ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations (a) minimize how their operations (processes, etc.) negatively affect the environment (i.e., cause adverse changes to air, water, or land); (b) comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements, and (c) continually improve in the above.

ISO 14000 is similar to ISO 9000 quality management in that both pertain to the process of how a product is produced, rather than to the product itself. As with ISO 9000, certification is performed by third-party organizations rather than being awarded by ISO directly. The ISO 19011 audit standard applies when auditing for both 9000 and 14000 compliance at once.

The requirements of ISO 14001 are an integral part of the European Union‘s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). EMAS‘s structure and material requirements are more demanding, mainly concerning performance improvement, legal compliance, and reporting duties.

Brief history of environmental management systems

In 1992, BSI Group published the world's first environmental management systems standard, BS 7750. Prior to this, environmental management had been part of larger systems such as Responsible Care. BS 7750 supplied the template for the development of the ISO 14000 series in 1996, by the International Organization for Standardization, which has representation from committees all over the world (ISO) (Clements 1996, Brorson & Larsson, 1999). As of 2010, ISO 14001 is now used by at least 223 149 organizations in 159 countries and economies.

Development of the ISO 14000 series

The ISO 14000 family includes most notably the ISO 14001 standard, which represents the core set of standards used by organizations for designing and implementing an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). Other standards included in this series are ISO 14004, which gives additional guidelines for a good EMS, and more specialized standards dealing with specific aspects of environmental management. The major objective of the ISO 14000 series of norms is "to promote more effective and efficient environmental management in organizations and to provide useful and usable tools--ones that are cost-effective, system-based, [and] flexible, and reflect the best organizations and the best organizational practices available for gathering, interpreting, and communicating environmentally relevant information".

ISO 14000 is based on a voluntary approach to environmental regulation (Szymanski & Tiwari 2004). The series includes the ISO 14001 standard, which provides guidelines for the establishment or improvement of an EMS. The standard shares many common traits with its predecessor, ISO 9000, the international standard of quality management (Jackson 1997), which served as a model for its internal structure (National Academy Press 1999), and both can be implemented side by side. As with ISO 9000, ISO 14000 acts both as an internal management tool and as a way of demonstrating a company’s environmental commitment to its customers and clients (Boiral 2007).

Prior to the development of the ISO 14000 series, organizations voluntarily constructed their own EMSs, but this made comparisons of environmental effects between companies difficult; therefore, the universal ISO 14000 series was developed. An EMS is defined by ISO as: “part of the overall management system, that includes organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes, and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, and maintaining the environmental policy’ (ISO 1996 cited in Federal Facilities Council Report 1999).

ISO 14001 standard

ISO 14001 sets out the criteria for an Environmental Management System (EMS). It does not state requirements for environmental performance, but maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective EMS. It can be used by any organization that wants to improve resource efficiency, reduce waste, and drive down costs. Using ISO 14001 can provide assurance to company management and employees as well as external stakeholders that environmental impact is being measured and improved. ISO 14001 can also be integrated with other management functions and assists companies in meeting their environmental and economic goals.

ISO 14001, as with other ISO 14000 standards, is voluntary (IISD 2010), with its main aim to assist companies in continually improving their environmental performance, while complying with any applicable legislation. Organizations are responsible for setting their own targets and performance measures, with the standard serving to assist them in meeting objectives and goals and in the subsequent monitoring and measurement of these (IISD 2010).

The standard can be applied to a variety of levels in the business, from organizational level, right down to the product and service level (RMIT university). Rather than focusing on exact measures and goals of environmental performance, the standard highlights what an organization needs to do to meet these goals (IISD 2010).

ISO 14001 is known as a generic management system standard, meaning that it is relevant to any organization seeking to improve and manage resources more effectively. This includes:

  • single-site to large multi-national companies
  • high-risk companies to low-risk service organizations
  • manufacturing, process, and the service industries, including local governments
  • all industry sectors including public and private sectors
  • original equipment manufacturers and their suppliers.

All standards are periodically reviewed by ISO to ensure they still meet market requirements. The current version ISO 14001:2004 was last reviewed in 2012. The ISO committee decided a revision was necessary. The new version is expected by the end of 2015. After the revision has been published, certified organizations get a three-year transition period to adapt their environmental management system to the new edition of the standard. The new version of ISO 14001 is going to focus on the improvement of environmental performance rather than to improve the management system itself.

Basic principles and methodology

These are based on the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

Plan--establish objectives and processes required

Prior to implementing ISO 14001, an initial review or gap analysis of the organization’s processes and products is recommended, to assist in identifying all elements of the current operation and, if possible, future operations, that may interact with the environment, termed "environmental aspects" (Martin 1998). Environmental aspects can include both direct, such as those used during manufacturing, and indirect, such as raw materials (Martin 1998). This review assists the organization in establishing their environmental objectives, goals, and targets, which should ideally be measurable; helps with the development of control and management procedures and processes; and serves to highlight any relevant legal requirement, which can then be built into the policy (Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand 2004).

Do--implement the processes

During this stage, the organization identifies the resources required and works out those members of the organization responsible for the EMS’ implementation and control (Martin 1998). This includes establishing procedures and processes, although only one documented procedure is specified related to operational control. Other procedures are required to foster better management control over elements such as documentation control, emergency preparedness and response, and the education of employees, to ensure that they can competently implement the necessary processes and record results (Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand 2004). Communication and participation across all levels of the organization, especially top management, is a vital part of the implementation phase, with the effectiveness of the EMS being dependent on active involvement from all employees.

Check--measure and monitor the processes and report results

During the 'check' stage, performance is monitored and periodically measured to ensure that the organization’s environmental targets and objectives are being met (Martin 1998). In addition, internal audits are conducted at planned intervals to ascertain whether the EMS meets the user's expectations and whether the processes and procedures are being adequately maintained and monitored (Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand 2004).

Act--take action to improve performance of EMS based on results

After the checking stage, a management review is conducted to ensure that the objectives of the EMS are being met, the extent to which they are being met, and that communications are being appropriately managed; and to evaluate changing circumstances, such as legal requirements, in order to make recommendations for further improvement of the system (Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand 2004). These recommendations are incorporated through continual improvement: plans are renewed or new plans are made, and the EMS moves forward.

Continual Improvement Process

ISO 14001 encourages a company to continually improve its environmental performance. Apart from the obvious- the reduction in actual and possible negative environmental impacts- this is achieved in three ways:

  • Expansion: More and more business areas get covered by the implemented EMS.
  • Enrichment: More and more activities, products, processes, emissions, resources, etc. get managed by the implemented EMS.
  • Upgrading: An improvement of the structural and organizational framework of the EMS, as well as an accumulation of know-how in dealing with business-environmental issues.

Overall, the CIP concept expects the organization to gradually move away from merely operational environmental measures towards a strategic approach on how to deal with environmental challenges.

Benefits

ISO 14001 was developed primarily to assist companies with a framework for better management control that can result in reducing their environmental impacts. In addition to improvements in performance, organizations can reap a number of economic benefits including higher conformance with legislative and regulatory requirements (Sheldon 1997) by adopting the ISO standard. By minimizing the risk of regulatory and environmental liability fines and improving an organization’s efficiency (Delmas 2009), benefits can include a reduction in waste, consumption of resources, and operating costs. Secondly, as an internationally recognized standard, businesses operating in multiple locations across the globe can leverage their conformance to ISO 14001, eliminating the need for multiple registrations or certifications (Hutchens 2010). Thirdly, there has been a push in the last decade by consumers for companies to adopt better internal controls, making the incorporation of ISO 14001 a smart approach for the long-term viability of businesses. This can provide them with a competitive advantage against companies that do not adopt the standard (Potoki & Prakash, 2005). This in turn can have a positive impact on a company’s asset value (Van der Deldt, 1997). It can lead to improved public perceptions of the business, placing them in a better position to operate in the international marketplace (Potoki & Prakash 1997; Sheldon 1997). The use of ISO 14001 can demonstrate an innovative and forward-thinking approach to customers and prospective employees. It can increase a business’s access to new customers and business partners. In some markets it can potentially reduce public liability insurance costs. It can serve to reduce trade barriers between registered businesses (Van der Deldt, 1997). There is growing interest in including certification to ISO 14001 in tenders for public-private partnerships for infrastructure renewal. Evidence of value in terms of environmental quality and benefit to the taxpayer has been shown in highway projects in Canada.

Conformity Assessment

ISO 14001 can be used in whole or in part to help an organization (for-profit or not-for-profit) better manage its relationship with the environment. If all the elements of ISO 14001 are incorporated into the management process, the organization may opt to prove that it has achieved full alignment or conformity with the international standard, ISO 14001, by using one of four recognized options. These are:

  1. make a self-determination and self-declaration, or
  2. seek confirmation of its conformance by parties having an interest in the organization, such as customers, or
  3. seek confirmation of its self-declaration by a party external to the organization, or
  4. seek certification/registration of its EMS by an external organization.

ISO does not control conformity assessment; its mandate is to develop and maintain standards. ISO has a neutral policy on conformity assessment. One option is not better than the next. Each option serves different market needs. The adopting organization decides which option is best for them, in conjunction with their market needs.

 

Option 1 is sometimes incorrectly referred to as "self-certify" or "self-certification". This is not an acceptable reference under ISO terms and definitions, for it can lead to confusion in the market. The user is responsible for making their own determination. Option 2 is often referred to as a customer or 2nd-party audit, which is an acceptable market term. Option 3 is an independent third-party process by an organization that is based on an engagement activity and delivered by specially trained practitioners. This option was based on an accounting procedure branded as the EnviroReady Report, which was created to help small- and medium-sized organizations. Its development was originally based on the Canadian Handbook for Accountants; it is now based on an international accounting standard. The fourth option, certification, is another independent third-party process, which has been widely implemented by all types of organizations. Certification is also known in some countries as registration. Service providers of certification or registration are accredited by national accreditation services such as UKAS in the UK.