What are the ISO 14001 requirements?

  • ISO 14001

If you’re not sure what is required for ISO 14001 certification, this comprehensive article offers details of the documentation you’ll need to prepare for the Environmental Management Standard.

There are no requirements as to how you should go about implementing ISO 14001 within your organisation. Instead, an auditor will look for documented evidence that you have an effective Environmental Management System (EMS) in place and that it is operating in line with the standard.

What documents do you need for ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 requires you to maintain documented evidence that your EMS meets the required standard. Although there are clear requirements as to what kind of documentation you must provide, how you operate and how you record your evidence is not dictated by the standard. The goal for your documentation is to ensure that robust environmental processes are in place. Some of these documents also serve to demonstrate that your entire organisation is aware of and working towards your environmental objectives, which will help you reach environmental goals that are both tangible and feasible.

Scope of the Environmental Management System

This document sets out the type of operations your EMS will be applied to, and the boundaries that will be placed upon it.

Outlining the applicability of the management system will involve describing the types of products and services provided by your organisation, and where they are provided (i.e. regionally/across the UK/throughout Europe/worldwide).

Establishing the boundaries will require you to outline which parts of your organisation will be subject the EMS will apply to. This will include processes, sites, departments, divisions, etc.

In most cases, your EMS will be applied to your entire organisation, but there may be circumstances where it is either inappropriate or impossible for a process, site, or team to fall under the scope of your management system.

Environmental Policy

The Environmental Policy should outline your organisation’s goal to operate in an environmentally sound manner, to comply with any legal regulations, to prevent pollution, and to continually improve. This document should demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to any requirements or actions that will reduce its environmental impact.

Procedure for Identification and Evaluation of Environmental Aspects (including criteria for determining the significance)

In order for your EMS to work, you’ll need to know which parts of your business have environmental aspects, and what their impacts are.

Examples of environmental aspects can include:

  • use of resources such as energy or water
  • use of recycled materials
  • air emissions to air via smoke or fumes
  • disposal of waste materials, including wastewater
  • any potential for pollution, including risks of leaks, spills, etc.

Once you have identified these environmental aspects, you’ll need to determine the impact they could have on the environment using a “risk” scoring system. This scoring system will provide you with a detailed analysis of your significant environmental aspects.

The scoring system isn’t prescribed by the standard; as long as it is adequate to the task, it can be as simple or complex as you desire. There are a number of methods you could employ that can help to identify the likelihood of an event (failure) happening and the potential impact if it does. Therefore, a high-risk impact event which is likely to occur would receive a high score, indicating that it is a concern for the business, whereas a low-risk impact event which is unlikely to occur would receive a low score.

The environmental aspects, their impact, and the scoring system should be regularly reviewed to capture any changes to your organisation.

Environmental Objectives and plans for achieving them

Your organisation should have clear environmental objectives, and a clear plan of how those objectives can be achieved.

Where possible, objectives should be quantified. This means that an objective such as “reduce energy usage” should instead be “reduce energy usage by 15% within 24 months”. But you also need to be able to demonstrate how you will achieve these goals, and what impact the business could have on them. For instance, what if your organisation doubles in size? Your energy usage is likely to increase too. A more quantifiable target such as “reduce energy usage per employee by 15% within 24 months” can withstand changes to your organisation whilst still representing a worthy environmental objective.

Your plans should establish:

  • who has ownership of each objective
  • how progress will be monitored
  • any specialised equipment or services required to achieve each objective
  • a timeline for achieving each objective

Your efforts to achieve your objectives will rarely exist in a vacuum; often they’ll rely on each other or even cross over. Auditors will expect to see how your objectives relate to each other, as well as how they are consistent with your Environmental Policy.

Operational Control Procedures

ISO 14001 requires organisations to define and execute its own operational controls in a manner appropriate to the sector it operates in. As such, the standard doesn’t prescribe those controls or how they should be implemented, but you do need to keep documented evidence that your operational controls ensure that:

  • all legal and compliance requirements are being met
  • environmental objectives have been assessed and set
  • internal, external, and outsourced processes have been defined
  • any training requirements have been assessed, implemented, and reviewed.

Procedure for Emergency Preparedness and Response

Emergencies can be situations that arise within your organisation that affect the environment or environmental events that affect your organisation. You need to demonstrate that your organisation can respond to either.

You need to have in place processes that can identify and respond to emergencies. These responses need to make sure that any environmental impact is kept to a minimum. Your procedures should have been tested, and any relevant parties should have received the necessary training to undertake the response.

List of Interested Parties, Legal and Other Requirements

An “interested party” is anyone who affects your organisation’s ability to achieve your environmental objectives.

The requirements of these parties will place varying obligations on your organisation, from legal obligation to business obligations. You should record the requirements of all these parties so that they can be considered when planning your EMS. Once they are required, you can determine how to meet your obligations with the minimum impact on your environmental objectives.

An example of an interested party might be a customer that expects competitive pricing, which limits your ability to switch to potentially more expensive recycled materials. Or the local community might object to your proposals to undertake major construction work to improve the carbon-neutrality of your building.

Naturally, interested parties may change, or they may remain but their requirements might alter. You need to regularly review interested parties and ensure that any changes are fed into your EMS.

Address risks and opportunities

You need to demonstrate that you are identifying and addressing any risks or opportunities presented by your EMS. The standard doesn’t prescribe a particular methodology or risk process to be documented, but you will need to demonstrate that a risk-based approach is being followed.

You should be able to explain the methodology and approach you are using, along with documented evidence such as a business plan, strategy or operational plan. This documented evidence could be linked to the various clauses of the standard, which would help provide the analyses needed to meet this requirement.

Competence records

Introducing an EMS often introduces new practices or requirements, and so can often lead to additional training. Recording the training and competence levels of every member of your organisation will make it easier to track any required upskilling. It will also help demonstrate that everyone in your organisation is competent when it comes to their environmental responsibilities.

Evidence of Communication

It’s important that everyone in your organisation is aware of their obligations, which is why it’s important to show that you are sending clear communications both internally and externally. Internal communications, including emails, meetings, bulletin boards or Intranet announcements, will inform members of your organisation of your environmental objectives, how they are expected to contribute towards them, and what their responsibilities are.

External communications might include emails, meetings, letters and contracts, and are more likely to detail what you expect from a supplier in order to meet your environmental objectives, or how you will meet your environmental obligations to a third party.

Monitoring Performance Information

One of the benefits of ISO 14001 is its emphasis on continual improvement, which is why a key part of an EMS is to monitor its performance and effectiveness. You’ll need to have a record of these evaluations, as well as evidence that your organisation has considered what to measure, how and when, and that the outcomes from any decisions are ensuring appropriate process control.

Compliance Evaluation Record

The best way to make sure your organisation is meeting its compliance obligations is to evaluate whether the organisation is successfully compliant and record the results. You will need to be able to produce these records, which will make it clear that the organisation is:

  1. reviewing the frequency that compliance should be evaluated
  2. evaluating compliance
  3. taking action if required
  4. maintaining records of its compliance status.

Auditors will be looking for objective evidence that your organisation is effectively evaluating its performance against all of its compliance obligations. They will also expect to see recorded evidence of any corrective action taken.

Compliance obligations record

It’s important that everyone in your organisation is aware of the legal environmental requirements they are subject to. As such, a competent evaluation must be carried out to establish relevant legal requirements, and regular reviews should be conducted to ensure this record is kept up-to-date with any changes. You should also record any obligations your organisation has to other parties.

Internal Audit Programme and Results

An internal audit is a key aspect of an EMS, assessing not just its effectiveness, but also your organisation’s overall environmental performance. They also help to demonstrate your compliance with the processes set up as part of implementing your EMS.

This record will hold the details of a regular internal audit program, as well as the results of any issues or opportunities for improvements such audits uncover.

Management Review Results

Senior management should regularly review the EMS to make sure that it remains effective, and a record should be kept of the results of these reviews in line with the standard.

Nonconformities and Corrective Action

Your organisation needs to document any non-conformities in your environmental processes and operations, and the actions you took as a result. You’ll need to include clear evidence as to how your organisation ensured that any corrective action has achieved conformity through a “root cause analysis”.

Your record should:

  • document the details of non-conformity
  • describe the actions taken
  • detail any concessions obtained
  • identify responsible individuals.

You’re ready for ISO 14001 certification

Perhaps you have all of these documents already, and you just need a certification body to complete an assessment of your EMS. Or perhaps you don’t have any of these documents, and this seems like a daunting list!

Whichever position your organisation is in, don’t worry. Like another of our customers, Keep Scotland Beautiful, you will discover how supportive and informative our team is. You will also understand why so many of the businesses we have worked with have given us an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars on the independent review service, Feefo.

The first step of the ISO 14001 certification process is a visit from one of our expert auditors. Whether you feel completely prepared or you don’t know where to start, they’ll review whatever you already have in place and identify any areas that need improvement. Of course, there will be fewer improvements needed if you have already met many of the ISO 14001 requirements, but it isn’t a race; it’s better to take a little extra time in order to implement an effective EMS that really helps your organisation to reach its goals!

Take our free online course to find out more about ISO 14001 and what you’ll need in order to achieve your certification, or contact us today for a quote.

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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.