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Understanding ISO 14000 Family - Environmental Management

More and more organisations and companies are integrating the practices of ISO 14000 into their business operation and strategies. The term ISO 14000 is also appearing on more product/service description, yet, not everyone is fully aware of its meaning and benefits.

What is ISO 14000?

According to the official ISO website, ISO 14000 "sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified to. It maps out a framework that a company or organisation can follow to set up an effective environmental system". The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) introduced ISO 14000 family of standards in 1996. ISO 14000 was first developed in order to response to a recognised industry need and requirements for standardisation. ISO 14000 is actually voluntary, so companies actually have the choice to follow it or not.

You might come across the term ISO 14001, in specifically ISO 14001:2015, more often. Actually, the ISO 14001 standard is the most important and popular standard within the ISO 14000 family, as it specifies the key requirements for an Environmental Management System (EMS) for small to large organisations. The ISO 14001:2015 replaced the ISO 14001:2004, focusing more on sustainable development and the desire to protect the environment from harm and degradation.

ISO 14000 family includes the following aspects:

  • Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

  • Environmental Auditing & Related Investigations (EA&RI)

  • Environmental Labels and Declarations (EL)

  • Environmental Performance Evaluation (EPE)

  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

  • Terms and Definitions (T&D)

The ISO 14000 family is built based on the following principles:

  • Results in better environmental management

  • Encompass environmental management system and the aspects of environmental products

  • Applicable in all countries

  • Promote the broader interests of the public and users of these standards

  • Cost-effective, non-perspective and flexible to meet different needs of organisations worldwide

  • Flexibility to be suitable for internal and external verification

  • Scientifically based

  • Practical, useful and usable

ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an environmental management system. It helps organisations improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantage and the trust of stakeholders.

So what is an EMS?

The next important is, what is an EMS? An EMS is designed to help an organisation to achieve its environmental goals by using a loop of consistent review, evaluation and performance improvement. The basic steps of a standard EMS includes:

  • Identify the need and make the case for environmental improvements

  • Carry out an initial environmental review

  • Decide which environmental aspects are significant

  • Update or create the environmental policy

  • Set targets and objectives for environmental improvements

  • Report on the performance and review the EMS system

Under the ISO 14001, the EMS follows a continuous improvement as illustrated below. It was first established in 1996 and is based on the famous Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology.

The EMS continuous improvement cycle
The EMS continuous improvement cycle

The five main stages of an EMS as designed by ISO 14001 standard are:

  1. Commitment and Policy: Management level must commit to environmental improvement and establish the organisations environmental policy. This policy is indeed the foundation of the EMS.

  2. Planning: The organisation firstly identifies its environmental aspects, such as water pollutants or hazardous waste, which have negative impacts on the society and the environment. The organisation can choose itself which criteria is more important, e.g. health and safety or environment. Once the environmental aspects are set, objectives (overall environmental goals, like minimising the use of coal) and targets (detailed, quantified requirements from the objectives, e.g. a reduction by 50% by December 2030) are chosen. Finally, an action plan is prepared, including designating responsibilities, schedules, clear outline defining steps to meet the targets.

  3. Implementation: The organisation follows the plan with its resources. The most important component is employee training and employee awareness. Other important steps are documentation, following operating procedures, setting up internal and external communication lines, etc.

  4. Evaluation: The organisation monitors whether objectives and targets are met. If not, necessary actions are required.

  5. Review: Management level again is involved to review the results of the evaluation stage to determine whether the current EMS is effective, including revising the original environmental policy and the current plan. This stage creates a loop of continuous improvement for the organisation.

How to get ISO 14001:2015 certified?

In order to get certified, the organisation has to show that its policy and standard meet the ISO 14001 standard requirements. Certified lead auditors will then assess the EMS to conclude the the company has met the requirements, if yes, the organisation will receive the ISO 14001 certification. After that, each of the aspects of the system will be checked at least once during the 2 years. At the end of the 3 year period, if the organisation wants to continue with its ISO 14001 certification, it will have to follow another cycle of recertification.

  1. Planning: The organisation needs serious planning and preparation to apply for the ISO 14001, ensuring that it meets all the relevant data and documents.

  2. Review the ISO 14001: 2015 Standard: The organisation needs to get familiar with the entire ISO 14001:2015 certification process, especially the legal recruitments, EMS scope and procedures.

  3. Training: The organisation needs to ensure that its employees clearly understand the goals and how to get involved in the process. Employees hence need to be trained on ISO standards, developing management systems, dealing with non-conformances and other issues.

  4. Perform internal audits: This is considered to be the most important step to see whether the EMS is useful or not. There are different available tools for the auditing processes.

  5. Get certified: The organisation should choose a professional their party certification body to assess its EMS process to see if the organisation can comply with the ISO 14001:2015 requirements.

The ISO 14000 family, in particularly, the ISO 14001:2015, is without doubt a great practice for all organisations regardless of their size or industry. Though, actually following it and maintaining the standards while keeping the business profitable is not an easy task. More and more organisations should actually work together, share best practices and successful organisations should provide support for new learners, especially SMEs, so that the ISO 14000 family is more applied worldwide.



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