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May 11, 2015

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Revised ISO 14001: Evolution or revolution?

The revised ISO 14001 standard is expected to be released in late 2015 and will differ significantly from the current standard, says Richard Clarke, senior consultant at Cedrec.

It sets out requirements which increase the focus on legal compliance building on those in ISO 14001:2004 which introduced new clauses relating to Evaluation of Compliance.

The new standard further extends these requirements introducing a requirement for maintenance of knowledge and understanding of compliance obligations conformance.

The scope and scale of compliance obligations determined suggest that the requirement to maintain compliance knowledge will become an ongoing process rather than simply evaluating compliance annually. Such knowledge of compliance status becomes a requirement upon strategic top level management, rather than just environmental management system representatives.

This significantly extends the scope beyond the process of evaluation of compliance as it currently operates, to an understanding of the ongoing compliance position to a key operational and strategic requirement of business. Senior management should be ready for audit requirements under the new standard which will see both internal and external auditors seeking demonstrable understanding of how an organisation is complying with legal and other requirements.

Businesses understanding of what gives rise to compliance obligations is now an elemental part of the wider strategic assessment of risks associated with threats and opportunities. This new clause is one of the major changes in the new standard, and seeks that organisations assessment of risk is much wider than simply assessing direct risks to the environment from business activities. Risk analysis requires understanding of how environmental and legal impacts may arise, and how they will affect the business now and in the future.

Placing legal obligations within the risks and opportunities framework means that organisations will need to pay greater regard to the future compliance requirements they may face, and how that impacts on strategic planning issues such as material supply chains, product and service design. This will require organisations to be more aware of future regulatory developments, introducing a need for “horizon scanning” as part of ongoing compliance obligations assessment.

Legislation is a changing picture, in particular with European and global Regulations and agreements such as the replacement for the Kyoto Protocol to be negotiated in Paris later this year creating significant drivers for new Regulatory controls and compliance obligations. The move towards further carbon controls, and resource efficiency, such as the proposed Circular Economy Directive will see direct impacts on the way that businesses source and use materials and services which must be factored into strategic planning.

Taken together, these measures raise the status of legal compliance to one of significant concern for organisations. Legal compliance is now becoming a specialist area within environmental management, where detailed knowledge of both current legal requirements and the need to focus on long term emerging legal trends increasingly will sit out with the skills and resources of business environmental management teams.

Extended requirements are set out in the communications clauses which specify the need to take account of compliance obligations in any management system communications. This change suggests that the management system will be required to perform a function in terms of ensuring accuracy of regulatory reporting, often crossing over other areas of business operations, for example financial function reporting energy consumption data for CRC Scheme obligations.

This may also find further importance as regulatory bodies explore relaxed regulation models which will rely on third party certification as proof of legal compliance. Current discussions between regulators and certifying bodies suggest that as a minimum, testing of legal compliance as part of an audit process will take on much greater significance. It’s possible that certifying bodies will be required to treat any legal non-conformance as a reason to withhold certification. If the regulator moves to a model where regulatory compliance is now part of external certification, business should expect that a far greater and more detailed examination of compliance will be standard in future audits.

Overall, the changes in the new standard are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary but are designed to ensure that legal compliance has greater visibility at a strategic, business planning and senior management level. This is a big enough change that business needs to prepare now for the future challenges of understanding legal compliance requirements, and demonstrating full awareness of ongoing legal compliance status within their strategic and environmental management controls.

Richard ClarkeRichard Clarke is senior consultant at Cedrec. Cedrec specialises in providing public and private sector organisations with help and advice in understanding, interpreting and complying with environmental and safety legislation. The company offers a range of specialist consultancy and subscriptions services.

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