The ISO 14001 environmental management system – what is it and how do businesses benefit?

Author
Kye Parkin
Communications Executive | Business West
25th February 2020

You may have seen ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 written on product packaging, corporate websites or even on advertisements, but what do these cryptic ciphers stand for? Does the mere sight of them leave you feeling ISO-confused? Well, wonder no more what these most enigmatic acronyms stand for – this blog reveals all!

Like a Kitemark - the squiggly heart-shaped symbol you might find on anything from crash helmets and smoke alarms to financial services documentation and ecommerce sites - an ISO designation gives consumers confidence that a product or service is of satisfactory quality and has been produced to an internationally recognised standard.

The body that sets and regulates these standards is the International Organisation for Standardisation, hence the eponymous if not slightly irregular acronym: ISO.

The numbered bit of an ISO code is a unique identifier denoting which of the ISO’s 23,033 proprietary, industrial, and commercial standards have been applied during the manufacture of a product or provision of a service.

Perhaps the best-known ISO standards, or the ones you are most likely to encounter in a business environment or as a consumer, are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

ISO 9001 certification can apply to any business organisation in any sector and is awarded to those with a quality management system in place that conforms to an internationally recognised standard. In layman’s terms, to be awarded ISO 9001 accreditation a business has to prove that all of its processes focused on consistently meeting customer requirements and enhancing their satisfaction.

Similar to ISO 9001 certification, ISO 14001 is indicative that an organisation has in place an internationally recognised management system, which rather than emphasising production quality and improvements, refers to a range of measures designed to reduce an organisation’s environmental impact.

In light of the increasing focus on what businesses can do to tackle climate change, the remainder of this blog will explain what ISO 14001 means for business, its benefits and how to get certified.

ISO 14001 – what does it mean for businesses?

If a company has an ISO4001 certification means that it has a robust environmental management system (EMS).

In other words, it operates "a system and database which integrates procedures and processes for training of personnel, monitoring, summarising, and reporting of specialised environmental performance information to internal and external stakeholders of a firm" (Melynk et al 2003).

Moreover it does so to help organisations (a) minimise how their operations negatively impact the environment (b) comply with applicable laws, regulations and other requirements and (c) continually improve on the above.

Basic principles and methodology

The basic principles of ISO 14001 are based on the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle and entails the following activities:

The planning phase

• understanding the environmental legislation that applies to your business

• reviewing current activities to establish where the significant environmental impacts are

• setting policies and improvement objectives to enhance environmental performance

The doing phase

• implementing policies, processes and awareness training

•keeping a record of the measures that have been implemented

The checking phase

• conducting regular checks that are processes are being followed across the organisation

• ensuring that all processes are compliant with current legislation 

• tracking results to ensure that progress is being made in terms of meeting objectives

The action phase

• on the basis of the above take actions to address any issues that arise

Most businesses repeat the PDCA annually, with many achieving significant environmental and business benefits as a result of continual improvement.

The environmental and business benefits of ISO 14001

The most commonly cited benefits organisations adopting the ISO 14001 environmental management system report include:

• waste elimination from the production process

• reduced carbon emissions in the production process

• cost savings from cleaner and greener and reduced energy consumption

• cost savings and greater air quality due to better travel choices

• enhanced reputation among customers and key stakeholders

• improved staff morale through engagement with green initiatives

How do I get certified?

The path to ISO 14001 certification starts with senior management demonstrating leadership and commitment to the environmental management system and cascading this down through the PDCA cycle.

Working cross departmentally, they need to identify and document how the organisation interacts with the environment and the potential environmental impact as a result of these interactions, whilst monitoring and measuring progress over time.

These are the key criteria an ISO certification body is looking for when awarding certification. But it is important to stress that an ISO 14001 certification is an ongoing process. Certification audits are carried out by UKAS accredited assessment bodies once or twice per year to ensure that the procedures are being maintained.

Not only does this assure stakeholder confidence in and protect the integrity of the ISO standard system, it ensures a pathway toward the continual improvement that ISO 14001 is intended to achieve.

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