The Ultimate Guide to ISO 14001

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Not sure why ISO 14001 is right for you? We’ve put together the ultimate guide to ISO 14001 to answer commonly asked questions about the popular standard.



1. 60 SECONDS ON ISO 14001

1.1 What’s ISO 14001?

1.2 What are the benefits?

1.3 How does it work?

1.4 How do I get it?



3.1 A business winner

3.2 Cutting costs


4.1 Requirements overview


5.1 Pre-Assessment

5.2 Stage 1 Audit

5.3 Stage 2 Audit

5.4 Annual Audit



7.1 Certification or Accreditation?

8. THE COST OF ISO 14001

8.1 Ongoing costs


9.1 Ensuring successful implementation

9.2 Who’s responsible?

9.3 What skills are required?



This White Paper will teach you…

  • WHAT ISO 14001 is, how it works and the benefits certification brings organisations
  • WHY ISO 14001 is so popular and how it’s recently been updated
  • HOW organisations can become ISO 14001 certified
  • WHO the most suitable Certification Body is to work with
  • WHAT costs you can expect when becoming ISO 14001 certified

1.    60 Seconds on ISO 14001

 1.1 What’s ISO 14001?

ISO 14001, first launched in 1996, is a standard with a set of requirements to help organisations create an effective Environmental Management System (EMS), allowing them to benchmark their current environmental performance (e.g. energy use, recycling rate, waste created) and set out ways to improve on it.


1.2 What are the benefits?

It’s not surprising that if you use less, you tend to spend less! ISO 14001 has been proven to save organisations a considerable amount of money by getting them to think harder about how they might reuse and recycle materials and equipment.


Creating an EMS can also prove to be an exercise to foster teamwork through working towards a common goal. When an organisation obtains third-party certification to ISO 14001, it’s proven to provide a competitive advantage.


RECOMMENDED READ: The benefits of ISO 14001


1.3 How does it work?

ISO 14001 must be clearly supported by management, while the task of creating the Environmental Management System will normally fall to a dedicated member of staff or team. They will ideally have a good understanding of the business as a whole.


An action plan will be created following an environmental review, where the results must be measured. ISO 14001 encourages a positive ethos of continual improvement, so an organisation’s EMS won’t stop evolving.


1.4 How do I get it?

The standard itself is a 44-page document of requirements. However, what you really need is certification. This involves engaging with a Certification Body who’ll assess whether or not you’ve met the requirements on an annual basis. This will be done through the creation of an Environmental Management System. This demonstration of compliance is what’s required when ISO 14001 is requested in tender contracts and supply chains.


RECOMMENDED READ: The ISO 14001 process

2.    Overview of ISO 14001

In the last 20 years, the subject of climate change has evolved from academic debate, to a conversation held at the dinner table with our friends and families. Improved education on issues such as air pollution and waste of resources means cynical consumers have evolved to become ever-more conscious of their purchasing decisions, and how that impacts the environment.


Over time, the motivation to be a ‘green’ business has become more compelling, as the status has developed from representing a nod towards corporate responsibility, to an essential component for winning and retaining business.


This vast change in motivation has grown, from the constant environmental debates which have resulted in both revised and strengthened regulations. As a result, targets agreed by government have trickled down the public sector supply chains, to the point where even a sub-contracted sole trader needs to demonstrate a commitment to improving their environmental performance.


Similarly, with fingers pointed at multinational companies for being major polluters, the response has been to put pressure on the global supply chain to ensure everyone plays their part in reducing environmental impact and adhering to legislation.


In 1996, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published its Environmental Management Standard, ISO 14001. Its purpose was to help organisations of any size create a management system to help improve environmental performance through the efficient use of resources and reduction of waste.


Since then, certification to the ISO 14001 standard has been specified in pre-qualification and tender processes in order for the bar to be raised across the supply chain. 20 years after being first published, ISO argue the standard is just as relevant and effective as ever, and still helps organisations reduce their environmental impact.


This White Paper will help you decide whether ISO 14001 is right for you – as we delve into the research-backed benefits, explain the decisions involved in achieving certification and the challenges you could face when creating an effective Environmental Management System.


For more in-depth guides and papers for ambitious small businesses, visit our Insights.

3.   Growing Popularity

There’s no doubt that many businesses choose to become ISO 14001 certified, but many more are forced to achieve certification in order to access new work, or retain existing business.


In recent research from the British Assessment Bureau (BAB), 58% of respondents said their motivation to become certified to ISO 14001 was that their client(s) were demanding evidence of compliance to ISO 14001 before they would trade with them. This is a 42% increase on the previous year’s results.


RECOMMENDED READ: ISO 14001 helps sales


A quarter of companies have been successful in winning more business once they had achieved ISO 14001; with a further 15% then being able to tender for work that was previously unavailable to them. A fifth of respondents were more successful at winning tenders, as a result of becoming ISO 14001 certified.


Improved internal processes, more efficient systems, reducing costs and waste are all additional benefits of achieving ISO 14001. Gaining certification is also a feel good factor for owners, employees and customers:

  • The FD is happy as costs have reduced, and the bottom line figures are better;
  • The marketing team are happy as customers love to buy from a company that’s green;
  • The sales team are happy as they can now tender for more new work from the public sector and large companies;
  • Your customers are happier because you are ‘greener’;
  • Your owners, shareholders, investors and employees are happy because the company is more efficient (and makes more money!);
  • Not to mention, the planet is happier too!


RECOMMENDED READ: Guide to reducing waste


It’s fair to say that smaller organisations may question the significance of their environmental impact, given some of the world’s largest companies emit levels of pollution that rival whole countries.


Understandably, at first glance, ensuring the company demonstrates green credentials isn’t going to top the priority list of many small business owners, as any investment has to show a clear return in those formative years, in order to stay afloat.


However, while not immediately obvious, ISO 14001 has been shown to make a clear, positive difference to the bottom-line.


3.1 A business winner

During 2010, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced he wanted to create the “greenest government ever”, declaring the environment as a top priority. There was a big reaction to this, with public sector departments requesting suppliers to show evidence of environmental management, with ISO 14001 cited as an example.


In the UK, at least, the number of awarded ISO 14001 certifications spiked, with a 31% growth in 2010 – according to ISO’s annual survey which takes data from Certification Bodies worldwide.


The Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) conducted a study in 2012 which showed a link between Environmental Management Systems and sustainable growth among SMEs.


The purpose of this study was to deliver robust evidence on the environmental and financial benefits of having an EMS, and included organisations from both manufacturing and service sectors.


The key findings of the research were:

  • Implementation and certification cost c£1,300 per £m turnover;
  • Two thirds of businesses increased sales, or expected to, since implementing an EMS;
  • New business sales attributed to the EMS represented c£15,000 per £m turnover;
  • Cost and efficiency savings were calculated at c£5,000 per £m turnover.


The research found that commercial and marketing reasons were the dominant triggers for implementing an EMS. This is something reflected in a customer survey carried out by BAB during 2016:

  • 90% sought ISO 14001 certification to win business;
  • 34% sought to improve environmental performance;
  • 16% sought to improve their corporate image.


3.2 Cutting costs

Whatever the size of your organisation, you can achieve improved efficiency by implementing ISO 14001. This means you waste less, so you spend less! Naturally the bigger the company, the greater the likelihood that efficiencies can multiple.


The manufacturing sector holds a significant advantage over the service sector when it comes to cutting costs, which is illustrated by an academic study. It shows how 90% of the manufacturing sector experience operational cost savings as a result of ISO 14001 certification, compared to 50% of the service sector. As a much bigger consumer of energy and materials, the scale of consumption of the manufacturing sector meant improvements were easier to achieve, and much more noticeable too!


That’s not to say an SME won’t make efficiency gains; as the Defra study clearly showed smaller organisations were able to progress too. The result was that it took, with implementation and certification costs considered, only 3 months for ISO 14001 to make a return on investment.


RECOMMENDED READ: Hilton save $550million with ISO

“As a result of having the ISO 14001 we have maintained a couple of contracts that we wouldn’t have without it.” – DMS Property Maintenance

4.    ISO 14001:2015 Revision

ISO 14001 has existed for 20 years now. Usually, ISO review their standards every 5 years in order to remain relevant and up to date. With technology and business practices moving on significantly since ISO 14001 was last revised, the process to engage with users of the standard began back in 2011. An updated ISO 14001 will now remain applicable for the next 10 years – or more – across the world.


With Environmental Management Systems being part of both sustainability and social responsibility in today’s world, they help organisations optimise environmental performance while meeting legal requirements. ISO 14001:2015, which was published in September 2015, has built on the basic principles of the previous ISO 14001:2004, but with a number of key differences.


For those with existing ISO standards in place, a positive step was to follow ISO’s new high level structure, Annex SL, which provides a common framework with other management system standards. This makes it considerably easier to create an integrated Management System, which is both easier to manage and incorporate into core business processes. This reduces the risk of an ISO 14001 EMS becoming an extension. The new version helps to forge stronger integration between environmental issues and an organisation’s strategic action planning and thinking.


RECOMMENDED READ: ISO 14001:2015 asks managers to lead the way


To assist in ensuring the EMS is truly at the heart of the organisation, revised requirements strengthen strategic factors, communication and leadership involvement.


When it comes to environmental performance, the latest ISO 14001:2015 shifts to identifying lifecycles, with the aim of getting organisations to consider their wider impact, from cradle to grave, by using their environmental influence throughout their supply chains.

Shouldn’t you insist that your suppliers are ISO 14001 certified as well?

4.1 Requirements Overview

Simply put, ISO 14001 sets out requirements for building an Environmental Management System. By providing a way to organise people, resources and processes, it aims to meet organisational goals. This results in increased resource efficiency, a reduction of waste, and it therefore aids profitably.


The standard is not prescriptive. Ultimately, what an organisation gets out of implementing an EMS is down to the aims and intentions they set, combined with their commitment to deliver on them; and on time!


The latest version of ISO 14001 – ISO 14001:2015 – has an entire clause dedicated to Leadership, helping to foster commitment from the top, down. This clause also includes setting out responsibilities and the establishment of an Environmental Policy.


It’s important to remember that ISO 14001 doesn’t have to apply to your whole organisation. It isn’t unusual for larger companies to start with certain sites or departments where they envisage they’ll see the biggest rewards.


The standard asks you to explain the Context of the EMS, where you need to consider the issues, factors, and conditions that could influence or be influenced. It asks you to identify relevant interested parties and to consider the compliance obligations you’re expected to meet, so they can be appropriately managed.


Planning is a substantial clause in the standard. It involves developing a process to consider the risks that could affect your EMS’ objectives. You’ll need to define actions on how you’ll address your environmental impact, compliance obligations, risks, and any opportunities.


To ensure this happens, your actions will need to turn into defined processes. This will need to be broken down to relevant departments so it’s clear where responsibility lies.


Implementing an EMS successfully requires Support. Once you’ve figured out how extensive your documentation needs to be, you need to define who’s responsible for what, and ensuring they’re competent to do it. You’re also required to review how you communicate on matters concerning your EMS.


The Operations clause is about setting out the plans on how you’re going to meet the actions you have set, and control how they operate. There’s also a consideration of risk expected, where you need to establish a procedure to respond to emergency situations.


Once things are in place, Evaluation needs to begin. This clause is for setting up the monitoring and measurement of your performance. These are carried out as Internal Audits, and the results need to be shown at management reviews to demonstrate involvement.


This is followed by Improvement. With lessons learnt from checking how well you’ve done, ISO 14001 then expects you to commit to making enhancements for a better performing environmental management system.

5.    Certification process

Once you have the basis of an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, you’re ready to begin the certification journey.


5.1 Pre-Assessment

Outside of the various training courses and seminars held by Certification Bodies, many offer a ‘Pre Assessment’ or ‘Gap Analysis’ service ahead of the formal certification process, to identify any omissions or weaknesses. Alternatively, some choose at this point to use a consultant to give added confidence. Again, many Certification Bodies have an answer to this, in the form of a consultant register. While they’re not permitted to recommend consultants, they can provide details of specialists who are known to them.


5.2 Stage 1 Audit

The 1st assessment, referred to as a ‘Stage 1’ Audit is a document review, with the aim being to establish that – on paper at least – you’re conforming to all of the requirements of ISO 14001.


The length of the Audit is determined by factors such as your organisations size and the industry you’re in. This will entirely influence the cost, so you’ll be informed of the amount of time required in the form of an Audit Plan in advance.


Once the Stage 1 Audit is finished, there’ll be a closing meeting to round-up the findings. You’ll then be provided with a report detailing what happened during the Audit, with an overview of any non-conformities.


5.3 Stage 2 Audit

In order to be recommended to advance to the ‘Stage 2’ Audit, you’ll need to close out any non-conformities by establishing a Corrective Action Plan. Much like a driving test, non-conformities are separated by minor and major variants. Whereas major variants need to be acted on immediately, minor non-conformities can be reviewed at the next Audit.


The Audit itself is about demonstrating that your organisation’s living and breathing what you’ve documented. Your Auditor will therefore need to meet with managers and staff, as well as see evidence of your Internal Audits and management reviews, as documented in the requirements of the standard.


All being well, you’ll be recommended by the Auditor for certification. However, this’ll require final sign off by the Certification Body’s compliance department. You’ll then receive a report and any non-conformities will need to be acted on before certification is formally awarded.


5.4 Annual Audit

During Audits, Auditors are encouraged to share Opportunities for Improvement (OFIs) in the spirit of establishing an ethos of continuous improvement.


These are reviewed at Surveillance Audits, which must occur at least annually. In the meantime, you should maintain a schedule of Internal Audits and management reviews.


Most Certification Bodies issue certificates in-line with the 3-year certification cycle. Every 3rd year, a ‘Re-Certification’ audit is carried out. Whereas a Surveillance Audit will focus on improvement areas found in previous audits, the Re-Certification Audit must cover all of the standard’s requirements.

6.    Using a Consultant

The alternative for seeking representation is to look for a specialist consultant in ISO 14001. There’s an extensive network working in the field of Environmental Management Standards.


Consultants are used for very different reasons, depending on the size of the organisation. While a small business may require the hands-on help from being resource limited; a larger organisation may have the required manpower, but feel expertise is required to maximise efficiency opportunities and ensure the organisation meets more complex legal requirements.


Being in a position of reliance has its dangers – while a consultant may help overcome short-term challenges, there’s a risk that long-term dependency could negate the cost-benefit from implementing ISO 14001.


It could become attractive to simply leave all things related to environmental management to the consultant. The downside is that while this may ensure your organisation continues to meet the requirements of the standard, you’ll fail to reap the rewards due to a lack of team participation.


Your decision will ultimately be based on your motivation to implement ISO 14001. The potential issue described may not be considered a problem if certification will lead to lucrative work. However, ensuring your consultant works to engage, involve, train and empower your staff means you’ll avoid ISO 14001 becoming a cost to the business if the valuable contracts dry up.


When seeking a consultant, sector-specific experience is likely to be the most key factor for choosing the most appropriate person for the job. In combination with an impressive CV and collection of testimonials, it’s a notable advantage for the consultant to have auditing experience.  With some requirements of ISO 14001 coming down to interpretation, having a qualified auditor acting on your behalf means you can have confidence if challenged by the auditor of your Certification Body.


When establishing credentials of an ISO 14001 consultant, qualifications from the IRCA and IEMA are respected within the industry. These are usually delivered by approved training centres, which frequently include Certification Bodies.


It’s not unusual for consultants to also work as sub-contractors for Certification Bodies. However, there are rules in place to maintain impartiality so that a consultant cannot perform both consultancy and auditing roles to the same company.

7.    Choosing a Certification Body

The financial industry has the FCA, holiday companies have ABTA, but there’s no such mandated regulatory body for Certification Bodies. As a result, there’s no protection for those who mistakenly choose the wrong path.  It’s critically important to make the right choice before signing on the dotted line.


Driven by government contracts requiring certification, the UK represents a significant proportion of worldwide ISO 14001 certificates. This demand has created an environment for opportunists to take advantage of those organisations who require certification urgently in order to qualify for a contract.


While the majority of Certification Bodies seek to demonstrate their competence and credibility through “accreditation” from UKAS, the UK’s National Accreditation Body, others have sought accreditation from alternative bodies. Whereas UKAS is recognised and supported by Government, the alternatives are recognised only by themselves.


The long-term issue with this is that, once spotted, non-UKAS certificates are often rejected and – just as importantly – the credibility of ISO standards as a whole is diminished by those not implementing them in the intended spirit.


UKAS’ role is to ensure Certification Bodies meet the ISO 17021 standard for conformity assessment. Achieving accreditation from UKAS involves a rigorous head office review of management, policies and procedures. Certification Bodies must also pass a test of their competence via Witnessed Assessments undertaken by UKAS.


Often, Certification Bodies without UKAS accreditation claim to be a ‘one stop shop’ for consultancy and certification, in an effort to market themselves as the most convenient option. However, this is in direct violation of ISO 17021’s requirements – Certification Bodies must remain impartial and can only provide certification, and not consultancy.


7.1 Certification or Accreditation?

For most, certification and accreditation are interchangeable terms. However, in the world of ISO standards, there is a hierarchy – Certification Bodies are accredited by National Accreditation Bodies. As a result, an organisation can only be ISO 14001 certified, not ‘accredited’.

8.    The Cost of ISO 14001

Costs of implementation have been left until last, as the chosen approach will have a significant impact. It’s a realistic ambition for an SME to implement and achieve certification to ISO 14001 without external assistance, and costs will be much reduced as a result.


It’s important to assess the impact of the resources required, and it’s vital a cost-benefit assessment is carried out against other potential initiatives and investments the organisation could be making.


RECOMMENDED READ: Budgeting for ISO certification


All Certification Bodies follow a similar approach, as cost is ultimately influenced by the time required to Audit, the amount which is derived from an industry-agreed calculator that takes into account:

  • Staff numbers;
  • Industry;
  • Complexity and risk;
  • Number of sites.


A small company in the service industry may require just a couple of days of Auditing for the whole certification process, thanks to the relative simplicity of its processes. On the other hand, days required to Audit a large multi-site organisation could move into weeks.


As long as a site duplicates activities of another, it can be ‘sampled’. Rather than Audit every site at great cost, visits can be rotated within the 3-year certification cycle.


The organisation’s industry sector and complexity will mean only certain Auditors have the appropriate knowledge, experience and qualifications to Audit. This’ll have a knock-on effect for costs, with Certification Bodies typically charging between £600 – £900 per day.


Beware of hidden costs on top of the Auditing! Management and travel fees are often excluded from quotations. It’s also important to check the length of a contract, as a lower fee may indicate less flexibility in the form of a lengthy agreement; where 3 years is typical.


Increasingly, Certification Bodies will quote a package cost inclusive of the Stage 1 and Stage 2 Audits, as well as the compliance and administration aspects. Despite this trend, it’s still important to check for hidden costs – for example, some will exclude costs of travel.


These same principles can be applied loosely to the cost of using a consultant. With day rates ranging from £400 – £1000 per day, it’ll be important to balance the level of support required with the value it will deliver.


8.1 Ongoing costs

Maintaining certification to ISO 14001 is subject to an Annual Surveillance Audit. Some Certification Bodies will expect to see an organisation at more regular intervals based on their size and complexity – but this isn’t mandated by the standard.


The same calculation of days for Auditing will be required. However, with no Stage 1 required, a small business will find costs are typically less than 50% of the 1st year’s. Adding sites, a significant amount of staff or developing new services will mean the time required to Audit the organisation will have to be reviewed.

9.    Making it a Success

9.1 Ensuring successful implementation

Studies on employee engagement show that it’s imperative organisations share their vision and disseminate core values throughout their teams. Implementing an ISO 14001 EMS is no different in this respect – it’s essential employees understand why the organisation wishes to implement the standard and crucially, they’ve got to believe it!


In the past, some criticism has been levied at ISO 14001 as it doesn’t specify targets. Instead, the requirements simply state that the organisation must set its own targets, and build a plan to successfully meet them. As a result, the application of ISO 14001 follows the age-old truism – you only get out what you put into it.


9.2 Who’s responsible?

An SME would question who should be responsible for the implementation of ISO 14001. With larger organisations, it’s quite usual to have a dedicated person or team working on the ‘project’. For a smaller business, there isn’t the need or justification to have a dedicated role focusing on environmental management.


An SME would question who should be responsible for the implementation of ISO 14001. With larger organisations, it’s quite usual to have a dedicated person or team working on the ‘project’. For a smaller business, there isn’t the need or justification to have a dedicated role focusing on environmental management.


As with all of their management standards, ISO emphasise the point of ensuring management involvement; in fact, it’s a requirement within ISO 14001.


In truth, ISO have recognised that for any initiative to be successful – buy-in from the top is essential for engagement to filter throughout the organisation. This is why one of the first exercises within the ISO 14001 standard is to develop an Environmental Policy in order to set out the direction and objection of the management system. In other words, the setting out of the vision and aspirations behind implementing ISO 14001 in the first place.


Of course, it’s not realistic for the Board of Directors of a company to be responsible for the day-to-day activities involved in establishing and maintaining the organisation’s EMS. Instead, a designated ‘management representative’ can be appointed to fulfil this role.


RECOMMENDED READ: How to create a green office


As this role isn’t specifically described, common sense would dictate that the ‘representative’ has a good overall understanding of how the organisation functions. They should also be able to communicate with, and influence, top-level management.


If your organisation doesn’t have a dedicated Environmental, Sustainability, HSEQ Manager or similar, it’s quite often the Office Manager, HR Manager or Finance Manager who takes on the role. This is often due to – disregarding certification leading to securing new business – ISO 14001 being categorised as a ‘business improvement’ or cost-saving initiative.


9.3 What skills are required?

Various research has shown ISO 14001 can prove a beneficial initiative for engaging employees. Over the last decade, the issue of climate change has risen in the global agenda, which has resulted in people taking more interest in their personal impact on the environment.


For any organisation implementing ISO 14001, it should be a realistic ambition to build a working group to implement and maintain the EMS, as they’ll likely derive satisfaction from the initiative’s success.


Training isn’t essential, but can help put into the context the requirements of the standard and give confidence when engaging with an Auditor at a Certification Body. Most Certification Bodies will provide familiarisation, implementation and Internal Auditing courses. For more formal qualifications, organisations such as IEMA and IRCA can help develop people into Auditors.


A lone voice returning from a training course full of enthusiasm is more likely to be an irritant rather than an effective agent of change. Serious consideration should therefore be given to encouraging more involvement, as a team of people can support each other in a more sustained approach.

“We gave employees ownership of the EMS by appointing ‘Green Champions’ across each of our sites…we never felt like we were fighting employees – everyone was keen to be involved and could see that what we were doing was positive.” – Nuneaton and Bedworth Leisure Trust

10.    Conclusion

We hope that you’ve found this White Paper not only interesting, but informative too! We’re on a mission to make sure that businesses have great management systems in place so they can operate more effectively and efficiently, have happier customers who buy again and again, and new customers clamouring to buy too. In the end, if businesses make more money and organisations are able to reduce costs, then we’re proud to have helped.


The British Assessment Bureau works with a wide and diverse range of clients, from sole traders to government departments. Each one of our clients has unique requirements and we relish each challenge. However, we never forget that it’s your baby and that you’ll always want the reassurance of a safe pair of hands.


We have over 40 years’ experience in the certification industry, winning multiple awards along the way to help demonstrate our commitment to delivering the best service possible. We certify organisations to ISO 9001, ISO 27001, OHSAS 18001 and of course, ISO 14001.

11.    Sources and additional reading

MARK0002 | V1 | 01.08.2016 | Why ISO 14001 is right for you

profile image of Neill Gatley
Written by Neill Gatley

EMS Scheme Manager - Experienced management systems Lead Auditor and EMS Scheme Leader. Assessing clients management systems to the requirements of ISO 14001, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001, OHSAS 18001.