September 17, 2016

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ISO 14001

ISO 14001 explained

ISO 14001 standard is the new international environmental management standard.

ISO 14001 requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). It provides a framework that an organisation can follow, rather than establishing environmental performance requirements.

As well as offering easier integration between ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and the new OHSAS 18001 replacement, ISO 45001, published next year, it brings with it additional requirements, grouped around five key areas: leadership, strategic context, interested party analysis and communication, risks and opportunities and lifecycle perspective. These changes are designed to increase corporate resilience and competitive advantage and as such early transition to the new standard is advocated.

Bringing the 2004 version up to date, this new standard forces environmental management systems (EMS) to become more strategic, integrated and outward looking. It acknowledges the increasingly complex environmental challenges that businesses face and the need for consistency with other standards and a simpler structure and language.

ISO 14001 five areas

ISO 14001’s requirements can be grouped into five core areas:

  1. Strategic Leadership. Cross functional top management will need to promote and be accountable for the EMS. It should be integrated with business processes and compatible with business strategy.
  2. Context. The EMS will need to be built upon an understanding of what internal and external issues will assist or stop businesses from achieving their intended EMS goals.
  3. Interested Parties. Businesses will be required to identify interested parties (customers, shareholders, regulators, local residents, etc), their needs and expectations and develop a communication plan to demonstrate that they will meet both legal and voluntary compliance obligations.
  4. Risks and opportunities. Businesses will need to consider the impact of a changing environment on their organisation and manage risk and opportunities to build resilience into their EMS and their organisation.
  5. Lifecycle.  The EMS will need to consider and manage impacts relating to suppliers, customers and at end of life in addition to those on their site. Read ISO 14001 Standard: Lifecycle thinking

ISO 14001

Greg Roberts, the only UK expert sitting on the ISO Technical Committee responsible for developing this guidance, explains:

“For organisations already signed up to the ISO14001 standard, starting transitioning to this new standard as soon as possible will make the process more efficient and bring more value to their business sooner, for example cutting costs further, increasing resilience and gaining greater competitive advantage. Conversely without a timely transition plan, loss of the certificate is a real risk; it’s not the sort of task that can be left to the last minute.

“Too many environmental management systems are failing to add benefit to their organisations. The revised standard is a great opportunity to revitalise a failing EMS so that it is able to deliver real business value. This new version will also provide a stepping stone to developing a wider sustainability strategy by helping organisations to be more strategic and outward-looking in their approach to environmental management.

“The first priority of any ISO14001:2015 transition project is to gain cross functional top management commitment – without it some of the new strategic and business focused requirements will be difficult to achieve. A gap assessment should be performed but specific focus should be given to understanding business processes and how the EMS can be integrated with them.”

ISO 14001 leadership


Leadership is the fundamental pillar of any management system and a focus here can set businesses up for a very successful transition, whether to ISO 14001:2015 or ISO 45001. Each of these standards requires top management to lead, promote, communicate and direct others and ensure integration and compatibility between the management systems and other business processes is achieved.

There is a growing consensus among practitioners that health and safety is relatively well integrated and led from the top, with many senior teams having undertaken IOSH Safety for Senior Executives courses, for example. However, the same cannot always be said for environmental commitment. Going forward under ISO 14001, it will no longer be appropriate to have one representative trying to improve the environmental performance on behalf of the rest of the organisation. Top management will now be accountable for the success of their environmental management system (EMS) and as such should lead, promote and direct others and integrate these areas with business processes to ensure it drives environmental and business benefits.

Who is the management team?

Top management is the person or group of people that directs and controls an organisation (as defined by the scope of its EMS) at the highest level. For a single site certificate, top management will be the senior management team onsite. Under a multi-site certificate, top management is at the highest corporate level, although it must be recognised that the onsite management team will also need to show environmental leadership and commitment relevant to their specific site.

Crucially, now, it’s a cross-functional team (finance, sales and marketing, purchasing, design, facilities, HR etc.) that must work together in order to successfully:

  • integrate the EMS with business processes
  • ensure the EMS compatibility with the strategic direction
  • address the additional lifecycle focus of the revised ISO 14001.

If deficiencies exist here, it is this strand of the new ISO 14001 that will arguably require the longest lead-in time to implement given the shift in engagement required and the availability of senior managers. And this is why it is also the most important. Not only is it a requirement in its own right, but the other four key areas depend upon it.

Engaging your senior team        

The first step in engagement, therefore, should be to brief your senior team on these changes and the business case for them. Engagement – and attendance at any company-wide meetings – should be encouraged as much as possible, as failure to transition effectively could mean the loss of the certificate. For many organisations, then, this new standard could herald a watershed moment where better environment management starts to play a significant part in generating value for the business.

This can be further enhanced by reviewing your organisation’s environmental achievements. They are often greater and broader than expected because many initiatives are categorised under economic rather than environmental improvement but, from our experience, this realisation often creates a commitment to do more.

Next, consider why, other than customer pressure, you already have ISO 14001 and identify the added benefits it could bring in future. By developing and increasing engagement, your senior team are more likely to contribute to the other, future initiatives such as the context review and stakeholder analysis that are also needed under the revised standard.

Mapping ISO 4001 policies and processes

To be able to start to or further integrate your EMS, time should be taken to map other business policies and processes, including the mission or purpose of your organisation, project or financial sign-off procedures, competency or training matrices and communication, and reporting and risk management procedures. This will provide an understanding of how your EMS and its intended outcomes can be compatible with, and indeed improve achievement of, your business goals.

ISO 14001 articles

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The new ISO 14001: Lifecycle thinking - Live Circular

[…] the publication of the new ISO 14001 standard, published in September last year, Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ, have taken an […]