ISO 14001 Standard changing

The well-known Environmental Management Standard (EMS) ISO 14001 is undergoing significant change to ensure it is fit for purpose for future environmental issues. It has now been approved as a Draft International Standard (DIS).ISO 14001

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 is an International EMS providing a systematic framework. Based on the model of “plan, do, check, act” (PDCA), the aim is to protect the environment in balance with socio-economic needs.

It can help organisations improve productivity and branding, reduce costs and risks and open up new business opportunities. With such associated benefits, more than 285,000 organisations worldwide are ISO 14001 certified.

History and timescale

ISO 14001 was first published in 1996 and revised in 2004. More recently, the group working to update the 2004 Standard reached Committee Draft 1 (CD1) in early 2013. The review process reached Committee Draft stage 2 (CD2) in October 2013.

There was a vote in January 2014 on whether CD2 should become a DIS. This has now been confirmed, taking CD2 to the next stage as a DIS.

The next ISO meeting addressed the latest comments from National Groups working on the Standard. Further consultation with users will lead to the final stages of the revision process.

Thus, publication of the revised ISO 14001 is expected in 2015. Organisations with existing 14001 certifications will have two to three years from the date of publication to meet the requirements of the new revised Standard. The new Standard will then remain in use possibly until 2025.

What is changing?

There will be major changes to ISO 14001, with the focus on creating long-term value. The structure of the Standard will change with new clauses and sub-clauses. Existing clauses will be strengthened and their order changed.

  • Policy and scope – policy commitment has been broadened. Organisations will have to include wider environmental aspects. Together with legal compliance, pollution prevention and continual improvement, there needs to be a commitment to protect the environment within the organisation’s specific context.
  • Leadership and top management – top management refers to those who direct or control the organisation at the highest level. To promote meaningful top management involvement in the EMS, there is a new clause on leadership. This strengthens the requirement to align the EMS with an organisation’s overall strategy and core business processes. Integration of environmental performance into strategic planning, direction and organisational decision-making is also required. Top management cannot delegate authority for certain elements of environmental management (e.g. setting the environmental policy, allocating resources, roles and responsibilities and undertaking the management review).
  • Risks and opportunities – the revision includes specific requirements for the management of potential business risks and opportunities arising from environmental impacts. The definition of risk within the context of ISO 14001 has proven difficult. The UK has proposed that the definition should mean negative consequences. This proposed definition is under discussion.
  • Value chains – the key change is the focus on significant environmental aspects, risks and opportunities that the organisation can control or influence. So where companies can exert such control or influence, environmental requirements must be specified (e.g. procurement of goods and services and integration into design and development). So there is greater emphasis on managing impacts across the lifecycle of products and services, as well as supply chains.
  • Compliance – compliance obligations include environmental laws, permits, contractual requirements, industry standards and other codes that an organisation must, or voluntarily chooses to, comply with. It replaces the term “legal requirements and other requirements”. Stating the frequency for compliance evaluation and knowing and understanding its compliance status will also be included.
  • External and internal communications – the most significant change here is to ensure the quality of environmental information that is communicated. The aim is to improve the reliability of externally reported data (e.g. those required for regulatory purposes).


This fundamental revision will impact all ISO 14001-certified businesses as the EMS will have to be at the heart of business processes and strategy. Implementation will also be challenging for those organisations considering a certifiable EMS and for environmental practitioners and auditors.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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