ISO 14001:2015: The Main Changes

ISO 14001:2015: The Main Changes

ISO 14001 is one of the most successful ISO management standards. Based on a former British Standard (BS 7750), it was published in 1996 and since then over 300.000 companies worldwide implemented an environmental management system based on the standard’s requirements.

Organizations benefit from the implementation of an environmental management system based on ISO 14001 by improving their environmental performance, saving resources, energy and money. A certified environmental management system is a good preventive tool and helps to be in compliance with legal and other requirements.

The popularity of ISO 14001 is also a result of the continuous efforts to revise and update the standard, keeping it in line with current ecological, political and social developments. In 2004 a first revision introduced minor changes to ISO 14001, in order to align it better with the ISO 9001 Quality Management Standard, to make its requirements clearer and to facilitate the integration of quality and environmental management systems. During the last correction of the standard in 2009 which did not include new requirements, ISO announced a deeper revision which is now expected to be concluded in the middle of the year 2015.

Based on the results of the “Future Challenges for EMS Study Group” which evaluated potential implications of evolving stakeholder expectations and new developments in environmental management systems, the responsible ISO committee started its work in 2012. It went through several internal draft stages and has now published the Draft of International Standard (DIS), which already gives us a clear picture of the expected changes of structure and content:

Adoption of the High Level Structure:

ISO 14001:2015 will be structured according to the so called “High Level Structure” of the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1, Consolidated ISO supplement, 2014, Annex SL, Appendix 2 which sets out the high level structure, identical core text and common terms and core definitions that are to form, when possible, the nucleus of future and revised management system standards such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. The new structure helps to combine and integrate different management systems and includes the PDCA approach (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Like other new or revised management system standards, the ISO 14001:2015 will have the following 3 introductory clauses, followed by 7 clauses with requirements:

1. Scope
2. Normative reference
3. Terms and definitions
4. Context of the organization
5. Leadership
6. Planning
7. Support
8. Operation
9. Performance evaluation
10. Improvement

Content changes:

In the DIS version we see environmental performance gain prominence while addressing risk; life cycle of products; and, understanding the needs and concerns of interested parties in the context of the organization. The life cycle perspective requires organizations to look beyond its boundaries. Value stream planning requires managing upstream and downstream processes, including outsourced processes. Environmental objectives shall be linked to the organization´s processes and have to take into account internal and external factors as well as compliance obligations.

When it comes to value chain planning and control, ISO 14001:2015 will introduce a new set of requirements to manage or influence upstream and downstream processes. These include all outsourced activities, such as transport, packaging and disposal, as well as the procurement of goods and services.

The main changes are related to:

    • Increased requirements for top management commitment and involvement.
    • Emphasis on risk-based thinking
    • Need to understand the context of the organization, the needs and expectations and requirements of interested parties
    • Consideration of a life cycle perspective
    • Increased flexibility on the use of documentation

The main content changes in detail:

Clause 4 “Context of the organization” was included as a completely new clause. It requires a better and more strategic understanding of all the factors affecting the way organizations manage their environmental responsibilities. The organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcome of its environmental management system. It shall identify the interested parties that are relevant to the environmental management system, as well as their relevant needs and expectations.

Clause 5 “Leadership” recognizes that leadership commitment is critical for the implementation of an EMS, and, in consequence, confirms that the implementation of the EMS is the full responsibility of top management. It requires much more commitment, responsiveness, support and communication from the top management level of an organization. Top management will be expected to ensure that the environmental policy and environmental objectives are established and are compatible with the strategic direction and the context of the organization.

Clause 6 “Planning” requires now, similar to the new requirements of the revised ISO 9001 and in line with the new High Level Structure, that the organization determines the risks associated with threats and opportunities that need to be addressed. The new risk approach covers also the specific requirement for preventive action. In addition to the already existing requirements regarding significant environmental aspects, the clause is now also more specific regarding legal and other requirements related to the environmental aspects, addressing them as “compliance obligations”. Planning also requires the establishment of environmental objectives at relevant functions and levels, taking into account the organization’s significant environmental aspects and applicable requirements and compliance obligations as well as the risk associated with threats and opportunities. When defining the objectives, the organization shall consider its technological options and financial, its operational and business requirements and make sure that the objectives are measurable (when practicable).

Clause 7 “Support” will not include new requirements but is a bit more prescriptive in relation to resource, competence awareness and especially to the required internal and external communication which shall be more appropriate, transparent and reliable.

Clause 8 “Operations” requires now – consistent with a life cycle perspective – the consideration of the value chain that impacts the environmental management system and the control of changes and outsourced processes. It is also more prescriptive in relation to emergency preparedness and response.

Clause 9 “Performance evaluation” now includes in a single new clause and in line with the new High Level Structure several already existing requirements from the current version of ISO 14001, including monitoring, measurement, analysis, evaluation of environmental performance, evaluation of compliance, internal audits and management review.

Clause 10 “Improvement” contains the current non-conformity and corrective action clause but is more structured and more demanding in relation to the consideration of nonconformities and the resulting actions.

Impact for certified organizations:

ISO 14001 has provided an effective framework for environmental management since 1996 and the revised version will advance the concept of continual improvement in environmental performance. Although the structure will be changed and some requirements will be added or become more prescriptive, many parts remain without significant changes. Nevertheless it is recommend to monitor the revision process and to identify potential need for changes. DQS can give appropriate support through gap analyses and training regarding the new and/or changed requirements.

The next step of the revision process will be a revision of the responses to the public consultation on the DIS (Draft of International Standard). In February 2015, the working group will review the responses and produce a final version (FDIS), for vote by the ISO member bodies. Provided that the vote will be positive, ISO 14001:2015 will be published after the second quarter of 2015. A 3-year transition period has already been agreed.

About the Author

Dr. Thijs Willaert is Communications Manager at DQS-UL CFS GmbH

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