Dam safety experts improve their environmental management with ISO 14001
Finnish company Mitta Oy partners with Kiwa for certification
Hydroelectric plants produce 17 percent of the world’s energy, making hydropower the third biggest source of energy behind coal and natural gas. These systems rely on the environment – our waterways and surrounding areas – to function, so it’s vital for the companies operating them to monitor the areas and manage their environmental impacts.
For these companies and their partners, ISO 14001 environmental management certification can support continuous improvement and show a commitment to the environment.
In Finland, the surveying and geotechnical consulting company Mitta Oy works with hydroelectric plants to ensure dams are operating safely. This is just one of the company’s range of environmental services, from land surveys and environmental geotechnics to infrastructural planning. Mitta Oy has been working with Kiwa since 2018 on its ISO 14001 certification.
“As nature and environment are strongly linked to what we do in our Environment and Monitoring Unit, we consider the environmental management system crucial for a successful outcome in our operations,” said Ilkka Kylmänen, Business Unit Director at Mitta Oy. “Our customers value ISO 14001 certificate as well, and with it we ensure our competitiveness in the market. For us, the certification is a great tool both for internal development and serving our customers even better.”
Monitoring dam safety
Among the various services they offer, Mitta Oy’s most important environmental issue is related to dam safety. There are about 430 major dams in Finland, and 22 percent of the country’s electricity comes from hydro power sources. Mitta Oy works with two major hydropower producers – Kemijoki Oy and PVO-Vesivoima Oy – to ensure the safety of their dams.
In a conventional hydroelectric plant, a dam holds water in a reservoir, and when the water is released, it spins a turbine that then generates electricity. There are many environmental and safety risks companies need to consider, such as damage to the dam or ‘leaning trees’ that are at risk of falling into the water.
Photo: Removing ‘leaning trees’ near the Vanttauskoski power plant, Finland. (L-R) Mitta Oy’s environmental workers Jari Ahola and Ismo Petäjäjärvi, Kiwa’s head of product management Tiia Tuomi, and Mitta Oy’s environmental manager Harri Patjas. Credit: Mitta Oy.
Mitta Oy has developed a dam safety monitoring system, which more than 40 hydropower plants in Finland are currently using. “The purpose of the dam safety measures is to detect changes in the conditions of dams and to prevent dams from bursting,” said Veli-Pekka Sirniö, Service Manager at Mitta Oy.
The software package works on the basis of a geographic information system (GIS), which connects all kind of data and descriptive information to a map. It helps companies maintain and analyze the data they collect on dam safety, which includes monitoring, surveying and design data. The system also stores the general information required by the Dam Safety Act and the surveying data in accordance with the dam monitoring program.
Image: Mitta Oy’s dam safety monitoring system monitors different values. Credit: Mitta Oy.
Taking responsibility as environmental stewards
In addition to providing software to support dam safety, the team at Mitta Oy works directly in the environment. They use LiDAR drone technology to monitor dams from above, they travel the waterways by boat, and they even get underwater to examine the dams below the surface. Mitta Oy’s environmental expertise is of great benefit to their customers, and ISO 14001 certification highlights that expertise.
“It shows that in our business, environmental management is important and valued,” said Ilkka Kylmänen, Branch Manager at Mitta Oy. “The certification has made it clear, not only to us but to customers and other stakeholders, that we have a competency and know-how in environmental management and that our expertise is proven by a third party. A certified environmental management system strengthens our position in the market.”
Kiwa awarded Mitta Oy its first ISO 14001 certificate in 2018 and has renewed it every year since. This means that Kiwa’s Head of Product Management Tiia Tuomi visits the company’s sites in Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi, northern Finland, annually, and she loves it.
“I get to travel to northern Finland and see its incredible nature,” Tiia said. “It’s so refreshing and beautiful to be outside doing the audits and seeing all the interesting things they do. I have been on boat trips, we have visited dams, and I have even seen people using the drone technology to monitor dams from above – they are very hands-on with the environment.”
Committed to continuous improvement
Tiia leads a team of product group managers at Kiwa who provide certification, audits and training. In certification, Tiia is one of about 80 auditors in Finland, covering various management systems, including quality, health and safety, and environment.
“The team I work with at Mitta Oy pursued certification for their environmental management before quality systems, even though companies would usually do that the other way around,” Tiia said. “They are really committed to finding areas for improvement themselves, and then together we try to find more. It shows how important environmental issues are to the company.”
ISO 14001 sets out the criteria and provides a framework for setting up an effective environmental management system. When Mitta Oy started their environmental management system work, they had support from a consultant to save time and make sure they hadn’t missed anything. But they soon took on full responsibility for the tasks and everything is now in-house.
“The beginning is always challenging,” said Harri Patjas, Environmental Manager at Mitta Oy. “We set out to create an environmental management system for our business unit from scratch. Familiarizing ourselves with the requirements of the certificate was challenging, although very educational.”
Tiia assesses Mitta Oy’s adherence to the ISO 14001 standard, including aspects like emergency preparedness and employee training. As with all ISO standards, the emphasis is on continuous improvement – something Mitta Oy takes seriously.
“As our operations develop through continuous improvement, we are also a more responsible operator, said Harri. “Several of our customers have had certified environmental systems for a long time, which have also guided our operations in terms of the services provided to them even before we got our own environmental system in use.”
“The certification of our own environmental system has enabled a deeper and more responsible assessment of the environmental aspects and risks related to our operations, and thus the development of our operations.”
Partnering with Kiwa
Since implementing ISO 14001, Mitta Oy has received positive feedback from customers, and the team has noticed an increasing demand for certification in the market. Given their positive experience with the environmental management system, Mitta Oy plans to expand the environmental system to cover all business units.
“Sustainability and responsibility have become important issues for Mitta Oy, and our long-term goal is to see that it covers the whole Mitta Group. Many of our subsidiaries are already certified, so the goal is not too far away.”
They also plan to continue partnering with Kiwa. Harri explained, “The co-operation with Kiwa has been excellent. We have found audits encouraging and helpful in many ways. When the audits have revealed minor deviations, we have received good development ideas and thus gotten a positive attitude towards the implementation of the environmental program. Through this we have also gotten ideas for setting new environmental goals. This way, the continuous improvement comes up naturally and in good collaboration, which makes the implementation run smoother.”