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Explorandes Peru's perspective of the ISO 14001 EMS certification process
Recently Alfredo Ferreyros, the President of Explorandes Peru, which is a sustainable tour operator offering authentic ecotours to the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley and the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, answered some questions about the process his company went through to obtain ISO 14001 designation.
As a manner of introduction, the intention of the ISO 14001 standards for Environmental Management Systems (EMS) is to provide a framework for a holistic, strategic approach to an organization's environmental policy, plans and actions. ISO 14001 is a management tool that enables an organization to identify and control the environmental impact of its activities, products, or services; improve its environmental performance continually and to implement a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets.
What compelled Explorandes Peru to become a sustainable tourism business?
Over the years, we had seen how uncontrolled and unregulated tourism flows and human activities had affected various National Parks including the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Sanctuary, and Huascaran National Park. We felt (that as a tourism business), we had an environmental responsibility for the issues related to tourism impacts in these protected areas.
Why did the company pursue ISO 14001 environmental management certification over other sustainable tourism certifications?
We understood in early 2000, when the decision was made to choose this standard, that there were many options for certification and although ISO 14001 was not common - or very uncommon for tourism – it was an internationally recognized standard that was here to stay. Coupled with this, there was a program established by the (Peruvian) Government´s National Council of the Environment to sponsor those pioneering and leading companies that wanted to implement an Environmental Management System. This made the certification accessible to us. In fact, before we decided to go for ISO 14001, we had already adhered to Green Globe in the U.K.
What was the process for obtaining certification?
We started the process in 2000 and it took two years to complete. We formed an Environmental Committee inside the company, and with the help of a Government sponsored external advisor and a consultant that we hired, we began identifying the significant environmental impacts of our activities. These impacts were then reviewed and internal guidelines were set. We communicated to our field staff and controls implemented to mitigate them with proper instructions on how to act in the field. Presently these impacts are controlled in the field by a continual reporting system which reports anomalies in its functioning. Part of the existing process, as an example, entails us informing our visitors, that undertakes treks and, in general, trips with us of this EMS and what impacts need to be controlled.
What specific areas did the ISO assessment focus on?
Specifically it deals mostly with impacts of our adventure travel activities in the field. Even though we have directives to reduce and recycle waste disposal and energy consumption in the office (we managed to reduce these by 30% in three years) it focuses mostly on processes dealing with company procedures in the field – waste water management, toilet waste disposal and risk of fire in the cooking tents.
In what way does Explorandes Peru provide assurance to management and employees that it is environmentally responsible?
We follow the directives of our EMS and can prove compliance by a continuous revision of the process, including a yearly audit done by our authorized supervising company – in fact we just had our yearly audit on February 21st and 22nd. With respect to our customers and suppliers, we provide assurance through our established communication processes that oblige us to sensitize our suppliers as well as our visitors to environmental issues.
What was the most difficult part of the process?
The most difficult part of the implementation of the EMS system was communicating with our field staff so that they understood why we more doing this. Since some of the staff have a very basic education, it is still difficult to get them (especially new service providers) to understand why we do this and the purpose of their involvement.
What did the company learn the most by going through the certification process?
We learned that commitments and ideas which seem initially easy to push through take time and in the end also imply an added cost.
How often does reauthorization occur?
Re-certification happens every three years. We have been re-certified two times and Explorandes Peru will be up for recertification again in the year 2012. Audits occur every year and that is when our yearly environmental action plan is reviewed for compliance and the maintenance of our EMS is also supervised.