The new ISO14001:2015 environmental management system standard

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I’ve been watching the development of the new ISO14001:2015 standard over the past three years with great interest, participating in quite a few of the helpful IEMA and BSi workshops and webinars.

The standard is being reviewed in parallel with other quality management systems, notably ISO9001, which has led to a ‘high level structure’ bringing consistency in structure, terminology and application across standards. The new ISO 14001 standard has been through multiple consultations and revisions, with Martin Baxter of IEMA representing the views and input of members extremely well, significantly influencing the final draft.

It’s a huge improvement to the complexity of the 1994 version I started off with twenty years ago. Frustratingly, efforts in the very early days seemed to be pulled towards the administration of the system and its documentation, often at the expense of the real value a systematic approach could bring in changing behaviour and reducing impacts. The latest revision is designed to build organisational capability and focuses on outcomes, which has the potential to raise the level of environmental performance.

The main changes reflect the way Greenmetrics works with its clients already, with a focus on the wider principles of sustainability, improving the way environmental management is integrated in wider business strategy; and building leadership accountability and competence across functions to achieve real change.

To summarise, the main changes include:

  1. The scope now frames environmental management more effectively within the wider context of sustainability
  2. The role of top management is better defined with clearer terminology around accountability and delegation of responsibility, including EMS integration in wider business strategy, accountability for the effectiveness of the EMS and allocation of resources
  3. A focus on managing risks and opportunities, both as a result of the organisation’s activities and operations; as well as the considering the impact external environmental changes might have on the organisation – and bringing these in line with the organisation’s wider strategic risk management
  4. A shift away from ‘continual improvement of the EMS’ towards improving the organisation’s environmental performance, leading to better outcomes. Policy commitments now need to include continual improvement to enhance environmental performance and to fulfil compliance obligations, including sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation; and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems – a significant move forward in our opinion from ‘pollution prevention’.
  5. Compliance obligations have replaced the ‘legal and other obligations’ to include not only legal requirements, but also (for example) contractual obligations, policy commitments, shareholder and investor requirements and codes of practice
  6. Consideration of the lifecycle perspective in aspects and impacts, evaluating and addressing environmental risks and opportunities that can be controlled or influenced in the supply chain.
  7. A requirement to consider the needs and expectations of ‘interested parties’
  8. A transparent, reliable internal and external communications strategy, including the opportunity to take account of inward communication from employees or external interested parties.

As with any major change, existing users will face challenges – and opportunities – in interpreting and using the new standard. The standard has now been published, and the International Accreditation Forum has set a 3 year period for transitioning to ISO 14001:2015 to enable organisations to work towards the new standard, taking into account any permits and licenses that might be linked to certification.

Changes to the standard reflect the direction of environmental management good practice over the past few years, and many forward-thinking organisations are already working in this way. However, some of the new concepts could present challenges to some organisations, whose culture and practice might make change more difficult.

A decent transition plan will be essential, beginning with a gap analysis to gauge what actions need to be taken to achieve certification to the new standard, backed up by a thorough understanding of the business costs and benefits. During this time, it will be important to develop organisational competence internally, and in the bigger picture for auditors and specialist business consultants to build professional capability to support organisations in getting the best from the new standard and achieve a confident transition.

At Greenmetrics we welcome the changes as one way to contribute towards improving wider environmental outcomes, and with over 300,000 organisations certified to the current standard in 170 countries it has the potential to have a very positive influence. Our interest has always been in helping people and organisations with a systematic approach to environmental management and sustainability, backed up with good training and communication to achieve change, and we are keen to support organisations who want to get the best from their EMS.

Contact us to discuss your requirements.

Susie Howells

Director, Greenmetrics

16 September 2015


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