By Rachel Hemsley
What is ISO 14001?
ISO 14001 is used in over quarter of a million organizations worldwide. Becoming ISO 14001 certified enables a business to implement a successful Environmental Management System (EMS). An EMS essentially provides a systematic framework for organizing all of a business’s procedures that relate to its environmental impact. Becoming ISO 14001 certified will formalize any environmental practices a company may already have in place and get them to examine each aspect of their business to see if there are ways to be more environmentally responsible.
What are the benefits?
Not only is ISO 14001 a great way to establish greener practices but it makes financial sense. A UK government report explained that businesses could potentially save around £23 billion ($37 billion) per year if they just used their resources more efficiently. Most of these savings would come from the reduction in waste, water and energy usage. This demonstrates how small changes in a business’s environmental practices could potentially save huge amounts of money.
What’s the issue?
A major criticism has often been that businesses can achieve certification without adopting the intended ethos of the standard. For instance, you could heavily document a few environmental practices and theoretically still become certified, while your company performs a range of activities which damage the environment. This is in no way the intended use for the standard and, of course, there are laws regarding business practices and the environment, so being completely environmentally reckless is unlikely. However the issue still stands: does becoming ISO 14001 certified really prove an organization is being proactively environmentally responsible?
It is important to note that this is rarely the reality; most of those who become certified actively do improve their polices to benefit the environment. For instance, a study found that when those who were ISO 14001 certified specifically targeted an environmental aspect, they were much greener – 93 percent of those surveyed increased their use of recycled materials and 97 percent reduced their wastage.
Even if it is purely a public perception that ISO 14001 certification may not actually make a business environmentally responsible, it is important to tackle the issue. There isn’t really a downside to making sure that the standard lives up to what’s expected of it.
ISO 14001 is currently under review to produce a revised version in 2015, and the hope is that it lasts for 10 years or so until the next major revision. This process involves various draft versions and carefully assessing the opinions of relevant personnel; for instance, at the start of the process in 2012, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) questioned 1,650 of their members. They found that 92 percent of those surveyed thought it would be better if ISO 14001 clarified how businesses should show their commitment to environmental compliance. Furthermore, 90 percent concurred with the notion that ISO 14001 should require those who are certified to show awareness and understanding of their legal obligations pertaining to the environment.
These survey results demonstrate the common feeling that the exact ways in which an organization shows its commitment to the environment should be more specific. The more stringent and proactive criteria in the new standard address this issue.
How will the new ISO 14001 address True Engagement?
There are several large changes in the committee draft of the revised version of ISO 14001. Many of these alterations aim to ensure an organization really is instigating greener practices, instead of just reaping the benefits of appearing to do so. There are various alterations which aim to make consideration of the environmental implications of your business’s actions integral to gaining the ISO 14001 certification. These changes are:
- The current revised version of ISO 14001 stresses the importance of upper management’s role in being certified. There are more expectations for them to show commitment and support of the EMS; for example, they need to understand environmental issues regarding their organization’s practices. Having the leaders of a business invested, educated and involved in this way will hopefully mean that it is more likely an EMS achieves what it is supposed to and is incorporated into the general structure of a business.
- Compliance with environmental standards will be more strictly monitored. For instance, at any given time, an organization should be able to show understanding of their environmental compliance – meaning it is not just of importance after an audit. Another change is that performance indicators will be used to cross check improvements, where the effect that the EMS is having will be documented and assessed. Specific processes that evaluate compliance levels will also need to be implemented and documented. This should mean that being ISO 14001 certified will be an active process of adhering to environmental procedures, regularly evaluating their efficiency and improving them.
- Organizations are now required to make explicit commitments to sustainable development, helping to clarify and pin down what is expected of a company when becoming ISO 14001 certified.
- Furthermore, the certification will be extended to be inclusive of the supply chain and its environmental implications – broadening the consideration of environmental impact.
- The aforementioned IEMA survey revealed that 90 percent of respondents were in favor of the idea of integrating the EMS with a business’s overall objectives and strategy. This concept was included in the new draft, which will hopefully make ISO 14001 easier to incorporate into an organization and integrate into the direction of the business. Thus ensuring that an EMS is not an inconvenient extra to consider but a helpful tool for the business.
Overall, it seems the new ISO 14001 draft includes a range of new criteria that ensure those gaining this certification really do commit to acting in an environmentally responsible manner. If you have any thoughts on the provision to ISO 14001, another draft will be released for public consultation in November of this year.
This article was written by Rachel Hemsley, who specializes in writing quality online content for a variety of online platforms. Learn more about ISO 14001 here.
[Image Credit: QMSUK.com]