ISO 14001: 2015 Panic, Paperwork, or Opportunity?

Be honest, how do you feel about the imminent publication of ISO14001:2015? Does it make you reach for the panic button, groan at the prospect of non-value-adding paperwork, or relish a real and significant opportunity to help you in running your business? If you answered either panic or paperwork, then I have some good news: For many, the new version will actually be a blessing in disguise, improving business efficiency and management control. You might even get to enjoy a few free biscuits‚¬¦

Why do we need a new version?

Over the last 10 years or so, the number of management standards has multiplied significantly, expanding from the original core requirements for quality and environment into topics such as IT, security, risk and asset management, plus many more besides. All the respective drafting committees had their own views on how their standard should be structured. Needless to say, all were subtly different.


To tackle this increasing lack of commonality and problems of inconsistency and conflict, ISO (the International Standards Organisation) has created a single template for all management system standards. This template (called Annex SL) contains 10 mandatory clauses (and wordings) that all standards have to incorporate. The 2015 editions of both ISO14001 and ISO9001 incorporate these 10 clauses.


What difference will it make?

One of the most significant of the 10 new clauses is called “Context of the Organisation”. As its name suggests, this requires organisations to define the context in which they operate – this means defining what issues they are having to tackle, both internal and external, including the views and requirements of relevant interested parties. From this, you can then identify both the risks and the opportunities the business has to face, thereby defining the processes and leadership needed to address them. In other words, the standard requires you to conduct a risk assessment of your business.


This is where I believe the opportunity to get management systems adding value can really kick in (if you want it to). Since the wording of this clause is common to all the standards, the core elements of your risk assessment should also be common to all. Therefore, by complying with this one key clause, you have immediately started to streamline how you manage the business. In fact, you will be operating a unified business management system, rather than some piecemeal pick-and-mix combination of quality/environmental/health and safety management systems.


How else will we benefit?

For many organisations, customer requirements are the primary driver for implementing new initiatives  – especially anything standards-related, such as energy management, CE Marking, responsible and ethical sourcing certification, Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations, or BIM. As customers clearly represent a relevant interested party, any new requirement will have an impact on the context of your organisation. So, under the incoming ISO regime, your risk assessment will necessarily be updated and the requirement integrated into your existing business management system. Therefore, no longer will you need an additional system bolt-on for customer requirements – another benefit delivered.


ISO14001 will also bring further alignment in respect of specific new requirements to apply lifecycle thinking within your EMS. This means thinking about the cradle-to-cradle environmental impacts of products or services, in addition to organisational/operational impacts. Whilst the standard does not require you to complete a full Life Cycle Assessment, we are increasingly seeing customers ask for this type of data. Here again, your new business management system delivers another win-win.


What should I do next?

So, in summary, if you fear the imminent upgrades to ISO14001 and ISO9001 are going to be a bureaucratic nightmare full of risk and irrelevance, I recommend you put the kettle on, take a break and have a look at your business from a different perspective. I am sure you will then start to spot the win-win opportunities in the Context of the Organisation clause.


If not, give me a call – I’ll bring the biscuits and we can have another look together! 

Ian Nicholson, Managing Director, Responsible Solutions Ltd

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