How conforming to ISO 14001:2015 benefits your organization

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) was established to create standardized international guidelines, with their name ISO, derived from the Greek word ‘isos’ meaning equal. The ISO 14001 standard was driven by the Earth Rio Summit, held in 1992, pertaining to sustainable development. Economy outweighed the environment, and therefore a balance between the environment, society and the economy was needed.

Environmental management is critical, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs is the core maxim of sustainable development.

Society has certain expectations for sustainable development, transparency and accountability, and these expectations have evolved into increasingly stringent legislation. There are growing pressures on the environment from pollution, wasteful use of resources, short-sighted waste management, climate change, degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity. As a result, organizations need to adopt a systematic approach to managing resources and preventing further degradation of the environment in which they operate.

ISO 14001 is a voluntary, self-governance tool that enables an organization to achieve its intended outcomes, including enhancing environmental performance, that it has set out in its Environmental Management System (EMS). The standard has been designed in such a way that it can be used any organization seeking to systematically manage its environmental responsibilities. Meeting the requirements of ISO 14001:2015 upholds the Planet pillar of the Triple Bottom Line, and far from being a grudge exercise, has the potential to bring your company deep-rooted benefits.

Our global population is expanding at a rapid rate that which has lead to world entering the “Anthropocene” geological age. This means humans are the dominating influence on climate change and the environment. We are consuming our resources faster than we can replenish them, and in the case of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, we are depleting resources that we may never be able to replenish and doing severe damage to the environment in the process by releasing unprecedented amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We are polluting more than we are cleaning up, so much so that earth’s environment will become uninhabitable for future generations.

Every person has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health, and we are accountable to look after the earth for future generations. Large organizations are the biggest polluters, and they have the biggest potential to drive environmental sustainability by accepting the mantle of environmental stewardship, and realizing that they are dependant on the environment for their survival also.

ISO 14001:2015 states that the organization’s top management is obligated to commit to protecting the environment, which includes preventing pollution and other specific commitments that are relevant to the organization’s context. The standard even highlights climate change in the notes section as other specific commitments. Therefore if the organization has specific impacts that would lead to climate change, they are obligated to minimize these effect.

The environment is ever-changing, the standards need to be adopted to remain relevant.ISO has a process of reviewing standards every five years. As the 2004 revision was mainly an alignment with its forefather standard ISO 9001, the ISO 14001 standard had a 19-year gap, allowing more time for research to be conducted on the benefits and drawbacks of the standard.

The review followed a “future-challenges” process to identify and define precisely how and to what degree the standard should be aligned with present and reasonably predictable forthcoming developments in the environmental management field. ISO then developed themes from the challenges that needed to be addressed in the 2015 revision.

The benefits of achieving ISO 14001:2015 conformance

Environmental management in itself is complex rather than being difficult. Your company’s compliance will benefit from the guidance of experts – such as consultants – and by collaborating with stakeholders. It starts with a willingness to comply with the standard from the executive management.

Conforming with ISO 14001:2015 will enhance your company’s environmental performance and give you an international advantage, which will, in turn, boost economic and international growth. It empowers societies by including interested and affected stakeholders in important environmental decision-making at a strategic level. The standard also allows your organization to set a precedent that can positively influence society.

9 key differences between ISO 14001:2010 and ISO 14001:2015:

  1. The revised standard shifts from improving the management system to enhancing environmental performance.
  2. Previous versions had little emphasis on strategic environmental management, which the 2015 version has included in that organizations have to determine their context and incorporate it into their EMS.
  3. There is a new emphasis on leadership and their specific roles and responsibilities are clearly stipulated.
  4. Environmental protection has been broadened to focus on more than pollution prevention.
  5. The revised standard adopts a life-cycle perspective, meaning that organizations need to look at the control or influence they have at all stages of their product or service life-cycle.
  6. The organization needs to control or influence their external suppliers.
  7. The organization needs to devise a clear communication strategy.
  8. The revision shifts from “documents” to “documented information” – allowing for digital information – where the standard will stipulate when something has to be documented and allowing an organization to choose if additional procedures will be documented.
  9. The framework has been changed to a high-level-structure framework which allows for the integration of various management systems.
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    Conforming to ISO 14001:2015 requires you to:

    • Follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act process and have a Life-Cycle approach.
    • Understand what is required from ISO 14001:2015 through training and awareness.
    • Understand your organization’s context including your compliance obligations. These include legal requirements that can be managed by our team of legal experts.
    • Have Top Management’s commitment to improve your organization’s environmental management.
    • Make sure your employees understand their roles and responsibilities within EMS.
    • Plan you EMS by understanding your specific risks and opportunities, setting your environmental objectives and determining how you will monitor your Environmental Performance indicators to achieve your intended outcomes.
    • Implement your EMS planned according to the standard as required, which can be achieved with help from consultants and various tools (such as Digilex).
    • Monitor your EMS and analyze the data, which can also be achieved with the help of consultants and software management tools.
    • Implement actions – derived from the results of monitoring – to enhance your environmental performance and to conform to compliance obligations.
    • Become legally compliant. To do this, a single management tool cannot be used; rather it is far more effective to use a combination of tools, or a single EMS platform that allows for a wide spectrum of functionality.
    • By acquiring someone knowledgeable on the 2015 version of ISO 14001 to do a gap-analysis on your current EMS and compile a list of recommended actions based on these finding, you can align your EMS to ISO 14001:2015.

      ISO has also published a comprehensive checklist to guide you in meeting the requirements of ISO 14001:2015. This guide is filled with guidelines on meeting the requirements of the standard. However, because each organization is different, the guidelines are generic. Make use of an expert consultant to make the process as smooth and effective as possible. Consulting companies such as Green Gain Consulting, specialize in ISO standards and can implement and maintain an EMS system that suits your needs.