ISO 14001 - Essential Elements

ISO 14001 identifies an environmental management system (EMS) as "the part of an overall management system that includes organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes, and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing, and maintaining environmental policy." The ISO 14001 EMS builds upon the same fundamental systems previously identified in ISO 9000 (Quality Management System). These systems include: document control, management system auditing, operational controls, record keeping controls, management policies, audits, training, and corrective and preventive actions.

While ISO 14001 instructs organizations to identify and manage all significant environmental impacts of their activities, products or services, it does not specify absolute requirements for environmental performance except to demand a commitment to continuous improvement. Because the standard’s goal is improved environmental performance, its methodology involves developing effective management mechanisms that are integrated into the management structure of the organization in order to achieve the objectives of a stated environmental policy.

Essential Elements of ISO 14001

The essential elements of an ISO 14001-compliant EMS are the auditable requirements. The five principle elements, stated in the ISO 14004 standard (Environmental Management Systems - Specification with Guidance for Use) are highlighted below. :

1 Environmental Policy
2 Planning
2.1 Environmental aspects
2.2 Legal and other requirements
2.3 Objectives and targets
2.4 Environmental management program(s)
3 Implementation and Operation
3.1 Structure and responsibility
3.2 Training, awareness, and competence
3.3 Communication
3.4 Environmental management system documentation
3.5 Document control
3.6 Operational control
3.7 Emergency preparedness and response
4 Checking and Corrective Action
4.1 Monitoring and measurement
4.2 Non-conformance and corrective and preventive action
4.3 Records
4.4 Environmental management system audit
5 Management Review

1. Environmental Policy. An organization should define its environmental policy and ensure commitment to its EMS across all organizational units. This is accomplished by developing an environmental policy that is specific enough to form the basis for concrete actions. This policy then becomes the framework for environmental planning and should be both communicated within the organization and made available to the public. Commitment and support for the policy must be provided from the highest levels of the organization to be effective. The policy should include reference to continuous improvement, prevention of pollution, and compliance with legislation and regulations.

2. Planning. An organization should formulate a plan to fulfill its environmental policy. The organization should identify the environmental aspects of its activities as well as legal and other requirements. Using the information gathered on aspects and legal requirements, the objectives of the organization need to be determined and specific targets set. These targets should be quantifiable and therefore measurable. Actions that will achieve the objectives and goals of the environmental program should be determined. Also, roles and responsibilities should be established and resources provided for the implementation of the plan.

3. Implementation and Operation. For effective implementation, an organization should develop the capabilities and support mechanisms necessary to achieve its environmental policy, objectives and targets. Environmental responsibilities should be assigned and personnel trained to carry out those responsibilities. The organization should establish internal and external lines of communication for environmental management issues. EMS documentation and procedures for operational and document control should be developed. The organization should also manage operations and activities in line with the environmental policy and objectives, identify potential emergency situations, and have procedures in-place to prevent or respond to them.

4. Checking and Corrective Action. An organization should measure, monitor and evaluate its environmental performance to ensure continuous improvement. Accordingly, routine environmental and management audits of key activities should be carried out, and the performance of each tracked to determine if corrective or preventive action is necessary. In addition, an organization should conduct periodic EMS audits to ensure that the EMS is operating effectively and is meeting specified goals.

5. Management Review. An organization should review and continually improve its EMS, with the objective of improving its overall environmental performance. The management review provides the opportunity to assess and ensure that the EMS is suitable for the organization and its objectives, and that it is operating effectively. The management review can also utilize the results of the EMS audit to ensure that the EMS conforms to ISO 14001.

Continuous Improvement

An EMS is not a stagnant system but must continually evolve to meet an organization’s ever-changing needs. Central to the ISO 14001 model is the idea of a continuous feedback loop. It starts with the development of policy, moves to planning activities and policy implementation, addresses checking and corrective actions, progresses to management review, and finally feeds information back into policy development. Although the information gathered along the way may result in the modification of organizational goals, objectives, and targets, the feedback loop always begins again, ensuring movement towards continuous environmental improvement. When an organization seeks certification and is audited for compliance with ISO 14001, these are the features of the EMS that are examined. If all are present and functioning, then the organization can be registered as being compliant with ISO 14001.