ISO 14001 – 5 key changes that you need to know about

ISO 14001 is currently being revised, with the 2004 standard having a thorough facelift to ensure that it remains the definitive best practice framework for environmental management systems.

What’s happening?

ISO 14001 is currently being revised, with the 2004 standard having a thorough facelift to ensure that it remains the definitive best practice framework for environmental management systems.

This process began last year and there is currently an ongoing consultation on the ‘committee draft’ of the new standard between the ISO and its national committees.

At the moment the expected timetable for the final approval and publication of the standard is early 2015. Certified organisations will need to start their transition at this point and any organisations certifying for the first time will need to meet the requirements of the new standard.

What are the main changes?

There are two types of changes as part of the revision – changes in the structure and changes to the requirements.

The changes to the structure are relatively straight-forward and are part of the ISO effort to move all management system standards across to a common structure. The result of this is the ‘High Level Structure for Management Systems’, and more details on this can be found on the ISO site.

More interesting from our point of view are the changes to the requirements of the standard and the way it considers environmental management systems. In the current draft (and there is still a public consultation to come following the committee stage), what I see as the most significant changes, in order they appear in the standard, are:

  1. Context: There is a greater requirement to consider the context of the organisation when designing and operating the system. Context is defined as: a ‘high-level strategic understanding of the important circumstances or conditions that can affect, either positively or negatively, the way the organisation manages its environmental responsibilities’.
  2. Interested parties have been given a greater role with strengthened requirements to consider their ‘needs and requirements’ as part of the system.
  3. Value Chain: Upstream and downstream activities that relate to significant environmental aspects now need to be considered in the design and operation of the EMS, including the use of outsourced services such as contract manufacturing. This is a really significant change in the scope of the standard and will require organisations that wish to certify to think seriously about their supply chain and procurement, as well as the usage and end of life of their products and services.
  4. Environmental Performance: This is also a major change of emphasis from the 2004 edition of the standard. The current draft has much more of a focus on the actual performance of the organisation and on enhancing this performance than was the case previously where improving the environmental footprint was almost an afterthought.
  5. Continual improvement: Building on the increased environmental performance requirements, there is now an explicit link between continuous improvement of the system and continuous improvement of the environmental footprint.

In my view, the most important changes are the expansion of the requirements to include improving performance, moving away from the risk and compliance based systems that have been dominant.

The value chain requirements are also significant and will force organisations to consider the impacts of their activities, and their management, in a truly holistic way.

What does this mean for organisations?

These revisions to the standard should lead to EMSs that are performance focussed and driven by opportunities to improve environmental and business performance, with the triple bottom line concept embedded at the heart of the organisation.

 Although these changes are two years away from being enacted, there is a now a window for organisations to be proactive. Adopting a performance based approach to sustainability now will allow businesses to starting realising the cost savings and broad ranging business benefits that accompany an opportunity driven EMS and will make the transition to the new standard smoother.

Brite Green is perfectly placed to help you seize the initiative and act to enhance your environmental management system to deliver durable performance improvement across environmental and business KPIs.

Our sustainable business expertise has delivered outstanding value for clients in a range of sectors and is only matched by our extensive experience in EMS audit and implementation.


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