Significant Revisions to the ISO 14001 EMS Standard

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June 1, 2016

Over 300,000 organizations in 170 countries have implemented ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use, since it was originally published in 1996. A robust environmental management system (EMS) can help to ensure regulatory compliance, enhance environmental performance, and improve public perception. In some cases organizations have implemented ISO 14001 to meet customer requirements.

Minor updates were made to the ISO 14001 standard in 2004, but the latest revision cycle culminated in the publication of a substantially revised standard in September 2015. Organizations that have already achieved third-party registration to ISO 14001 will have a three-year transition period to conform to the new standard. In order to prepare for this transition, organizations need to understand the reasons for the revisions and the ways in which their EMSs will need to be augmented or refined to meet the new requirements.

One of the drivers for the revisions was the need to align ISO 14001:2015 with other ISO standards (e.g., ISO 9001). While this alignment with the new ISO “Annex SL” framework has changed the entire framework of ISO 14001, it facilitates the integration of management systems throughout an organization (e.g., quality, health and safety, energy and environmental). The revisions have also resulted in some increased flexibility, especially with respect to required documentation. This decreased emphasis on the need for documentation is intended to encourage ISO 14001 implementation in non-traditional sectors and in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Examples of additional significant revisions include:

  • the need to continually improve environmental performance (as opposed to improving the EMS);
  • greater emphasis on top management’s leadership and the role of the EMS in strategic planning;
  • and the need to consider a life cycle perspective when identifying and controlling environmental “aspects” and their related impacts.

While the 2015 revisions to ISO 14001 warrant a thorough review and may pose some challenges, they may also be an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of existing environmental management systems.

Contributed by Anita M. Cooney, CSP, CHMM, Senior EHS Consultant with Barr.

Join us for the “ISO 14001: Transitioning to the 2015 Revised EMS Standard” seminar on June 9, 2016 with Anita Cooney.