With over 30,000 certifications worldwide, ISO 14001 is the principal management system standard which specifies the requirements for the formulation and maintenance of an Environmental Management System (EMS).
An EMS provides a structured way for an organisation to manage its environmental impacts and ensure legal compliance. The business benefits of having an effective EMS in place are numerous including:
- More effective use of resources combined with more efficient operational efficiency leading to cost savings
- Improved regulatory compliance
- Enhanced business reputation
- Increased sales opportunities
- Improved relationship with key stakeholders including regulatory authorities, clients, shareholders and employees.
An EMS is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology where a systematic process is used to first determine environmental objectives through an organisational policy statement, identify environmental impacts and areas of legislative risk, put in place formal controls and training for these and audit in order to continually improve performance. ISO 14001 can be externally certified to give assurance to stakeholders that the Standard has been complied with, although this is entirely optional.
The revised ISO 14001:2015 standard was published in September 2015 and organisations currently working to the previous (2004) version have until September 2018 to align with the new standard.
There are a number of significant changes which place emphasis on leadership and integration of environmental management into the core business planning process.
The revised standard itself looks different – its structure is aligned with other ISO management systems including Quality, Health and Safety and Energy. The intention is that this will make it easier to integrate the disciplines into a single management system, thereby helping to embed environmental management into other business processes.
At a strategic level there is a need to understand and consider the organisation’s business context and the needs and expectations of stakeholders. This high level overview acts as the basis for identifying what needs to be taken into consideration within the EMS and should take into account the risk of ‘threats and opportunities’ to the business. The intention is that the organisation does not focus on the potential impact of the organisation on the environment alone, but also considers the potential threats and opportunities to business from external factors, for example environmental conditions and resource requirements.
New responsibilities are placed on ‘top management’ which is required to ‘demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the environmental management system’ and to ‘take accountability for the effectiveness of the EMS’.
The concept of a life-cycle perspective is also introduced by the standard, relating to both planning and operational control. This includes consideration, at the design stage, of environmental requirements during development, delivery, use and end-of-life treatment of a product or service.
Organisations intending to obtain certification, or to move to the new version of the standard, need to ensure that they have the appropriate top management engagement and support, together with resources, to implement an effective EMS. Training and staff awareness is a key component of this process.