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ISO 14001: Your guide to the 2015 standard

ISO 14001: Your guide to the 2015 standard

ISO 14001, the most widely used environmental management system standard received a major facelift in 2015. Sustainability Consultant Sonia Naran sets out the 4 key changes to the standard that you need to know about, and over the coming months we’ll publish detailed guides to get you up to speed in each area.

What are the key changes?
The last version of ISO 14001 was published in 2004 and so after more than a decade of service, it was very much in need of a revamp. Many of the changes that have been introduced bring the structure of the standard closer in line with other popular standards on quality and health & safety, but there are however some new and expanded requirements which businesses will need to think about.

Companies across all sectors have made significant progress over the past decade in environmental management, and the new standard has been brought right up to date to reflect these trends in best practice.

There are four main themes you need to know about:

1. Leadership, leadership, leadership
The new standard requires greater leadership from top management on environmental issues. This includes more accountability for the EMS as well as providing the support and resources needed to manage environmental issues effectively. Accountability is the big story here and senior teams will need to take greater responsibility for environmental outcomes. The change is a challenge to systems with a “box ticking” approach and seeks to embed environmental considerations into core business decisions. Find out more

2. Context of the organisation
The 2015 standard introduces some new language: context. Whilst some organisations may have considered this before, there is now a requirement to formally consider and analyse the internal and external drivers for environmental management. This includes a specific requirement to understand and meet stakeholder expectations, borrowing principles that have been used in materiality analysis for some time now. This change will help organisations identify risks and opportunities that may have been missed through the traditional “significance” based aspects and impacts assessments. Find out more

3. Broader horizons
Environmental impacts for a business are often like icebergs, with the majority of the impacts hidden in the supply chain or in product use and disposal. The new standard recognises that these indirect impacts are important to manage and extends the requirements for companies to do so.

The updated standard now expects businesses to take a life-cycle approach and consider impacts that occur in the supply chain, during the use of products and service, and at end-of-life.Find out more

4. It’s not just about risk
The 2015 standard moves away from just managing risks and impacts, and now specifically includes a requirement to identify opportunities arising from better environmental management. This has been a key theme in successful business cases for environmental programmes and is helped by the inclusion of whole life thinking in the new standard. A challenge for businesses will be to work out how to quantify opportunities, especially where they create both financial and non-financial value.

The approach to risk has also be extended to now include “external conditions” that may affect the business - a major nod to climate change adaptation.

These updates reflect the huge leaps forwards that have been made in environmental management over the past 10 years. In particular, the incorporation of environmental risks and opportunities in core business strategy and the requirement for effective leadership from the top.

Environmental management systems may have started in the crucible of industrial processes with large, direct impacts on the environment, but with maturing legislation, growing investor and stakeholder expectations, and improving technology, it is recognised that environmental management now needs to be considered as a core issue for company management. The 2015 standard does a pretty good job in doing so, but businesses will have to continue improving to keep up (especially if it takes another 11 years for a new version of the standard to come out). Find out more

About Brite Green
Brite Green is an award winning sustainability consultancy. We work with companies of all sizes to improve business performance through better environmental and sustainability practices.

We have a dedicated EMS team who can help you design and maintain your system, complete internal audits and support you through the external audit process. Our team are qualified Lead Environmental Management System auditors and undertake certification audits for UKAS registered certification bodies.

We offer comprehensive management system services. You can read more about we can help you transition to the new ISO 14001:2015 standard or provide support to maintain your management system.


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