ISO 14001:2015

Environmental Management

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ABOUT ISO 14000 family - Environmental management

The ISO 14000 family of standards provides practical tools for companies and organizations of all kinds looking to manage their environmental responsibilities. ISO 14001:2015 and its supporting standards such as ISO 14006:2011 focus on environmental systems to achieve this. The other standards in the family focus on specific approaches such as audits, communications, labelling and life cycle analysis, as well as environmental challenges such as climate change.

WHAT IS ISO 14001:2015

ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an environmental management system. It helps organizations improve their environmental performance through more e cient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantageand the trust of stakeholders.
Organizations using ISO 14001 have found success across a range of areas, including reduced energy and water con- sumption, a more systematic approach to legal compliance and an improved overall environmental performance.
ISO 14001:2015 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified to. It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system. It can be used by any organization regardless of its activity or sector.

Using ISO 14001:2015 can provide assurance to company management and employees as well as external stakeholders that environmental impact is being measured and improved.

There are more than 300,000 certifications to ISO 14001 in 171 countries around the world.

Get an overview of ISO 14001:2015 and its benefits in this handy PowerPoint presentation.

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There are many reasons why an organization should take a strategic approach to improving its environmental performance. Users of the standard have reported that ISO 14001 helps :

  • Demonstrate compliance with current and future statutory and regulatory requirements
  • Increase leadership involvement and engagement of employees
  • Improve company reputation and the confidence of stakeholders through strategic communication
  • Achieve strategic business aims by incorporating environmental issues into business management
  • Provide a competitive and financial advantage through improved e ciencies and reduced costs
  • Encourage better environmental performance of suppliers by integrating them into the organization’s business systems.


An environmental management system helps organizations identify, manage, monitor and control their environmental issues in a “ holistic ” manner.

Other ISO standards that look at different types of management systems, such as ISO 9001 for quality management and ISO 45001 for occupational health and safety, all use a High- Level Structure. This means that ISO 14001 can be integrated easily into any existing ISO management system.

ISO 14001 is suitable for organizations of all types and sizes, be they private, not-for-pro t or governmental. It requires that an organization considers all environmental issues rel- evant to its operations, such as air pollution, water and sewage issues, waste management, soil contamination, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and resource use and efficiency.


Like all ISO management system standards, ISO 14001 includes the need for continual improvement of an organization’s systems and approach to environmental concerns. The standard has recently been revised, with key improvements such as the increased prominence of environmental management within the organization’s strategic planning processes, greater input from leadership and a stronger commitment to proactive initiatives that boost environmental performance.

ISO 14001 defines criteria for an EMS. It does not state requirements for environmental performance but rather maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective EMS. It can be used by any organization that wants to improve resource efficiency, reduce waste, and reduce costs. ISO 14001 can also be integrated with other management functions and assists companies in meeting their environmental and economic goals.



The basic principles of ISO 14001 are based on the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

PLAN: establish Objectives and Process Requirement:

Prior to implementing ISO 14001, an initial review or gap analysis of the organization's processes and products is recommended, to assist in identifying all elements of the current operation and, if possible, future operations, that may interact with the environment, termed "environmental aspects."Environmental aspects can include both direct, such as those used during manufacturing, and indirect, such as raw materials. This review assists the organization in establishing their environmental objectives, goals, and targets (which should ideally be measurable); helps with the development of control and management procedures and processes; and serves to highlight any relevant legal requirement, which can then be built into the policy.

Do: Implement the Process:

During this stage, the organization identifies the resources required and works out those members of the organization responsible for the EMS' implementation and control. This includes establishing procedures and processes, although only one documented procedure is specifically related to operational control. Other procedures are required to foster better management control over elements such as documentation control, emergency preparedness and response, and the education of employees, to ensure that they can competently implement the necessary processes and record results. Communication and participation across all levels of the organization, especially top management, is a vital part of the implementation phase, with the effectiveness of the EMS being dependent on active involvement from all employees.

Check: Measure and Monitor the Processes and report Results:

During the "check" stage, performance is monitored and periodically measured to ensure that the organization's environmental targets and objectives are being met. In addition, internal audits are conducted at planned intervals to ascertain whether the EMS meets the user's expectations and whether the processes and procedures are being adequately maintained and monitored.

Act: Take action to improve Performance based on Results:

After the checking stage, a management review is conducted to ensure that the objectives of the EMS are being met, the extent to which they are being met, and that communications are being appropriately managed. Additionally, the review evaluates changing circumstances, such as legal requirements, in order to make recommendations for further improvement of the system. These recommendations are incorporated through continual improvement: plans are renewed or new plans are made, and the EMS moves forward.

Continual Improvement of Processes(CI):

ISO 14001 encourages a company to continually improve its environmental performance. Apart from the obvious – the reduction in actual and possible negative environmental impacts – this is achieved in three ways[14]:

  • Expansion: Business areas increasingly get covered by the implemented EMS.
  • Enrichment: Activities, products, processes, emissions, resources, etc. increasingly get managed by the implemented EMS.
  • Upgrading: The structural and organizational framework of the EMS, as well as an accumulation of knowledge in dealing with business-environmental issues, is improved.

Overall, the CI concept expects the organization to gradually move away from merely operational environmental measures towards a more strategic approach on how to deal with environmental challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

ISO 14001:2015 avoids the use of the term “procedure” because it has been incorrectly applied by many as meaning "documented procedure".

In addition to the specific clauses that require a “process”, Clause 4.4 requires an organization to establish processes needed for its environmental management system.  Clause A.4.4 clarifies that it’s up to the organization to determine the extent processes are needed in order to have confidence that they are controlled, carried out as planned and achieve the desired results.

Clause A.8.1 on operational planning and control, clarifies that there are different ways of ensuring that processes are effective and achieve the desired results (see bullets a) to f)). Establishing a “procedure” (i.e. a specified way to perform a process) is just one of those ways (see bullet c), and establishing a “documented procedure” is another way (see bullet f).

Clause 7.5.1 references the documented information required in specific clauses of the standard, and also any other documented information the organization deems necessary for the effectiveness of its environmental management system.

Taking into account the provisions of these clauses, WG5 reevaluated the need for required “procedures” in the 2015 version, and agreed to specify requirements for “processes” in select clauses, and, in some cases, requirements to document these processes.  This allows organizations the flexibility to determine if a process has to be carried out in a specified way (i.e., “procedure”), if other operational control methods are more appropriate, and if additional documented information may be needed.

ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 agreed that no stand-alone clause or sub-clause in the requirements would be added to address "management of change". "Management of change" is addressed in suitable sub-clauses and, explanatory text on managing change is provided in the Annex, A.1.

ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 agreed that the word "effects" used in the definition of “risks and opportunities” and elsewhere in the standard covers both "effects" on the organization and on the environment. The phrase “environmental impact” is used when referring specifically to “effects” on the environment.

The underlying intent of this phrase is to reduce the organization’s adverse environmental impacts (i.e. reduce resource use, emissions, effluents, wastes, etc.) or to enhance the organizations beneficial impacts (e.g.: reuse and recycling of by-products, land conservation, etc.). This concept is referred to as "operational performance" in ISO 14031.  ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 wanted to retain alignment with Annex SL and ISO 14031 concepts with respect to improvement of the environmental management system, consistent with the ISO 14001 revision mandate, but in selected clauses wanted to emphasize the focus on improving operational performance. It was agreed to use the phrase "to enhance environmental performance" in those clauses where WG5 agreed to add emphasis.

In Clause 1, Scope, the concept of "intended outcomes" is introduced. Further explanation is provided in Annex, A.3. The phrase “intended outcome” expresses what the organization is expected to achieve by implementing its environmental management system. The three minimal "intended outcomes" include enhancement of environmental performance, fulfilment of compliance obligations and achievement of environmental objectives. Organizations can set additional intended outcomes for their environmental management system. For example, consistent with their commitment to protection of the environment, an organization may establish an intended outcome to work towards sustainable development.

An outsourced process differs from procured products and services. It is "a process or function performed by an external organization that fulfils all of the following:

  • it is within the scope of the environmental management system;
  • it is integral to the organization’s functioning;
  • it is needed for the environmental management system to achieve its intended outcome;
  • liability for conforming to requirements is retained by the organization, and
  • the organization and the external provider have a relationship where the process is perceived by interested parties as being carried out by the organization.”
  • “risks and opportunities” are more than environmental risks (i.e. related to air, water, land, natural resources etc.), and can result from other non–environmental issues that pose risk.
  • “risks and opportunities” are NOT always relevant to the EMS; only if they can affect the organization’s purpose and the intended outcomes of the EMS.
  • the intent is to determine and address the risks and opportunities associated with organizational context (i.e. "issues" from 4.1 and 4.2 that have the potential for (i) adverse effects (risks) or (ii) beneficial effects (opportunities)to the intended outcomes of the environmental management system, and to use this knowledge as one of the inputs to the prioritization of risks (threats) and opportunities.
  • there is no requirement for a prescriptive risk management process in the standard.

Environmental criteria (for example, toxicity, duration and likelihood of exposure, etc.) are the primary and minimum criteria for assessing environmental aspects. Other criteria may also be used (example: an aspect may not be significant when considering only environmental criterion but when other organizational issues are considered (such as threat of a noncompliance, or an opportunity to satisfy the needs and expectations of a relevant interested party), the aspect may take on a higher priority or greater importance for determining significance. However, other criteria are not to be used to downgrade an aspect that is significant based on its environmental impact.

The organization decides if they want to do separate analyses for sub-clauses 6.1.1 to 6.1.4 or combine some (or all) of the analyses. ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 agreed not to imply that significant environmental aspects (the output of 6.1.2) or compliance obligations (the output of 6.1.3) need to undergo a second "filtering" step to determine the "risks and opportunities" that need to be addressed in 6.1.4.  Since the organization can determine risks and opportunities" related to issues, significant environmental aspects, and compliance obligations either separately or in combination, it is required that the organization plans a process and maintains documented information on the process (including the criteria used to determine significant environmental aspects) to the extent necessary to have confidence that the process has been carried out as planned.  ISO 14001:2015 does, however, require the output of the process (or processes) to be documented.

No.  An organization has the flexibility to provide information on potential significant environmental impacts during the delivery, use, and end-of-life stage; hence the phrase "consider the need" was retained.

ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 agreed that the ultimate goal of system improvement is that it results in environmental performance improvement. WG5 also agreed that EMS improvement can include environmental performance improvement. It was noted that in some cases the intent of a requirement focused on EMS improvement, while in others the intent was to emphasize environmental performance improvement. -

WG5 therefore used the following:

  • Where the term "continual improvement" is used on its own, the intent is to focus on both EMS improvement and environmental performance improvement, with no particular emphasis on either.
  • Where the phrase “continual improvement of the environmental management system” is used on its own, the intent is to focus on just environmental management system improvement.
  • Where the phrase “enhance environmental performance” is used on its own, the intent is to focus on just environmental performance improvement
  • Where the phrase "continual improvement of the environmental management system to enhance its environmental performance" is used, the intent is to focus on both EMS improvement and environmental performance improvement, with added emphasis on performance improvement.