Tuesday, 23 July 2013


ISO 14001, the international systems standard for environment management, has stood at the heart of organisations’ efforts to understand and reduce their impacts on the natural world for nearly two decades. More than 250,000 certificates have been issued globally, and they are held by organisations as diverse as multinational oil producers, local waste collectors and individual sports venues.

The current standard has been in circulation since 2004, during which time attitudes to sustainability have undergone a sea change, as organisations have become increasingly aware of the need to better manage the world’s natural resources and protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. While political ambition to tackle international carbon emissions has been buffeted by the ongoing financial crisis, companies such as Marks & Spencer, Puma and Unilever have openly re-evaluated their business models in light of sustainability challenges.

It is against this background that ISO – the international standards organisation – began, in 2012, the journey to revise and revitalise 14001. Following more than a year of work, ISO published a committee draft of the new edition of the standard in April. Practitioners were asked to give their feedback on the new structure and content of the proposed standard. Potential amendments will be discussed at an ISO working group meeting at the end of June.

New Look

The most obvious change between the current version of 14001 and the committee draft is its structure. The environment management standard is the first be redrafted in line with ISO’s new high-level structure, which it is rolling out across all its standards.

“There are significant changes to the way 14001 looks,” confirms Kirsten Holman, MIEMA, company environmental manager (UK) at engineering consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff. “Some people at the IEMA workshop I attended were quite taken aback by the difference, but I think the high-level structure is easy to understand and it will be beneficial in supporting integrated management systems.”

Toby Robins, AIEMA, sustainable development director at office supply company Wiles Greenworld, agrees: “It’s particularly important for 14001 to be aligned with other standards because it helps to embed good environmental practice alongside health, safety and quality, and ensure that environment targets are acted upon rather than being seen as an aside.”

Marek Bidwell, MIEMA CEnv, director of environmental training firm and consultancy Bidwell Management Systems, says the new layout will be more familiar to those who have worked with quality management systems. “The new structure is very similar to ISO 9001 [the quality standard], with the section dealing with leadership towards the start of the standard, for example. The changes might make some environment management people pause, but actually the order of the clauses is much less important than what the clauses say.”

More Than Skin Deep

The changes to the standard go a lot further than rearranging its contents, however, with expansions to the definition of environment policy, as well as new requirements concerned with organisational strategy, the role of leaders, life-cycle impacts and supply chains.

Anya Ledwith, MIEMA CEnv, director at environment and carbon consultancy ESHCon, says the most exciting changes to the standard are the requirements under the leadership section for organisations to integrate the requirements of the environment management system (EMS) into their core business practices and to consider environmental performance in strategic planning.

“I see a lot of companies using 14001 because it’s a compliance issue and, while the EMS might work really well, it’s slightly sidelined. The environment manager has to knock very loudly on the door of the managing director, rather than them being invited in,” she says. “The new requirements will help to combat this, and to cement the role of an EMS in the organisation. I think it will ensure that the work of environment managers is recognised more strongly.”

Holman agrees: “There seems to be a lot more emphasis on top management being involved, which is a really good thing. I am physically remote from our chief operating officer and senior management team, and I want them to get more involved in the running of the EMS. The changes give a lot more definition about the role of leaders and I can go back to my senior managers and say we need to put in more resources and commitment to meet these requirements. It will mean that 14001 is a more useful tool for me to get buy-in.”

Ben Vivian, FIEMA, director of consultancy firm Vivian Partnership, however, asks whether ISO may need to clarify the text, confirming that it means strategic planning for the whole organisation, or risk some users creating separate strategic plans for the EMS.

“By not explicitly stating that this is about organisational strategic planning, the standard’s writers may have created a loophole where people could say ‘we’ve interpreted this as environmental strategic planning’, whereas the intent was a much broader organisational definition,” he says.

David Symons, MIEMA CEnv, director at WSP Environment and Energy, meanwhile, argues that the strategic element of the proposed standard could be stronger. “Most systems are really strong on considering how the firm impacts the environment, but generally are much weaker on considering how issues like climate change, resource prices and societal demand will impact on them. These external impacts are the really key issues for strategic planning,” he comments.

However, this is where the new concept of “environmental conditions” will help, according to Vivian. Alongside environmental aspects, the revision introduces the term “environmental condition”, which it defines as “long-term environmental changes that can affect the organisation’s activities, products and services, requiring adaptation”.

“This should start getting organisations to think about the environment’s impact on them, rather than the impact they have on the environment, which is a significant weakness of how the current version of 14001 is being implemented. You can interpret it to consider these things, but it’s not a natural fit,” Vivian argues.

While welcoming ISO’s attempt to incorporate adaptation into 14001, he warns that it appears in the draft to sit slightly away from the rest of the system. “It seems to me that you could interpret the adaptation side of things as a being almost a parallel process from the main EMS. The way that it is woven into the rest of the requirements for the standard needs to be given careful consideration,” Vivian says.

He also suggests that the standard should highlight the differences in approach needed to reviewing environmental conditions compared with environmental aspects. “Because operational matters change reasonably frequently, reviewing aspects at least once a year is a good thing. Conditions, however, are large-scale, long-term issues, such as climate change or access to land, and the new standard needs to be clear that reviews will be a lot less frequent.”

To be continued...

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