Now that I have completed a number of audit and advice assignments related to the new ISO 14001 standard for environmental management systems, it is worthwhile to look back. What kind of impact has the new standard had? Do companies have problems in complying with the new setup? In this article I would like to share a number of specific experiences and insights.

HLS-structure contributes to integration of management systems.

Firstly, I see that the used “high level structure” for management system standards contributes to the integral set up of management systems. The new uniform structure of the standards makes it easier for companies to integrate the various standards in one management system. Furthermore, the used terminology and principles are easier to recognize and enforce for the various standards. In my opinion, a significant step forwards in the area of business administration is made with the new standards for quality management systems (ISO 9001:2015) and environmental management systems (ISO 14001:2015), and also later the standard for safety management control systems (ISO 45001 in development). Naturally further study of the topic is required in order to properly set up an integrated management system.

Context of the company (4) and Planning (6) is crucial

These two aspects of the ISO 14001 are most crucial in my opinion. If these sections are not successfully achieved the environmental management system lacks relevance. Therefore, I spend the most time on this during the audit and implementation assignments.

For most companies, the standard factors in regards to context was/is a quest on how to achieve this. This is also a challenge for the auditor, also taking into account that basically no documents or registrations are required. In simple terms, it comes down to the fact that companies have to know the environment in which they operate. In concrete terms this involves insight in the various stakeholders and related environmental issues which the company can influence and can identify. It concerns environmental opportunities and threats. Proper insight in this context provides the company with strategic opportunities regarding the environment. This will also show the management capabilities of the top-management: they are informed and anticipate environmental issues.

The recorded issues of the context should be translated into actions. The connection between context analyses and planning should be explicit. Planning first and foremost entails the identification of the relevant environmental aspects which are linked to the issues from the context, the law and regulations, and the environmental effects of the company. The identification is followed by the prioritizing and defining of actions and measures. A good system and careful specific planning is a must.

Finally,

The new standard offers opportunities for organizations to distinguish themselves and to optimize their management system in regards to the environment. By starting from the context of a company, the environment is explicitly connected to the company’s strategy. Ultimately this will lead to relevant environmental management systems.