ISO 14001

The ISO 14001 framework not only helps organizations achieve and maintain compliance with applicable environmental regulations, but also helps reduce costs and create positive perceptions of the company among internal and external stakeholders.


ISO 14001 is a standard for environmental management systems (EMSs) developed by the International Organization for Standardization. ISO 14001 was first published in 1996, and most recently revised in 2015. It provides a framework to guide organizations toward more efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and reduced generation of waste.

Compared with the original version of the standard, 14001:2015 has a number of changes based on input from stakeholders and evolving insights from the world of EHS management. Among the key changes are a requirement for companies to examine the context of the organization, and another to better integrate their EMS with the rest of the organization’s business strategies. These changes reflect the same broader view of EHS management seen in other recent international standards, such as ISO 45001.

Select requirements for EMSs under ISO 14001 are listed below:

The Context of the Organization

The technical committee who created 14001:2015 understood that many companies unfortunately compartmentalize EHS management from other business systems and functions. This not only limits the performance of their EHS programs, but also leads to wasted time and resources.

That’s why 14001:2015 directs an organization to look at their environmental performance in a “holistic manner.” That means reviewing the internal and external factors that affect environmental performance, such as, for example, climate volatility and relevant market forces. It also means getting greater commitment from leadership, and having active communication among all stakeholders.

14001:2015 presents us with a more modern version of environmental management, not functioning within some dark corner of the company, but with the full endorsement of upper management and interwoven with the company’s larger strategies and goals.

Environmental Aspects

Once an organization has determined the scope of its management system, it needs to closely examine the environmental aspects of the activities, products and services under its control, and identify the associated impacts.

ISO 14001:2015 provides additional guidance that the organization should consider these aspects and impacts from a life cycle perspective. This is a prompt towards greater environmental sustainability – thinking about the environmental consequences of operations from the development phase right through to end-of-life. This is where knowledge of the materials and chemical products used in production, down to the product ingredient level, can help us identify opportunities to substitute less hazardous or environmentally dangerous chemicals wherever possible.

Proactive Initiatives

Compliance with environmental regulations is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters to companies or their stakeholders.

There is growing expectation for organizations to take proactive measures toward sustainability and increased transparency surrounding the measures they’re taking to safeguard the environment. Prominent examples of such measures include resource conservation, product stewardship and climate change mitigation.

That’s why Section 6.2 of ISO 14001 on Environmental Objectives requires organizations to perform formal planning on how they will achieve their objectives — clearly laying out important details such as what will be done, what resources will be needed, who’s responsible, and when the plans need to be completed. Notably, the standard also states that the organization needs to determine how to evaluate the results, and measure how much progress they’re making toward their goals.

Whether a company is interested in certifying to ISO 14001 or simply using it as a model for their EMS, they’ll benefit from tools that help simplify the identification and evaluation of their environmental aspects and impacts, and improve the analysis and reporting of environmental performance metrics that stakeholders need to know.

Stakeholder Focused Communication Strategy

Section 4.2 of ISO 14001:2015 directs organizations to determine the needs and expectations of “interested parties.” To meet this requirement, an organization needs to keep all of the relevant stakeholders in the loop.

In many cases, this communication and information sharing may also be part of compliance with other applicable requirements. For example, the U.S. EPA expects that operators of major air emissions sources obtain coverage under a Title V permit and meet all associated monitoring and reporting requirements. In other instances, stakeholder communication and information sharing may be specified in contractual agreements, or as part of voluntary sustainability reporting initiatives.

Furthermore, section 7.4 of ISO 14001:2015 on Communication requires the organization to develop and maintain a process for internal and external communications with stakeholders, including what information will be communicated and how it will be communicated. By actively incorporating feedback from stakeholders and securing their engagement, you’re helping to ensure that the organization does not partition its EMS from other operations and management processes.

Emergency Planning

The “partitioning” problem also comes up pretty often during the emergency planning process. Businesses too often treat emergency planning the way many of us treat our holiday decorations. About once a year, we dust them off and put them to use, then stow them away again and go on with our “normal” operations. But lack of active engagement with emergency planning can leave us unprepared when a real emergency comes along – and the environmental consequences of that can be disastrous.

Section 8.2 of ISO 14001:2015 requires a company to plan actions to prevent or mitigate emergency situations. Recognizing the need to keep plans and stakeholders current, it also requires periodic testing of planned response actions, and to review and revise plans following any occurrences of emergencies.


The “Competence” (7.2), “Awareness” (7.3) and “Communication” (7.4) sections of ISO 14001:2015 address training management. Notably, ISO 14001 specifically states that employers must ensure worker awareness of the environmental policy, and the significant environmental aspects and impacts associated with their job tasks. They should also understand the consequences of not conforming to the requirements of the EMS in terms of regulatory compliance, as well as financial security and reputation.

Related Standards

ISO has also published a growing family of related standards to help businesses improve their environmental management. There is no formal certification with these standards, but organizations are welcome to use them for guidance and continuous improvement.

  • ISO 14004: Provides guidance on the establishment and maintenance of an EMS, and how to coordinate it with your other management systems.
  • ISO 14006: Remember, the goal we’re after is to integrate environmental management into everything else our organization does. 14006 helps with that by giving guidance on how to integrate eco-design and sustainability into our other management systems.
  • ISO 14015: Provides guidance on environmental assessment of organizations.
  • ISO 14020: Contains guidelines for environmental labels and declarations.
  • ISO 14031: Gives guidance on the use and design of environmental performance evaluation, and identification and selection of environmental performance indicators.
  • ISO 14040: Describes principles and framework for life cycle assessment (LCA).
  • ISO 14050: Defines terms related to environmental management.
  • ISO 14062: Discusses how to integrate environmental aspects into product design and development.
  • ISO 14063: Provides guidance to organizations regarding their internal and external communication about their environmental policies.
  • ISO 14064-1, 14064-2, and 14064-3: As stakeholder expectations for sustainability continue to increase, there is more focus on how well an organization is managing its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The 14064 set of standards presents guidance at the organizational level for the quantification, reporting and verification of GHG emissions.

Organizations interested in moving their environmental management toward greater social responsibility and sustainability will also want to be aware of ISO 26000, which lays out guidance on how to translate principles into actions that improve accountability and environmental stewardship.

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