Everything you need to know about ISO 14001

The terms environmental impact, sustainability and reducing waste are becoming well known now that we all have to minimise the damage caused by years of neglecting the climate and our environment. Many companies have identified how they limit their impact on the environment and the measures they take to mitigate the risk by creating processes that address reducing waste and thus the impacts on the environment and climate.

 

But where do you begin when it comes to improving the environmental performance of your business? What steps can you take to get your staff to support your sustainability efforts?

 

We would suggest getting guidance on the structure of an Environmental Management System (EMS) by checking out the standard published by the International Organisation for Standardization standard ISO 14001 published in 1996.

 

This standard was initially created to help companies implement their own internal environmental management systems but is now internationally recognised as the `de facto` system to regulate company behaviour in this arena.

 

This article will explore the standard, the benefits and the approach to take to become formally registered:

 

What is ISO 14001?

The ISO 14001 standard outlines the steps to create and implement an environmental management system appropriate for a particular organisation’s situation, size, and industry.

 

Since its publication, there are several reasons why companies from SMEs to corporations find it so popular:

 

  • Is Flexible
  • Allows you to measure your environmental performance against industry best practices
  • Allows you to create an EMS that works for your unique business needs
  • Allows you to demonstrate your environmental work to external stakeholders and customers

ISO 14001:2015

ISO 14001 was revised to its current version, ISO 14001:2015, due to global changes focusing on sustainability and reducing carbon footprints that organisations are expected to adhere to.

 

As a result of the modernisation of the standard, organisations of all sizes can focus on building an environmental management system capable of supporting their environmental policy and demonstrating their efforts to external stakeholders.

 

It should also be noted that the revision of the standard has allowed it to be integrated with other management system standards much more efficiently, such as ISO 9001. This means organisations can now implement a single integrated management system that complies with multiple ISO standards, thereby reducing costs and improving efficiency.

Benefits of ISO 14001

The benefits of achieving ISO 14001 certification are so numerous that it’s difficult to know where to start.

 

First and foremost, you’ll be able to demonstrate that your organisation is committed to protecting the health and well-being of its employees, customers and the wider environment.

An image of wind turbines in a field during sunset.

This may make you more attractive to potential customers who want to do business with companies that take their responsibilities seriously. It could also help you attract talented staff who want to work for a company that demonstrates its commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

 

You’ll also have access to a wide range of resources designed specifically for organisations implementing environmental management systems (EMS), such as ISO 14001:2015. These include tools, templates and checklists that can help you establish an effective EMS in your organisation.

 

Once you’ve achieved ISO 14001 certification, other benefits can help your business achieve its goals more quickly and cost-effectively. For example:

 

  • It helps you to identify, evaluate and reduce your environmental impacts
  • Improved employee morale
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Improved perception with the public as being an  environmentally conscious company
  • Ensuring legal compliance
  • Reduced risk of accidents and injuries
  • It helps you to manage your environmental risks effectively
  • It provides you with an effective framework for developing and implementing effective management systems that are aligned with your business goals and objectives

Requirements of ISO 14001

As with all the ISO standards, there are several requirements organisations must follow and achieve before they can become fully certified.

 

ISO 14001:2015 has ten core clauses related to it. The first three clauses do not contain requirements but help clarify the intent and terminology used.

 

However, clauses 4 to 10 are the ISO 14001:2015 requirements that any business must meet to establish and manage an environmental management system.

Clause 4 — Context of the company/organisation

ISO 14001 is a standard that any organisation, regardless of the size of the business or the type of industry, can use to help improve their environmental impact.

 

It is therefore essential that your company clearly defines the environmental issues that are relevant and appropriate for your business to determine how you will influence these issues.

 

Your external stakeholders, such as your customers and suppliers, should also be assessed and defined in terms of how they expect your work to affect the environment.

 

Once you understand your internal and external responsibilities, you can use this information to form the basis of your environmental management system.

Clause 5 — Leadership

Too often, organisations have taken a minimal approach to their environmental policy and how it is championed within their business. Previously, businesses would delegate a group or an individual to be the ‘environmental ambassador’ for the entire business – you might even be that person and in some cases, the only involvement senior leadership had in management systems was by signing the policies.

Image of a group of objects next to a singular object, to represent a team unit vs alone

The standard clearly states that this is not sufficient. Your organisation’s top management must have a clear understanding of your organisation’s ESG objectives, as well as how they intend to achieve and improve them. In general, they are crucial to the success of your environmental management system. Senior management is ultimately accountable for the running of the company and in turn its environmental performance. They can delegate day-to-day responsibility for adhering to processes, but they cannot delegate their accountability.

Clause 6 — Planning

You need to identify and plan for any activity that may affect the environment, again this can be dependent on the industry you operate within, but common aspects could be:

 

  • Energy use
  • Waste management
  • Emissions to air, water and land
  • Use of raw materials

As soon as these risks are identified, it is up to you to determine the processes your organisation will take to mitigate them.

Clause 7 — Support

This clause requires you to determine and provide the resources needed to fulfil your goals.

 

Without support, it is unlikely that your environmental goals will be achieved. A fully supported environmental management system shows that your organisation is committed to reducing environmental impact, not just paying lip service.

 

Supporting an environmental management system covers many areas from providing the resources needed to achieve an environmental goal, to training staff in how to handle environmental issues. A large part of supporting the system is to document and communicate it – both internally and externally. Documents should be reviewed and updated regularly, and any changes communicated appropriately.

Clause 8 — Operations

The management system should be part of your day-to-day operations

 

Environmental issues should be thought of as part of business operations – not just an afterthought once the issue has already occurred. You are showing that you are a proactive business.

 

Consider how your environmental goals can be met at every stage of your business life cycle, this could be the end-of-life treatment or disposal of your products/services. You should use your findings to design a series of controls that will help you to address them.

 

In addition, you will need to establish, implement and maintain a plan to address emergencies.

 

Details should be documented and communicated to relevant parties. For example, your customers may wish to know how to responsibly dispose of your products.

 

Our leading business management software, the Agility System, has a process mapping tool which allows users to map their processes with integrated risk controls containing mitigation actions.

 

As a result, your workforce has immediate access to the steps they need to take to prevent environmental risk, such as how to respond correctly to hazardous substance spills.

Clause 9 — Performance Evaluation

You should monitor, measure, analyse, and evaluate performance.

 

By evaluating your performance, you are ensuring that your goals and legal obligations continue to be met. This step also allows you to identify and rectify issues early on, before they become a problem.

 

As part of this review, you could examine what is currently working, define which processes need to be reworked, and evaluate how successful your environmental performance has been.

 

Another aspect to consider is your workforce’s opinion of your environmental management system. An internal audit or management review can determine whether they are using it appropriately.

Clause 10 — Improvement

Continuous improvement is a clause common to multiple ISO standards, including 14001. Successful organisations focus on continual improvement.

 

It requires you to determine how you’ll handle inconsistencies within your organisation. These inconsistencies include corrective actions, compliance with regulatory standards and continuous improvement practices.

 

A business that never improves will eventually stagnate, even in the unlikely event that performance remains constant.  All improvements can increase the success of your environmental policies. This includes small, incremental alterations to large breakthrough changes.

If you have not adopted ISO 14001 yet, now is the time to start

While the standard has been around since 1996, it is becoming increasingly popular as organisations look to reduce their carbon footprint in the face of climate change.

Industrial pipe emitting clean smoke

The benefits of adopting a management system that adheres to the requirements of ISO 14001 include reduced costs and improved productivity by:

 

  • Preventing pollution or other environmental damage
  • Ensuring that your employees understand and are committed to environmental responsibility

 

ISO 14001 is an excellent way for your company to show that it is taking environmental issues seriously. It is also a good way to get your employees more engaged in this cause and make them feel like they have a stake in making their workplace greener.

 

By following the guidelines of ISO 14001 you will be able to prove that your business meets legal obligations for environmental issues and assure your customers that you are a green brand.

We can help you on your ISO 14001 journey

Still don’t know where to begin? For more than 25 years, our business analysts have developed and implemented ISO-compliant management systems for several organisations, including those requiring an environmental management system.

 

Book a free demo of our management system software online, and one of our analysts will contact you to set up a demonstration based on your business requirements.

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Peter Shields
Peter Shields

With extensive experience of Quality Management, Risk & Compliance in the Energy, Nuclear & Defence industries since 1979, Peter formed BusinessPort in 1996 to specialise in Process-based Management Systems delivering both Performance and Compliance.

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