ISO 14001 for Beginners

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In follow up to our popular ISO 9001 Beginners Guide, we’re now introducing the popular ISO 14001 environmental management standard. Proven to help organisations be greener and save money, learn more what the ISO 14001 standard  is all about and the benefits of certification below.

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 was first published as a standard in 1996 and it specifies the actual requirements for an Environmental Management System. It applies to those environmental aspects over which an organisation has control and where it can be expected to have an influence. Its designation as an ISO (International Standards Organisation) standard means it is truly international and is based on input from ISO’s world-wide network of 159 national standards institutes. Committees within these institutes are formed of representatives across all sectors and industries. The aim is to keep standards fresh and on average, ISO standards are updated every 5 years, requiring 75% support from the world network to make changes.

In 2009 alone, there were over 10,000 ISO 14001 certificates issued in the UK. Its popular due to being a generic (i.e. process) standard, meaning it can be applied to any organisation, across any sector, large or small and irrespective of whether it produces products or is service related. Because of this, ISO 14001 is particularly well recognised by central and local Government, saving costly and lengthy environmental credential checks. With ever greater pressures on environmental performance, the private sector has increasingly demanded the standard in supply chains too.

Why choose ISO 14001?

Because of the demand for ISO 14001 by central Government and local authorities, its unsurprising that most organisation’s seek to implement ISO 14001 because it gives them a greater chance of winning tenders for contracts. In fact, some organisations say that they simply would not have been eligible to tender without it.

“It has opened up markets and we have been able win tenders, without the ISO’s we are not even eligible to submit a tender.” – Anthony Hardy, Fine Turf

The Benefits

Of course, ISO 14001’s primary reason for existence is to help organisations become more environmentally friendly. The ‘green’ issue will never go away, and ISO 14001 provides a structured way of dealing with this by being an Environmental Management Standard. It focuses on proactive management and employee involvement in defining roles related to the environmental policy of an organisation. Its framework contains core elements for managing an organisation’s processes and activities, identifying significant environmental aspects the organisation can control and those which it can be expected to have an influence. In summary, the standard requires an organisation to say what it does in environmental management, and to do what it says!

Once in place, the improved processes from implementing the standard leads to more consistent delivery, less costly errors, with consequently less costly re-work. You’ll also use less raw materials, energy and therefore produce less waste, saving money in the long-term.

The improved processes from implementing ISO 14001 have less tangible benefits too. Organisations benefiting from increased efficiencies will help create a more confident and relaxed workforce; that can only lead to better motivation! With more and more people becoming concerned about the environment, motivation and commitment to the business can also often be gained by implementing the standard.

For some, a surprising benefit from implementing ISO 14001 is that it can pay for itself, and more. A 2010 study by the Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed the true cost savings, with one participant, a BAB client, stating they saved 19% in energy costs in the first year alone, saving an amazing 66% by the third year.

“It (ISO 14001) has enabled our business operations to be much more streamlined and has saved us money as staff follow better working systems and don’t create waste.” – Sarah Clark, Acorn Janitorial Supplies

Depending on your industry, there can be many legal and regulatory requirements that you must conform to and you can be forgiven for not being aware of them all. Going through ISO 14001 implementation ensures you meet all current legislation, saving any potential embarrassment. Ensuring you meet legislation of course lowers your risk. Many companies find that their insurance premiums are therefore reduced when they have ISO 14001, partly thanks to the additional aspect of having third party verification.

A fundamental part of all ISO management standards is continual improvement, challenging you to strive to make improvements year on year. By doing so, greater cost savings can be had whilst further lowering environmental impact.

With the benefits of being eligible for Government contracts mentioned in the introduction, it’s important not to forget the private sector’s increasing demands too. Similar to Government tenders, where ISO 14001 is often requested as a way of proving environmental credentials, larger private sector companies are now demanding their suppliers to do the same. The standard encourages organisations to engage with their suppliers and stakeholders, so it’s more a case of when rather than if you will be asked to demonstrate how your business is doing its bit.

“By showing we had a process in place for recycling and the standard that the ISO14001 provided, meant that we maintained a large and important customer.” – Keith Bicknell, BMH Contract Services

ISO Case Studies

Choosing a Certification Body

By achieving ISO 14001 certification through a Certification Body, you have proven that an independent third party has verified that you meet all requirements of the standard. Not only is this a powerful message to new clients, it helps provide greater assurance to current clients too.

When comparing Certification Bodies, it is important to compare costs are like-for-like. Pay particular attention to ongoing fees. Whilst some Bodies charge ‘Annual Management’ or other administration fees, others don’t. Regardless of the size of your organisation, some Certification Bodies will insist on visiting you more than once a year, a decision which should be up to you (at least one annual re-audit is mandatory).

Certification Bodies carrying out certification to ISO management standards should be following ISO 17021:2011: Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems. In order to remain objective and impartial, this means they cannot write documentation for you or provide consultancy in conjunction with certification. What they can do is provide ISO training, which can be a useful exercise before committing to the implementation of a standard.

How long does certification take?

As you might expect, implementation of ISO 14001 can take longer depending on the size of the organisation. In order to be successful, a designated representative should take responsibility within your organisation. However, this doesn’t mean you have to appoint a designated ‘Environmental Manager’ just someone who is seen as the main coordinator would usually be sufficient.

Sometimes, you may struggle to convince members of the management team on the benefits of being environmentally friendly, especially when it involves spending money!

In most cases the principals of ISO 14001 will soon become integrated within the organisation and before you know where you are, it’ll just be the way you do things! For most organisations, the process will take 3-6 months from first visit to the award of certification.

What is involved?

The process starts with what’s known as a ‘Stage 1 Audit’. This is where your Lead Auditor will review your existing systems and provide you with a gap analysis report which will identify the actions required to meet the standard. This can usually be used as a helpful action plan, so don’t worry if you think you’re under prepared. Many organisations find they already have a number of required processes in place, they just need better documentation and communication of what processes are mandatory and who has responsibility for what.

Once the organisation is ready and has filled the gaps highlighted in the Stage 1 report, an Auditor will visit your premises to carry out a second visit; known as the ‘Stage 2 Audit’. This will reveal the effectiveness of your environmental management system and whether it meets all the requirements of the standard. If you are fully compliant, you will be recommended for certification by the Auditor. The Auditors’ report will then be checked via an approvals process and if no anomalies are identified, certification is officially awarded.

How regular are the audits?

To maintain your certification, it is mandatory to have at least one surveillance audit visit per year to ensure you are still meeting requirements. Such surveillance audits sample the ongoing effectiveness of your quality management system and you will receive a written report outlining the results. These can include major or minor non-compliances and observations. Should a major non-compliance be identified, you would be given a set period of time to rectify the situation.

Very large organisations will often be required to have more than one surveillance visit per year. In some cases, if a large number of non-compliances are identified at each surveillance audit, your certification body may require you to undertake 6-monthly surveillance audits for an agreed period.

Every third-year a full re-audit is undertaken and this is aimed at identifying key trends of strength and weakness and your certification body would work with you to identify opportunities for improvement. Such third year audits are more extensive that annual surveillance audits and some certification bodies may charge extra to undertake them.

It is our philosophy to work with our clients ‘without fear or favour’. However, to maintain our objectivity and impartiality we cannot undertake improvements for you but we can and will point you to recognised best practice and answer questions with sensitivity and understanding. Ultimately, we want to help you gain the most from certification and reap the benefits that a commitment to continuous improvement can offer.

How much does certification cost?

The cost of becoming certified is based on criteria such as how many sites you have, how many employees there are and the scope of certification required. The reality is, finding out the costs can be somewhat bewildering depending on which Certification Body you approach. Its important not fall into the traps of hidden costs, which can include ‘management fees’, ‘administration fees’ and similar.

It’s also worthwhile considering ongoing costs. An initial quote may look less appealing when you take into consideration the price of the annual surveillance audit. Some Certification Bodies will insist on more than one audit per year, which is rarely necessary for smaller businesses. You may also find yourself tied into a long-term contract, limiting your opportunity to look around for the best price each year.

Get a Quote

If you’re interested in finding out the costs of achieving ISO 14001 certification, we can provide a fixed price, no-obligation quote. Please get in touch using the Online Quotation Form or call free on 0800 404 7007.

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Written by Mark Nutburn

CTO - technology professional with over 20 years of IT experience building bespoke CRM systems and designing customised software solutions. A key part of the management team at The British Assessment Bureau for many years and a part of AMTIVO’s management team.