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July 29, 2016

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Environmental risk – what is ISO 14001:2015 all about?

ISO 14001:2015, the International Standard for Environmental Management Systems has many similarities to the previous 2004 version. However, there are some big differences too. To finish off our month focusing on Standards, Alan Field explains more.

BS EN ISO 14001:2004 is one of the most widely adopted Standards for environmental management systems throughout the world.

However, by September 2018 all organisations who wish to retain their certification  will need to have successfully migrated to the 2015 version of BS EN ISO 14001 (which we will refer to as the 2015 Standard).

So, time to get thinking about the changes.

Too risky?

There are a number of big changes that the 2015 Standard brings. Firstly, it is a process  based environmental management system (EMS). Secondly, it is a risk based  EMS and, thirdly, there is a new concept of leadership, whose role is to be directly responsible for the running of the EMS  -although this doesn’t mean they can’t delegate!

Process based – in broad terms – means  a series or sequence of events that lead to a particular outcome. This doesn’t mean that procedures or work instructions can no longer be used – rather, there must be a suite of overarching processes approach to an organisation’s EMS. This will also impact on existing ISO 14001 requirements such as environmental policy, objectives and targets. A process based approach may impact on more specific areas such as more operational controls or emergency preparedness and response within an EMS.

The 2015 Standard actually makes good business sense in terms of continual improvement.

Risk means the effect of uncertainty and ISO (the International Standards Organisation) .have deliberately left the definition a wide one so that different risk based approaches to management can be embraced. The issue is that many organisations still don’t have a risk based approach to their EMS other than, perhaps, things such as compliance risks.

For example, an organisation might understand the legal and reputational risks of not managing their waste streams. However, they may not think about deciding priorities concerning their EMS based on a risk and opportunities approach. Neither may they think about the wider impact of their business – and the supply chain it uses – and which really begs for a risk based approach – rather than simply procedural type controls. So, the 2015 Standard actually makes good business sense in terms of continual improvement.

The risk and opportunities based approach to EMS is one of the reasons why leadership is so important under the 2015 Standard. In one sense, ISO 14001 has moved up a notch from being just about the day to day EMS. It escalates it towards centre stage of strategic decisions and risk management of an organisation. So, it also means there needs to be more involvement of the leadership team with the EMS itself.

Is that all?

There are some other important changes in the 2015 Standard. However, the above are the key starting points before looking at other requirements.

The approach ISO have taken is that with a leadership, risk and process based approach to the EMS then completing the necessary work to the 2015 Standard will flow from achieving these initial areas of continual improvement.


The 2015 Standard presents opportunities as well as challenges. In many ways it is more adaptable than the present version to a wider range of organisations and, more importantly, can be used as a platform to meet wider sustainable goals to meet emerging market expectations.

September 2018 may seem a long time away. It isn’t in terms of certification visit cycles and thinking caps need to put on now to comfortably achieve the deadline.

Alan C. Field MA is a freelance author and editor for a wide range of business publications. He is also an experienced Lead Assessor and consultant for risk and integrated management systems. Alan is a Chartered Quality Professional as well as having qualifications in health and safety, fire safety and environmental management. Alan can be contacted at [email protected] 

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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
7 years ago

Interesting shift from ‘cart before the horse’ in terms of being proactive rather than reactive in any potential chain of causation, just a shame, there seams to be a significant degree of resistance when it comes to reasonably foreseeable waste management of human resources other than rather poor repair and/or rehabilitation and re-purposing following a foreseeable break-down. Also not at all sure how to calculate the depreciation on the decline or damage to human assets performance and productivity, over time, against the scale of sub-optimal working conditions resulting in, often seriously foreshortened optimal working life-cycle justifying ROI in their employment,… Read more »

7 years ago

Quite an informative article on the what & why of ISO 14001:2015…