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What is ISO 14001 certification?

December 23, 2020
0 min read
Group discuss the meaning of the ISO 14001 certification

The ISO 14001 is a framework of standards used to create an environmental management system. Such a system helps organizations identify and mitigate harmful environmental effects of its product or services. The ISO 14001 can help organizations achieve compliance with environmental legislation and standards. It can be used by organizations of all sizes as a framework for supporting environmental responsibilities.

Environmental corporate responsibility is of vital importance for all modern organizations. Sustainability is a key consideration for customers, partners, and employees, so should be a pillar in any strategic business planning. The ISO 14001 can help integrate environmental considerations in top-level management decisions and processes.

In many ways, environmental performance is integral to business performance. ISO 14001 can lead to lower use of resources such as water and energy within the operation. By improving resource management and service efficiency, organizations can in turn make financial savings.

Organizations from across the world have used ISO 14001 to create best practice environmental management systems. It encourages a holistic approach to improving environmental standards when delivering a service or product. The ISO 14001 standard can help organizations reduce emissions and make savings on aspects like waste disposal. It's flexible so can be adapted to fit the unique requirements of a given sector or operation. Organizations can choose to prove compliance with ISO 14001 through certification, enhancing their reputation.

This article explores the ISO 14001 standard, the benefits of an environmental management system, and why an organization should gain certification.

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 was created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a framework for an environmental management system. It's one of ISO's series of management systems, such as ISO 9001 quality management system and the ISO 45001 occupational health and safety management system. These systems provide a framework of procedures and standards to continuously improve end-to-end services.

The ISO 14001 is part of the ISO 14000 family of standards, and provides the core criteria for embedding a best-practice environmental management system. It deals with an organization's environmental responsibilities. This covers compliance with environmental legislation, the reduction of an operation's environmental impact, and the journey towards sustainability in business.

ISO 14001 was originally published in 1996, and has undergone periodic reviews to ensure it meets the requirements of modern organizations. The latest version is the third edition, which was released in 2015. ISO 14001:2015 brings a range of improvements, with a renewed focus on assessing environmental impact of the entire service lifecycle.

The new edition was restructured to reflect the high level structure used by other ISO management systems such as ISO 9001. The ISO model is intended to make the combining of management systems much easier, with a uniform approach to both internal audits and implementation. This means ISO 14001 can be easily integrated with other world leading management systems.

ISO 14001 clauses and structure

ISO 14001 has the same high level structure as other ISO management systems, and is separated into 10 clauses. Each clause contains the requirements for an environmental management system to meet ISO 14001 standards.

The first three clauses are introductory, and explain the system scope, key terms, vocabulary, and definitions. The remaining seven clauses cover all areas of the organization and contain the requirements for certification.

The seven clauses are:

  • Context

This clause explores the environmental context of the organization, including the environmental impacts of the supply chain and operation. Organizations should highlight any relevant legislation, and record current environmental performance.

  • Leadership

Management will need to take responsibility for driving the project forward. Defining and committing to an overarching environmental policy is an integral part of this clause.

  • Planning

Planning is an important part of environmental risk management, and this clause focuses on the setting and evaluation of environmental objectives.

  • Support

The support clause helps to map out the resources needed to properly embed an environmental management system. For example, the resources and training needed to help employees understand changes to procedure.

  • Operation

The operation clause helps to define and map out an organization's operational processes. A key aspect is environmental risk management, preparing an operational response to environmental emergencies.

  • Evaluating performance

This clause explores the monitoring and evaluation of the environmental management system against internal objectives and external legislation. This includes internal audits, performance reviews, and ongoing compliance monitoring.

  • Improvement

Making continuous improvements to systems and procedures is an important part of the ISO 14001 environmental management system. Organizations will use evidence from internal audits and reviews to drive improvements to their operation.

Understanding ISO 14001 requirements

The requirements set out within the ISO 14001 clauses are an integral part of the standard. Organizations will need to document how these requirements are met, to prove the environmental management system is fully embedded and operational.

ISO 14001 requirements are the evidence needed to prove that an environmental management system is compliant with ISO 14001 standards. Documentation is important, as it will be reviewed by an external auditor to achieve certification.

To understand how to achieve certification, it's first important to understand ISO 14001 requirements. A sample of these requirements include:

  • Setting an environmental policy

This key document provides an overview of an organization's environmental objectives. The policy confirms compliance with environmental regulations, and is a commitment to reduce the organization's environmental impact.

  • Creating environmental objectives

Organizations need to set clear, quantifiable environmental objectives alongside a plan for achieving them. The objectives will be consistent with the organization's environmental policy. For example, an objective could be to reduce energy usage or food waste. The plan should outline leadership responsibility, a timeframe, and how success will be judged.

  • Procedure for emergency preparedness and response

This requirement ensures organizations have procedures in place to identify and respond to environmental emergencies. Risk management processes will help to mitigate environmental issues and keep services running.

  • Evidence of internal audit program and results

Regular internal audits of the environmental management system are an important tool in keeping the system effective. Internal audits are an important part of ISO 14001, providing the evidence to allow continuous improvements to environmental processes and procedures.

  • Records of compliance obligations

This requirement focuses on recording and monitoring compliance with environmental regulation and obligation. Organizations will need to keep an up-to-date record of any relevant environmental legislation or obligations. This step helps with ongoing compliance monitoring.

Who can use ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 can be used by any organization with environmental considerations or responsibilities within their service delivery process. This means most organizations can benefit from an environmental management system, especially within the manufacturing and service industries.

ISO 14001 provides a framework for continuous improvements to the organization's environmental impact. This means assessing all environmental areas impacted by an organization's operation. Aspects include waste disposal, use of resources, contamination of air, water and soil, and wider climate change risk management.

It can be used to improve service efficiency, reducing resource wastage and costs. In practice this can lead to lower use of resources such as water and energy, and a reduction in food or material waste. Improvements in efficiency generally lead to savings in financial costs.

ISO 14001 can also be used by all types of organization, and its standards can be applied to both small and large operations. It's flexible so can be adapted to fit the specific environmental considerations within different organizations, sectors or locations. ISO 14001 can be applied to the entire supply chain, helping to drive down costs and improve end-to-end efficiency.

The benefits of ISO 14001 certification

Certification proves that an organization has fully embedded the ISO 14001 environmental management system. The system itself brings clear business benefits, improving critical processes and ensuring compliance with environmental standards. Certification confirms the environmental management system is fully aligned with best-practice standards. It can greatly enhance an organization's reputation, as the ISO 14001 is recognized across the world.

Environmental corporate responsibility is more important than ever. Consumers, partners, and employees expect high standards of sustainability and environmental management within an organization. ISO 14001 can manage environmental concerns at the strategic level, providing management with clear guidance and procedures. It promotes an atmosphere of proactive and continuous improvement in environmental management.

Certification is optional, but it is a useful measure of success when embedding ISO 14001 standards. Certification is not given by ISO itself. Instead, organizations must prove compliance through an accredited certification body.

The benefits of ISO 14001 certification include:

  • Make financial savings by improving processes and lowering costs such as waste disposal.
  • Conform to environmental regulations and legislation and promote active compliance monitoring.
  • Enhance the organization's image and reputation with both customers and partners.
  • Gain the competitive edge though efficient systems and use of resources.
  • A workplace culture championing sustainability improves employee loyalty and engagement.
  • Access new partners and customers that may require environmental governance as a prerequisite for business.
  • Renewed focus on corporate responsibility and the long term sustainability of the organization.
  • ISO 14001 is recognized by organizations across the world.

What is the ISO 14001 certification process?

ISO 14001 certification is optional. An organization can create an environmental management system with ISO 14001 standards without any certification. However, certification proves an organization has properly embedded the standard, and brings a range of benefits as highlighted in the previous section.

Organizations will usually perform an internal audit of any existing environmental management system, to establish the gap between the existing system and ISO 14001. The next step is planning, promoting and launching the new ISO 14001 compliant environmental management system. These steps can be led by an external consultant or internal stakeholder. Documentation of the changes to procedures and processes is important throughout the process.

Once the ISO 14001 environmental management system is fully functioning, organizations can seek certification. An accredited certification body will perform an internal audit to confirm compliance with ISO 14001. The auditor will establish whether ISO 14001 processes and standards are met by the environment management system.

The certification process consists of two stages of audit. In stage one, the auditor reviews the system through documentation collected as part of the project. Stage two is an on-site audit, in which the auditor will sample all areas of the management system. The auditor will need to review documentation collected from the functioning system over at least three months.

Once certification is achieved, organizations must complete an annual audit to prove continued compliance with ISO 14001.

How long does ISO 14001 certification take?

Implementing ISO 14001 in an organization can take a few months or over a year, depending on its complexity. The process will take into account the whole organization, and includes internal audits and the design and launch of new procedures. New procedures need training and resources for employees to properly embed the change. This will all take time, especially if it's a large company with complex operating procedures.

The size of the gap between an existing environmental management system and the ISO 140001 will lengthen the time frame. This is a good indication of the scale and therefore complexity of the project. Proper gap analysis can speed up the process, as organizations can concentrate on areas to improve.

Another consideration is the resources allocated to the project, as this may impact the speed of completion. Organizations can speed up the project by using project management tools such as Diligent Compliance software.

Once the ISO 14001 environmental management system is fully embedded, certification should be a straightforward process. However, external auditors will need at least three months of documentation demonstrating the environmental management system in operation.

Diligent can help

Simplify your environmental management system project with Diligent Compliance. Embedding ISO 14001 standards within your organization can seem complex, but Diligent can help you keep on track of the project. Compliance software can track whether the system meets ISO 14001 standards, as well as perform compliance monitoring of external legislation and requirements.


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