ISO 14001 reforms open for public comment

An increased focus on risk management and actual environmental protection are among sweeping changes proposed for ISO 14001.

Richard Collins

The environmental management system standard is undergoing a scheduled 5-year revision and is now at the Draft International Standard stage, the fourth out of six.

Susan Briggs, the convener of the committee that developed the revised draft, said the new version expands environmental policy commitments, from the prevention of pollution to more proactive and positive commitments to protect the environment. The continuous improvement mantra moves beyond simply improving the management system to improving environmental performance.

It also aims to support environmental risk management as a core business objective, which is likely to impact cross-functional segments of the organisation including environment managers and business leaders.

It is expected to be published next year and give organisations three years to migrate their environmental management system to the new edition of the standard. After this transition period, companies that opt for third party certification will have to seek certification to the new version of the standard.

A fact sheet highlights seven key changes. One is greater strategic environmental management, with an increased prominence of environmental management within the organisation’s strategic planning processes. It introduces a requirement to understand the organisation’s context to identify and leverage opportunities for the benefit of both the organisation and the environment. Particular focus is on issues or changing circumstances related to the needs and expectations of interested parties (including regulatory requirements) and local, regional or global environmental conditions that can affect, or be affected by, the organization. Once identified as a priority, actions to mitigate adverse risk or exploit beneficial opportunities are integrated in the operational planning of the environmental management system.

The second issue is leadership, with a new clause assigning specific responsibilities for those in leadership roles to promote environmental management within the organisation.

Next is an expanded expectation to commit to proactive initiatives to protect the environment from harm and degradation. It does not define ‘protect the environment’ but it notes that it can include prevention of pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The proposed shift in emphasis from improving the management system to improving environmental performance, including reducing emissions, effluents and waste to levels set by the organization.

In addition to the current requirement to manage environmental aspects associated with procured goods and service, organisations will need to extend their control and influence to the environmental impacts associated with product use and end-of-life treatment or disposal. This does not, however, imply a requirement to do a life cycle assessment.

It also calls for the development of a communications strategy with equal emphasis on external and internal communications. This includes a requirement on communicating consistent and reliable information, and establishing mechanisms for persons working under the organisation's control to make suggestions on improving the environmental management system. The decision to communicate externally is retained by the organisation but needs to take into account information reporting required by regulatory agencies and the expectations of other interested parties.

Finally, the revision reflects the evolution of computer and cloud based systems for running management systems by incorporating the term ‘documented information’, instead of ‘documents’ and ‘records’. To align with ISO 9001, the organization will retain the flexibility to determine when ‘procedures’ are needed to ensure effective process control.