The ISO14001 international standard for environmental management systems (EMS) was revised in 2015 to reflect new trends and to remain compatible with management systems standards like ISO9001 (quality management systems) and OHSAS 18001 / ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety management systems).

If your organisation wants to maintain its certification post-September 2018 you will need to start taking steps towards adopting the new standards now.

Organisations operating in the manufacturing sector, or businesses who manage high environmental risk should pay particular attention. Those who have not yet implemented an environmental management system or considered the changes of the upgrade risk leaving their business vulnerable to breaches of legal compliance, losing competitive edge and lagging behind competitors or losing certification.

We look at the key changes made in the 2015 revision and what you need to do to ensure your organisation achieves certification in 2018.

ISO14001:2015 – an overview

The 2015 revision of the international standard was undertaken to further integrate EMS into business management systems, encourage more holistic lifecycle thinking, a more tailored and specific approach and to increase commitment from top management. It has allowed the revised standard to consider higher perceived environmental risks and new risks that arise, and opportunities such as operational cost savings and better product and service design. 

Common challenges for the effective implementation of an EMS include:

  • A failure to fully integrate the EMS within the organisation.
  • Lack of engagement or buy-in from senior leaders to establish and implement the EMS.
  • Establishment of a stand-alone EMS, which fails to clearly connect to other key organisational systems and processes.
  • Pigeon-holing environmental management as the responsibility of a single team or individual.

The 2015 revisions to ISO14001 offer the opportunity to improve EMS effectiveness, reduce risk and support on-going improvements.

The new standard requires a few significant changes to the way in which organisations implement an EMS, such as:

  • Greater leadership commitment
  • Consideration of your organisation’s specific context, identifying both internal and external issues
  • Identification of risks and opportunities
  • An enhanced communication strategy identifying the needs and issues of interested parties
  • Lifecycle thinking when considering environmental aspects
  • An environmental policy that sets out not simply to prevent pollution but to protect the environment.

In addition, the revised standard, while less prescriptive, follows a common structure of other management system standards such as ISO 9001. This is particularly useful for organisations that choose to operate a single (“integrated”) system to meet the requirements of two or more management system standards simultaneously.  

Figure 1: Key changes to the international standard for environmental management

Retaining compliance with ISO14001

There are many actions required to successfully implement an EMS to the 2015 standard:

  1. Grab the attention of senior leaders
    One of the most obvious changes is the explicit and enhanced requirement for top management to demonstrate leadership and commitment to environmental performance. There must be a clear and demonstrable link, if not complete integration, between the organisation’s business strategy and its environmental policy and objectives. This might be achieved through strategic review and gap analysis in consultation with the senior management team, revisiting the business case for the EMS, establishing or defining the long term vision, mapping organisational performance and reviewing business processes.
  2. Understand your context
    Not only do you need to address the ways in which your organisation impacts the environment, you must now consider how the environment may affect your operations.  This requirement can be effectively achieved through cross-functional staff workshops and PESTLE analysis, to break down issues across six spectrums: political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. 
  3. Know your risks
    Identifying the risks and opportunities associated with environmental aspects and impacts is new for ISO 14001. Your organisation must identify and manage environmental aspects, compliance obligations and relevant issues as before, but also manage risk and recognise opportunities in an integrated way. Again, these risks and opportunities can be effectively identified through a cross-functional PESTLE analysis.
  4. Communicate with stakeholders
    The 2015 revision puts more onus on your organisation to identify and consider interested parties, their needs and expectations, and how to communicate with them. These requirements can then become compliance obligations. 

    Monitoring, measuring and indicators are essential tools for stakeholder management and the new standard requires that environmental objectives are ‘measurable, monitored and communicated’. An effective approach towards satisfying this aspect is a combination on geographic and issues analysis, validated through consultation with interested parties.
  5. Take a lifecycle perspective
    To combat an outdated focus on production processes, ISO 14001:2015 requires you to consider environmental aspects at every stage of operation; from design through to procurement, production, transport/delivery, use and disposal. In this way, your organisation can broaden its influence through suppliers, agents and clients, reduce its own overall impact and achieve greater efficiency. Again, process-mapping and the cross-functional PESTLE analysis approach will help to achieve this.

So, what now?

New environmental management systems promise to be more inclusive, integrated and proactive, requiring genuine support from the top and throughout the organisation, being fit for purpose, encouraging consideration of external environmental factors, external parties and the entire life cycle. 

Organisations with ISO14001 under the 2004 standard need to transition in 2017 if they wish to stay certified beyond September 2018. Those that are uncertified will benefit just the same from more integrated and effective environmental management and business management in general. 

Need help getting your organisation on track for certification in 2018? Whether it’s an audit for compliance, or extra support to establish or upgrade your EMS, contact Allanah Kidd or Melody Valentine for more.


Allanah Kidd

Senior Environmental Scientist

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Melody Valentine

Principal – Environmental Planning

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Email Melody Valentine