ISO 14001 2015 updates: Leadership

The new 2015 ISO 14001 standard has introduced significantly more requirements for senior management. Sonia Naran looks into the changes and what they mean for organisations looking to transition.

Changes to the standard
The updated standard introduces much greater responsibility and accountability for top management in Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and requires a new approach which will have consequences for core business strategy.

There are two new sections in the standard that are of particular importance to top management. Section 4 introduces a new concept for the ISO 14001 standard: organisational context, and Section 5 assigns accountability for the EMS specifically to top management.

New concept: business context
The new standard now requires organisations to consider the wider environmental context in which they operate when planning their EMS. This means identifying and prioritising:

  • Environmental conditions that are affected or capable of affecting the organisation
  • Stakeholder views (including regulators, customers, investors, employees and peers)
  • Internal characteristics of the organisation (culture, activities, strategy)

This is a considerable development from the previous standard which only really focussed on direct environmental impacts. This expanded consideration of environmental risks, opportunities and stakeholder expectations provides a useful framework to inform a business’s core strategy, and improve resilience, cost efficiency, and long term growth.

The new standard also requires organisations to consider risks, impacts and opportunities across the life cycle of a product or service, which provides additional input into business planning.

This enhanced approach which has been borrowed from the approach to materiality, requires more analysis at the planning stage but provides business with an enhanced framework to set robust and sustainable business strategy.

Top management accountability
The 2015 standard has introduced a new section dedicated to leadership. Whilst it includes many of the clauses you will be familiar with from the 2004 standard, it adds a new requirement: top management must take accountability for the effectiveness of the EMS.

Whilst there is scope for delegating authority, the new section 5 sets out clearly that top management are responsible for the effectiveness of the EMS and they must ensure that embedding environmental considerations are embedded into core business processes.

The standard really does mean top management, and uses the definition of a “person or group of people who directs and controls an organization at the highest level.”

Auditors will spend more time with senior management
This greater role and accountability for top management will likely be a new focus for external auditors, and you should expect audit itineraries to include a reasonable time with top management during the audit. The senior team will therefore need to have a clear understanding of the requirements of the new standard and be prepared to take a greater part in the audit process.

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 leadership, these include:

An expanded and more detailed process to identify significant environmental issues
Organisations must fundamentally rethink their process to identify and prioritise significant environmental aspects. As well as your own impacts, you will need to develop a process that considers stakeholder needs and expectations and any environmental issues that are capable of affecting the organisation. You will also need to analyse and prioritise these issues and with senior management, assess how these issues affect your organisation’s business strategy.

The EMS team will need to work more closely with the senior management team
In many organisations, top management only have limited involvement with the EMS. The new requirements mean that the environmental manager must have much greater contact and influence with the management team to meet the standard’s requirements. Setting up this closer working relationship may not be straightforward in all organisations.

Senior management need to develop new knowledge and competences
The new requirements for senior management means that they will likely need to build their knowledge and competences on environmental management. This may require training from the EMS team or external companies.

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 meet the new leadership requirements.

Materiality: 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.

Influence: gain traction with your senior management team
If your senior management team have had limited involvement in the EMS to date, we can support you to effectively engage and influence them. Through a structured workshop, we can introduce the requirements of the new standard and outline the benefits from the expanded scope of the ISO 14001 revisions.

Skills: get up to speed on the new ISO 14001 standard
We can provide training for you and your senior management team on the new ISO 14001 requirements and strategic environmental management.

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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