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ISO 14001 Requirements: How to Comply With ISO 14001

Understanding the new ISO 14001 requirements can be time-consuming.

The ISO 14001 standard isn’t exactly a page turner, either, ranking somewhere between your health insurance policy and TV user manual.

But it’s critical that you understand the ISO 14001 requirements in order to comply with the new standard.

In this post, we’ll break down the main requirements —  at a high level and in plain English.

Getting to know the ISO 14001 requirements

The new ISO 14001 revision was published in 2015. The standard outlines requirements for an environmental management system (EMS), with a new emphasis on sustainability.

>>> To learn more about the standard, check out our ISO 14001 resource page.

ISO 14001 is broken down into 10 sections, or clauses. For this post, we’ll be focusing on clauses 4-10, which provide a framework for an EMS.

While you read, keep in mind that ISO 14001 doesn’t lay out any specific requirements for environmental performance. Instead, you’ll identify your own goals and areas of improvement within the framework established by the standard.

ISO 14001 requirements

Clause 4. Context of the organization:

As we’ve mentioned before, ISO 14001:2015 isn’t a “one size fits all” standard.

Naturally, the environmental issues and considerations that are relevant to, say, a transportation company are going to be very different from those of a utility company.

That’s why the standard requires each organization to explicitly evaluate who you are, what you do, who cares about you, and how you will respond. You’ll consider:

  • What issues and conditions are relevant?
  • What are our compliance obligations?
  • What external issues affect our business?
  • What internal issues affect our business and management system?

One of the most significant changes in 14001:2015 is that companies must evaluate the needs and expectations of their stakeholders.

Just like you’d consider what your customers want in a new product, you’ll have to consider what needs they want met in terms of your environmental performance.

All these considerations go into determining the scope of your EMS and the structure of the management system itself.

Clause 5. Leadership:

ISO 14001:2015, like the previous 2004 standard, requires you to develop an environmental policy that outlines roles, responsibilities, and authorities throughout the company.

But unlike the old standard, ISO 14001:2015 underlines the importance of leadership involvement.

Instead of one person wearing the “environmental management representative” hat, top management will be held responsible for the effectiveness of the EMS.

In order to comply with ISO 14001's leadership requirement, you’ll need to demonstrate that your leaders know your environmental objectives and are working to create a culture of continual environmental improvement.

Clause 6. Planning:

Under ISO 14001, companies must identify and plan for any activity that could impact the environment.

To meet this requirement, you’ll need to identify significant environmental aspects and impacts like:

  • energy usage
  • air emissions
  • GHG emissions
  • water pollution
  • waste management

You’ll also need to identify your compliance obligations, like state and local regulations.

After you’ve identified potential risks and opportunities, you’ll need to determine your environmental objectives and plan specific actions to achieve those targets.

Clause 7. Support:

Support is the largest section in the new ISO 14001 requirement. This clause looks at your resources, communication, and documentation for your EMS.

Under the new standard, it’s up to individual companies to determine what documentation is necessary for an effective management system, like how you’ll measure training effectiveness and demonstrate competence.

With the rise in technology and big data, the new standard emphasizes the use of digital documentation as a way to manage this information.

Finally, you’ll need to define how you’re going to communicate with stakeholders.

Clause 8. Operation:

This clause requires you to identify which of your activities might impact the environment, and define operational controls to minimize that impact.

To meet this requirement, you’ll need to create documented procedures like work instructions and preventive maintenance programs.

You’ll also need to have a documented emergency preparedness and response plan for potential accidents that could affect the environment, like a chemical spill.

Clause 9. Performance evaluation:

This clause requires you to determine how you’ll monitor, measure, analyze, and evaluate your EMS.

To meet this requirement, you’ll need to evaluate both your environmental performance, as well as ways to improve your management system.

This includes creating a system of internal audits and management review to ensure your EMS is working properly.

Clause 10. Improvement:

One of the most prominent themes in ISO 14001:2015 is a commitment to continual improvement.

To that end, the last clause requires you to determine how you’ll deal with nonconformity, including corrective actions, as well as actions for continual improvement actions.

Next steps

Clearly, there’s a lot to think about when you’re working toward compliance with the new ISO 14001 standard.

We’ve developed a free checklist to help you make sure you don’t miss any steps in your ISO 14001 implementation.

ISO checklist download button

>>> For more information on ISO 14001, check out our resource page “The Definitive Guide to ISO 14001 Environmental Management”.

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