Looking forward to ISO 14001:2015

Since first adopted in 1996, ISO 14001 has become the most widely-recognised standard for environmental management. There are now over 301,000 certificates issued across the world, with an increase of over 17,000 last year.

The upcoming revision of the ISO 14001 standard has been welcomed by more than 90% of environment and sustainability professionals

The upcoming revision of the ISO 14001 standard has been welcomed by more than 90% of environment and sustainability professionals

Often driven by customer demand or legislation, certified organisations can see a variety of benefits, including efficiencies, cost savings and winning business. 

The long-awaited revision of ISO 14001 is due out later this year. The new standard appears to be more challenging, with the key changes including: -

- A stronger emphasis on truly embedding sustainability into the organisation and showing leadership 
- A life cycle perspective in procurement, design and delivery of products and services 
- Considering risks associated with threats and opportunities of external conditions 
- Engaging with interested parties and other communication 
- An emphasis on data quality and assurance. 

Of these changes, the two causing most discussion are leadership and life cycle perspective. Some are concerned about how difficult it will be to truly embed these, while others see them as a great opportunity to change. 

Rather than focussing just on operational activities, the new ISO 14001 requires a strategic look at the organisation - wider scale, longer term, deeper engagement. 

And so the benefits should be greater. Looking up and down the supply chain allows a better understanding of impacts and risks. Responding to external conditions (e.g. adapting to climate change or resource availability) helps plan for the future, reducing threats and increasing opportunities. 

Organisational challenges

Because these issues need to be at the core of the EMS and the business, staff across the organisation and especially at top management will be more involved. So the EMS is less likely to be sidelined, giving an opportunity for environmental professionals to raise their own profile. 

Of course, some elements of the new standard can be difficult to audit. It will be interesting to see the first conversations between certifier and CEO, challenging the business model and strategic direction. The internal audit team, particularly, may find this demanding. 

Because of these challenges, some organisations may decide to discontinue their certification. Finding that the existing EMS structure meets their own objectives, they may choose to be uncertified. However, those embracing the new standard will show their leadership, both internally and externally in the marketplace. 

Many environmental professionals view the new ISO 14001 as an improvement. It will demonstrate an organisation's real commitment and will be much more than a tick-box exercise or a management system on the side. 

By truly embedding the environment into the organisation's operations, strategic thinking, risk management and planning, there are plenty of benefits to be had, especially for early adopters. 

Anya Ledwith is director of environmental & carbon management consultancy ESHCon.

ISO 14001:2015 at Sustainability Live

Anya will be giving a full discussion on the ISO 14001 revision at Sustainability Live 2015 as part of a special energy management standards session which will address updates for this and other related standards. 

Register to attend Sustainability Live in April for free here.


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