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  • 15 September 2015
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“Placing the environment at the heart of thinking and strategy”

In a move that has been described as delivering a “step-change in business performance”, the publication today of the revised ISO 14001 Global Environmental Standard will “shift business focus on the environment from compliance with regulations and direct operations, to placing the environment at the heart of thinking and strategy.” These are the words of Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor, who has been working on the revisions to the Standard for the past three years. In an exclusive interview with International Workplace, Martin shares his thoughts below.

 

What are the key differences between the new and the revised versions of ISO 14001? Why was there a need to revise the original Standard?

"Environment and sustainability has become more important as a business issue, and the challenges of climate change and resource availability are set to increase over the coming years. It was essential to ensure that ISO 14001 is able to support businesses meeting these challenges over the coming decade.

"The key changes include strengthening requirements on the involvement of top management, integration of environmental management into core business processes, and alignment with business strategy, and a greater focus on environmental performance improvement across the value chain. Greater clarity is also being placed on external communication, including requirements that environmental information that is communicated is reliable."

 

You have been heavily involved with the revision process, which has taken three years to get to publication, and has involved global participation and several drafts. What are you most pleased about with the final version? Is there anything that you regret has not made it through?

"One of the key changes is that ISO 14001 will not just be a framework for managing the organisation’s impact on the environment; it will also help organisations manage (and become more resilient to) external environmental change. When we set out on the revision process, we consulted with IEMA members and set out what we wanted to achieve – I’m delighted that we’ve achieved everything!"

 

There is a three-year transition phase from the 2004 to the 2015 version. Have you any key tips for businesses currently certified to the 2004 version? What about companies that do not currently have an externally certified ISO 14001 Environmental Management System? Should these companies look straight away for certification to the revised standard?

"Implementing the new ISO 14001 Standard should be used as an opportunity to refresh and invigorate the way existing users can get value out of good environmental management. It’s also important to recognise that you don’t need to be certified to use the Standard and get the benefits. Given that ISO 9001 is also changing, developing a joint approach to implementing both of the new standards makes sense.

"For companies new to ISO 14001, I would focus on implementing the new Standard as they should get enhanced business benefits. Indeed, a recent survey IEMA carried out suggests over 40% of businesses believe the revised Standard will bring greater buy-in from senior management. Around 40% of businesses saved at least £10,000 per annum with some businesses saving over £5m per annum as a result of using ISO 14001. The majority of these savings were delivered through energy efficiency measures (71%) and improved waste management (64%). Wider benefits include improved environmental performance (38%), meeting legislative requirements (39%), enhancing stakeholder relations, and generating new business opportunities (22%)."

 

The 2015 revision of the Standard brings in a number of important changes, including greater emphasis on ‘leadership’. How should an organisation set about facilitating the level of engagement and understanding by top management that will be needed to demonstrate compliance?

"Top management really need to understand their dependencies on the environment if their company is going to be successful over the long-term. IEMA’s Leading With Environmental Sustainability course provides them with a high-level overview to help them fulfil the Standard’s requirements. It’s essential for businesses to look beyond direct operations and see where environmental risks and opportunities are across the whole value chain. This will help companies to develop greater resilience to external environmental change, and also to take advantage of the new opportunities."

 

What do you think will be the biggest challenge to businesses with an existing certified ISO 14001 EMS when they start to modify their systems to comply with the 2015 version?

"The biggest challenge will be getting environmental management positioned at the highest level of the organisation. If environmental management is currently in its own silo, integrating across the whole organisation will be difficult for some."

 

Do you have any feel for how long it will be before the first companies are certified to the new Standard?

"Some companies will be able to move quite quickly, as they’ve been involved in commenting on drafts that have been available and have already been improving their systems in line with the new Standard. It’s a popular myth that certifying bodies are responsible for interpreting the requirements of ISO 14001, but it’s actually ISO’s national member bodies that have the role. ISO will be compiling interpretations and making these available for users – this should help with improving consistency."

 

There has been some consideration by regulatory bodies, such as the Environment Agency, that they may be able to reduce the number of compliance visits to companies with permitted activities if those companies have a certified ISO 14001 EMS in place. Are there any aspects of the revision that you think will increase the credibility of businesses in relation to the regulators, which may allow them to reduce compliance visits?

"Yes. Firstly, there’s a new requirement for organisations to have knowledge and understanding of their compliance status – this implies more proactive compliance management. There is also a new requirement on the reliability of information that is communicated – this includes regulatory reports on performance to the regulators."

 

What would you say are the top three reasons for companies to gain the revised Standard? What will it do for their business?

"I would say the top three reasons for companies to gain the revised Standard are:

  1. Greater resilience to respond to external environmental change.
  2. Added value for aligning environmental management with the strategic direction of the organisation.
  3. Taking advantage of the opportunities of good environmental management, as well as minimising risk."

 

International Workplace offers a number of IEMA-approved courses for those interested in environmental management. Our Managing with Environmental Sustainability course provides supervisors and managers with a strategic and operational overview of environmental sustainability as it affects their specific industry and work area, whilst Making the Transition to ISO 14001 2015 provides an overview of the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015 to enable students to evaluate and implement changes and improve their organisation’s Environmental Management System.