What Do People Want From the ISO 14001:2015 Standard?

By Robert Fenn

ISO 14001:2015
ISO 14001:2015 is starting to take shape.

First published in 1996, the ISO 14001 standard has grown to become the best known framework for environmental management. Developed by global consensus, it provides a best practice benchmark for organizations of any size, in any sector. Used in supply chains throughout the world, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) review their standards on an ongoing basis to ensure they are still relevant and effective in a rapidly evolving world.

In 2013, ISO conducted the ‘ISO 14001 Continual Improvement Survey,’ the results of which helped form the basis of a draft of the new, updated standard. Garnering feedback from thousands across 110 countries, ISO’s desired outcomes were to find out what value users got from the standard, together with the areas that ISO 14001 needed to strengthen in order to meet future challenges. Below, we look at the expected changes which will finally result in ISO 14001:2015.

What are the expected changes?

The certain change of ISO 14001 is that it will be aligned with other management systems, and will use the Annex SL structure. The emerging changes that we’ve seen in the Committee Draft (CD) include:

Strategic environmental management

There is an increased prominence of environmental management within the organization’s strategic planning processes. A new requirement to understand the organization’s context has been incorporated to identify and leverage environmentally-related organizational risks, including opportunities, for the benefit of both the organization and the environment.

Particular focus is on issues or changing circumstances related to the needs and expectations of interested parties (including regulatory requirements) and local, regional or global environmental conditions that can affect, or be affected by, the organisation. Once identified as critical, actions to mitigate adverse risk or exploit beneficial opportunities are integrated in the operational planning of the environmental management system.


In order to ensure the success of the system, there is a renewed emphasis on leadership in the new standard, in-line with ISO 9001:2015. A new clause has been added that assigns specific responsibilities for those in leadership roles to promote environmental management within the organization.

Protecting the environment

The expectation on organizations has been expanded to commit to proactive initiatives to protect the environment consistent with the context of the organization.

The revised text does not define ‘protect the environment’ but it notes that it can include sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, etc.

Environmental performance

There is a shift in emphasis with regard to continual improvement from improving the management system to improving environmental performance. Consistent with the organization’s policy commitments, the organization would, as applicable, reduce emissions, effluents and waste to levels set by the organization.

Lifecycle thinking

In addition to the current requirement to manage environmental aspects associated with procured goods and service, organizations will need to extend their control and influence to the environmental impacts associated with product use and end-of-life treatment or disposal. This does not imply a requirement to do a life cycle assessment.


The development of a communications strategy with equal emphasis on external and internal communications has been added. This includes requirements on the quality of information communicated and mechanisms to make suggestions on improving the environmental management system by persons working for or on behalf of the organization. The decision to communicate externally is retained by the organization but the decision needs to take into account information reporting required by regulatory agencies and the expectations of other interested parties.


Reflecting the evolution of computer and cloud based systems for running management systems, the revision incorporates  the term ‘documented information’, instead of ‘documents’ and ‘records.’ To align with ISO 9001, the organization will retain the flexibility to determine when ‘procedures’ are needed to ensure effective process control.

What are the timescales for the revised standard?

The Technical Committee responsible is called TC 207/SC1. In a recent meeting in Italy, there were concerns that the Committee Draft of the new standard was too bureaucratic and has vastly increased the need for documentation, which will be a challenge particularly to smaller businesses.

The next step is the development of the Draft International Standard (DIS), which will be open for public comment for a period of 5 months. Currently, this is expected to be available in mid-2014.

Once the balloting period is over, comments will then be grouped and adjustments made for the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS), which tends to be little different from official, final revision. Assuming things stay on track, the standard should be available in mid-2015. Certainly, with ISO 14001 certification being linked to demonstrating competitive edge recently, the popularity of the standard looks to continue unabated.

Is ISO 14001 missing something? Should it be changing at all? Join the conversation in the comments below, or via Twitter @TriplePundit.

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