What is ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System?

You are not alone in thinking this. This overview guide is here for you to learn the basics of ISO 14001, help you to discover what the ISO 14001 requirements are, and to give you a guide on what needs to be done to implement an environmental management system and become certified.


What are the simple basics of ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 has become the international standard for designing and implementing an environmental management system. The standard is published by ISO (the International Organization for Standardization), an international body that creates and distributes standards that are accepted worldwide. The most recent version of the environmental management system requirements was published in 2015, and is referred to as “ISO 14001:2015.” The standard was agreed upon by a majority of member countries before being released and updated, and as such it has become an internationally recognized standard accepted by a majority of countries around the world.

In a survey of ISO 14001 certification at the end of 2013 the number of companies that have implemented an ISO 14001 environmental management system shows a general positive trend worldwide.


What is an environmental management system?

An environmental management system, often called an EMS, is comprised of the policies, processes, plans, practices and records that define the rules governing how your company interacts with the environment. This system needs to be tailored to your particular company, because only your company will have the exact legal requirements and environmental interactions that match your specific business processes. However, the ISO 14001 requirements provide a framework and guidelines for creating your environmental management system so that you do not miss important elements needed for an EMS to be successful.


What does ISO 14001 actually look like?

The ISO 14001 structure is split into four sections. The first three are introductory, with the last section, split into six sub-sections, containing the requirements for the environmental management system. Here is what the six sub-sections are about:

Section 4.1: General Requirements  This section provides an overall statement that the environmental management system needs to be established, documented, implemented, maintained, and continually improved according to the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. This highlights that the EMS is not a one-time activity to be done and then forgotten, but instead is intended to be maintained to promote improvement.


Section 4.2: Environmental Policy – The environmental policy helps to set the overall goals to meet the scope of the environmental management system. The policy includes the company’s commitment to comply with legal requirements, prevent pollution, and continually improve. It also provides the overall framework to set the objectives and targets for the EMS.


Section 4.3: Planning – There are three parts to the planning process for the ISO 14001 EMS. First, the company needs to identify the environmental aspects associated with the activities of the company. Next, the company needs to identify the legal and other requirements that pertain to the aspects and operational processes and ensure that they are understood and implemented. Lastly, objectives, targets, and programs for improvement of the environmental management system need to be put in place with appropriate resources to accomplish the goals.


Section 4.4: Implementation and Operation  This section has many elements to consider, starting with the assignment of resources, roles, responsibilities, and authorities. Once this is in place you must ensure that competence, training, awareness, and communication (both internal and external to the company) are established for the functioning of the EMS. Documentation and control of documents is required to ensure consistency, as is putting in place operational controls and processes for emergency preparedness and response to ensure that there is uniformity where required.


Section 4.5: Checking – The monitoring and measurement, including evaluation of compliance to legal and other requirements, are necessary to ensure that decisions can be made. Part of this is dealing with nonconformity, corrective action, preventive action, and auditing the processes in place. Without these elements, and the records associated with them, it is almost impossible to tell if things are going according to plan.


Section 4.6: Management Review – Hand in hand with the records from the checking requirement is this requirement for management to review the recorded outputs in order to ensure that actions are progressing according to plan, and to guarantee that adequate resources are applied to meet the requirements.

These sections are based on a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which uses these elements to implement change within the processes of the organization in order to drive and maintain improvements within the processes.