The updated ISO 14001 Environmental Management standard was released in September 2015 and represents the biggest step change in the standard since it was first introduced in 1996.

Whilst the previous approach was focussed on operational issues and was predominantly back-ward looking, the new standard is centred around an understanding of key risks and opportunities, including a forward view of these at all levels within the business.

Emphasising the context of the business, a life-cycle approach to considering impacts is advocated involving customers and the supply chain. Importantly, the standard requires full engagement of the senior level within the business, particularly for integration within the core business, accountability for the effectiveness of the system, and a demonstration that the management system influences the decision-making process.

For some, the changes have led to nothing more than tweaking the existing system, but for the majority of businesses, a fundamental shift will be required to accommodate this evolution – and for a significant minority, accreditation to the standard will be stopped.

It is important to remember that the focus of the environmental system is to demonstrate that the whole business understands its impact on the environment and, from top to bottom, is working to manage and reduce those impacts.

There is no requirement for procedures to be written, but instead for incorporation of environmental criteria into the culture of the business.

As such, systems based upon a significant amount of processes and procedures are going to be more difficult to modify. Alignment with the existing culture is critical and we are often asked to support organisations to streamline their system – removing as much as two thirds of the documentation. Our experience has seen the most time and effort spent to determine relevant suppliers and to engage them together with understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties.

Alignment with the existing culture is critical and we are often asked to support organisations to streamline their system – removing as much as two thirds of the documentation.

The new standard emphasises the importance of true engagement with stakeholders (or ‘interested parties’). Objectives include:

– understanding the strategic impacts affecting the business now and in the future, including defining ‘compliance obligations’, that may go beyond legal requirements
– easing incorporation of the system into the company culture
– keeping stakeholders informed on performance and achieving recognition.

The promotion of environmental excellence has already seen organisations being rewarded through rating agencies such as CDP and able to take market share.

Conclusion

Developing a management system in line with the new ISO14001 standard is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite as a means to best manage the regulatory and stakeholder risks and for organisations to provide a co-ordinated response. By adopting a more strategic approach, the new standard enables environmental management to be better aligned to the business objectives of the organisation, and the remaining processes can achieve synergies with other systems supporting quality, H&S, etc.