By Mubin Chowdhury, Wolters Kluwer’s Croner Environmental Consultant

The well-known Environmental Management Standard (EMS) ISO 14001, which was first published in 1996 and revised in 2004, is undergoing a significant change to ensure it is fit for purpose for future environmental issues.

Based on the model of “plan, do, check, act”, the aim of the EMS 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.

Publication of the revised ISO 14001 is expected in 2015. Organisations with existing ISO 14001 certifications will have two to three years from the date of publication to meet the new requirements, which will remain in use until possibly 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 reordered.

• 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 – 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.

• Risks and opportunities – the revision includes specific requirements for the management of potential business risks and opportunities arising from environmental impacts.

• 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. 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.

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.