initial global ISO 14001 registration covered our product development and manufacturing operations.

Since 1997, our global EMS has continued to evolve to remain relevant to our transforming business while serving the needs of our clients. In addition to product development and manufacturing, our global ISO 14001 registration today includes our chemical-using research locations, several country organizations covering non-manufacturing locations, and various business functions such as our Supply Chain and Global Asset Recovery Services operations. We have also updated our global EMS to address environmental opportunities and challenges in connection with our services business.

How has ISO 14001 helped IBM identify, and systematically reduce, any harmful effects it may have on the environment? Have you any facts or figures that you could share with our readers?

IBM has a history of environmental commitment and accomplishments that dates back well before the implementation of ISO 14001, so it would be inaccurate to say the ISO 14001 standard has been solely responsible for the company’s environmental performance and results. That said, the rigour and discipline required to maintain IBM’s worldwide registration to ISO 14001 have contributed to our successes and achievements.

In the 18 years since achieving its initial registration, IBM’s businesses have evolved as technology has changed at a breathtaking pace. What has not changed is our commitment to environmental leadership and producing demonstrable results that substantiate our commitment.

We believe it is our global EMS, underpinned by ISO 14001, that has enabled our sustained performance and achievements. Here are some examples:


Using IBM’s Measurement and Management Technology (MMT), this self-propelled MMT robot generates a heat map that helps diagnose data centre trouble spots and energy inefficiencies.
  • Transparency: 2015 marks the 25th consecutive year in which IBM has published its voluntary annual Corporate Environmental Report. In 1990, a quarter century ago, IBM became one of the first corporations to publicly report on its environmental programmes and performance. We have never stopped or interrupted this practice since then.
  • Energy and climate: Between 1990 and 2014, our conservation efforts avoided 6.8 million MWh of energy consumption and an associated 4.2 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. During 2014, IBM achieved energy conservation savings equal to 6.7 % of its total energy use. Our purchases of renewable electricity (not counting what comes within the standard mix of grid power) made up 14.2 % of our consumption on a global basis.
  • Product stewardship: Between 1995 and 2014, IBM collected and processed more than 2 billion pounds of end-of-life IT products worldwide. Nearly 97 % of the quantity we processed during 2014 was reused, resold or recycled.
  • Product stewardship: During 2010, IBM communicated a new requirement to all of its global suppliers for them to implement a management system that addressed the environmental intersections of their businesses, set goals and disclosed results. We also asked our suppliers to cascade the same requirements to their suppliers.

Our experience and results also inform the development of solutions and services for our clients. Most of our clients’ challenges are not solely environmental in nature, but in addressing these obstacles, we often improved the efficiency and environmental performance of their operations. This understanding motivates IBM to take an integrated approach in order to develop solutions that are responsive to its customers’ business needs while also advancing sustainability.

How would you describe IBM’s experience in implementing and using ISO 14001 (i.e. challenges, tips, tools, facts, figures, etc.)?

We leveraged ISO 14001 to areas where we could improve the effectiveness of our system and further incorporate environmental considerations throughout the business. Implementing the standard enabled us to further integrate IBM’s existing procedures and processes under a common corporate-wide framework, thus improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our environmental programmes.

Achieving our initial global certification within a year of the release of the standard provided us with an opportunity to demonstrate IBM’s commitment to environmental leadership and continual improvement. In this sense, our experience was very positive. But we don’t rest on our laurels – we are constantly asking ourselves whether our management system is suitable, adequate and effective.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the newly revised ISO 14001? Any predictions on how it will be received and used by IBM?

IBM participated in the revision process of the 2015 version of ISO 14001. We wanted to share our expertise in EMS and felt that we could contribute toward ensuring the standard remained practical, effective and executable.

We are currently performing a gap analysis to identify any areas of substantive difference between our existing management system and ISO 14001:2015. At this point, we do not expect any significant changes to our current EMS will be required in order to conform to the new standard. But one thing is certain, though it is still unknown how prevalent ISO 14001:2015 will become, it is our intent to continue with our single global registration.


A thermal profile of an existing data centre created using the MMT Robot identifies possibilities for cooling efficiencies and smarter energy use.
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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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