ISO 14001 2015 updates: Business context

In this third blog in our ISO 14001 transition series, Sonia Naran looks into the new language of business context and what this means for organisations looking to transition. 

Changes to the standard
The updated standard introduces a formal requirement for organisations to consider their wider environmental context in their business strategy and the scope of their Environmental Management System (EMS). To maintain your ISO 14001 accreditation, you will need to consider stakeholder concerns and other external drivers.

New language: Context of the Organisation
One of the most significant changes to the 2015 standard is the introduction of an entirely new clause on the context of the organisation. Clause 4 makes it a formal requirement for organisations to consider:

  • Your direct environmental impacts
  • How environmental conditions can affect your business, customers and supply chain
  • External social and economic factors (e.g. beliefs and norms of society and its expectation of the organisation, environmental performance of peers and competitors) and
  • Internal capabilities (e.g. the organisation’s ability to implement new technologies and influence behaviour changes in its employees).

This significantly increases the planning work you need to do to maintain your ISO 14001 certification but the enhanced approach gives you a much better view of the risks and opportunities for your organisation and will help develop a more robust corporate strategy.

Stakeholders and materiality
ISO 14001 certified organisations must now identify their key stakeholders and understand their needs and expectations in relation to environmental issues. Stakeholders might include regulators, suppliers, customers, investors, employees and industry bodies.  Similar to the principals used in materiality analysis, the organisation must identify and prioritise the issues identified to determine which should be taken into account when planning the EMS.

The scope of the EMS
While an organisation still has the freedom to define the boundaries of its EMS, the updated standard requires businesses to also take a lifecycle perspective. This means it now needs to consider the environmental risks and impacts that occur in the supply chain, with customers and at end of life of products. The extent of control or influence that an organisation can exert is taken into consideration, but the changes make defining the EMS scope much less clear.

Transition pain points
There are a number of pain points that organisations will face as they transition to the new 2015 standard. In relation to context, these include:

How do you find out your stakeholders’ needs and expectations?
Many organisations will not have had to review stakeholder needs and expectations in a systematic way before. This may be a daunting task particularly if they have conflicting views or their interests do not align with those of the organisation. A major challenge will be how to identify your key stakeholders, analyse and prioritise their views, and resolve any conflicting interests.

Lifecycle approach: how to find and control your significant environmental risks and impacts
You now need to consider and manage your lifecycle environmental impacts and risks. The first challenge is to identify them, which can be done through life cycle assessment (LCA) or a risk based approach. A key challenge here will be getting hold of useful data but a good LCA can help identify hotspots of risk or impacts and will help you to focus on the most important issues. These might include risks you’ve not considered before, such as the impact of climate change on your supply chain. You then need to determine how you can control and influence these impacts. This might be through supplier selection or product design, or you might need to influence how customers use your product or service, or manage how it is disposed of at the end of its life. Each can have significant challenges.

Where do you draw the line for your scope?
Defining a clear scope is more difficult under the 2015 standard.
Although the standard says organisations can draw their own boundaries for the EMS, lifecycle considerations must also be taken. The key determining factor is an organisation’s ability to exercise control and exert influence, but there are definitely some grey areas here. In addition to an organisation’s traditional control and influence methods (such a supplier codes of conduct, product specification etc), it may be helpful to also consider the importance of the risks and impacts, and determine how you might need to expand your scope of control and influence to manage and mitigate these issues.

So how can we help?
Brite Green is an award winning sustainability consultancy and we specialise in helping organisations develop a strategic approach to environmental management.

Our dedicated team of sustainability strategy and EMS specialists are here to provide whatever support you might need to transition to the new standard, whether its checking over your final documents or helping you from start to finish. >We offer a full support package to transition to the new standard, but here are a few things you might find helpful to get the leadership team up to speed.

Stakeholder Review and Materiality Assessment: Identify your significant environmental issues
We can identify and prioritise your significant environmental issues through our structured materiality process. Based on the AA 1000 methodology, we will work with you and your senior management team to identify and analyse your direct environmental impacts, the key needs and expectations of your stakeholders, and the environmental trends that could affect your business and supply chain. Understand your full impacts: Life cycle assessments
We can undertake product life cycle assessments to quantify your lifecycle risks and impacts in line with ISO 14040. You can read more about product lifecycle assessments in our introduction and guide.

Defining your scope
Through facilitated workshops with teams from across the business, we can help you develop a robust and defensible scope for the EMS. We will explore your current ability to control and influence environmental aspects across your value chain and where there may be areas to increase your influence.

To find out more about how we can help you transition to ISO 14001:2015, get in touch with the team:
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Telephone: 0118 900 6713

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