What is ISO 14001?

What is ISO 14001 certification and how can achieving certification improve my environmental policies and procedures?

ISO 14001 is an internationally recognised standard for defining and implementing environmental management systems. The standard provides a framework of requirements for your organisation to develop, implement and maintain policies and procedures for reducing your environmental impact and continuously improving your environmental sustainability.

Read this article if you want an overview of ISO 14001 and get an idea of where to start to obtain certification. Topics covered include:

Reading time: 7 minutes

What is an environmental management system?

An environmental management system (EMS) is a set of processes and practices that your organisation can use to manage environmental responsibilities. An EMS doesn’t have to comply with any standard and your organisation may already have an environmental management system in place. 

ISO 14001 sets out a framework of criteria for an environmental management system (EMS) to be established in an organisation. In other words, the standard is only one type of management system. It is however a tried and tested management system with a formal, internationally recognised, assessment programme that will give you a reputable certificate. An externally verified ISO 14001 certificate will allow you to evidence your environmental credentials.  

An effective ISO 14001 EMS can be a great, all-encompassing way to implement a strong environmental culture across the organisation and demonstrate a solid commitment to environmental sustainability.

Achieve net zero with ISO 14001

Find out how you can use an ISO 14001 environmental management systems to achieve net zero.

Which companies can become certified?

Any organisation, irrespective of size, industry, or location, can become ISO 14001 certified, providing they can meet the requirements of the standard. Businesses, government agencies, non-profit organisations, and other types of organisations can all certify.

To become certified, you simply dedicate time and resources to the development and implementation of an EMS – more specifically, an EMS that can verifiably meet the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard.

Typically, this involves conducting a thorough review of your environmental impact, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing policies, procedures and initiatives that reduce the impact. As long as these steps are carried out and you are able to demonstrate to a third-party auditor that your EMS is effective and serves to continually improve your environmental performance, your organisation can become certified to ISO 14001.

Can we implement ISO 14001 on our own, without consultants?

One of the key decisions to be made early on in planning to certify for ISO 14001 is whether to hire a consultant to assist you. Consultants can provide valuable guidance and expertise throughout the process, including assisting the development and implementation of an EMS. For some organisations, this can be invaluable in quickly rolling out an effective EMS that meets the standard’s requirements.

On the other hand, if your organisation is already certified to other ISO management system standards, such as ISO 9001 or ISO 27001 for example, it is very likely the knowledge and skills required to implement ISO 14001 are already available in-house. Whether to hire a consultant then becomes a question of whether you need an extra pair of hands. 

You may also need ad-hoc expertise in specific areas, for example in building management, waste management, energy management, etc.

Is ISO 14001 a legal requirement?

ISO 14001 is simply an international standard that outlines the requirements for an effective EMS. It is not a legal requirement. It might however be a customer requirement, i.e. mandated by customers if you want to do business with them. In this case it becomes a “compliance obligation” and managed in the same way as a legal obligation.

While not a legal obligation, ISO 14001 can certainly assist your organisation in complying with relevant laws and regulations related to the environment. You may opt to achieve certification to ensure you effectively meet all the relevant regulations. An EMS is an effective, centralised system that keeps everything together and under control, making it easier to keep up with your legal obligations.

Is ISO 14001 worth it?

Whether ISO 14001 is worth it for your organisation can depend on numerous factors, including your organisation’s size, industry, location, and budget. Overall the journey to certification can be long and time-consuming if there isn’t enough commitment from the top team and resources allocated to the project. The potential benefits, however, vastly outweigh the negatives, especially in the long term. You can read more on the benefits of certification in this article, but in brief, the benefits of ISO 14001 certification are:

In short, implementing an ISO 14001-based EMS can provide a range of benefits for your organisation. Read more in the ‘Benefits of ISO 14001’ article.

What is the cost of ISO 14001?

The cost of implementing ISO 14001 in your organisation depends on several factors, such as the size, industry, and location of your organisation. Some of the key factors that can dictate the cost of implementing an EMS based on the standard include:

How to achieve ISO 14001 certification?

To achieve ISO 14001 certification, your organisation will need to identify the impact your business activities have on the environment and start implementing an EMS to minimise that impact in a way that meets the requirements of the standard.

The steps to achieve certification:

  1. Conducting a gap analysis to identify the gaps and areas of your business environmental practices and how they currently stand against the requirements of the standard.
  2. Developing and implementing an EMS based on the results of your gap analysis and, ultimately, the requirements of the standard. This will typically involve creating an environmental policy and setting objectives for environmental management.
  3. Identifying, assessing and managing environmental risks and opportunities, implementing controls and processes to prevent or mitigate environmental impacts, including in emergency situations, and monitoring and reviewing the EMS to ensure it is effective.
  4. Creating and managing documentation and records for your EMS, including the policies, procedures, and reports on environmental performance.
  5. Training relevant employees on the standard’s requirements and your established EMS. Training should ensure that your employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities in relation to environmental management in your organisation.
  6. Undergoing audits by an external certification body to verify that your EMS is compliant with all the requirements of the standard. Typically a certification body will review all your created documentation and visit your facilities to assess and verify the EMS in action.
  7. If the audit is successful, your organisation will be granted certification, valid for three years. During that period, the certification body will visit you once or twice a year for surveillance audits and ensure your EMS is maintained.

To conclude, becoming ISO 14001 certified involves implementing an EMS that meets the standards requirements and undergoing an audit by a certification body to ensure compliance. If you think we can help you achieve ISO 14001, get in touch.

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Elisabeth Belisle

Elisabeth is an Associate Consultant and Associate Tutor of the British Standards Institute (BSI), a BSI qualified Lead Auditor and member of the Standard Committee responsible for the publication of the BS 10008 Standard.

Elisabeth can help you decide if ISO 14001 is for you and support you through its implementation, all the way to certification.

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