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ISO 14001 revision is underway

by Susan L.K. Briggs on
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ISO 14001, one of ISO’s most successful management system standards, is shortly to undergo its second revision to ensure that it remains relevant over the next two decades. Since it was first published in 1996, ISO 14001:2004, Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, has been adopted by well over 250 000 certified users in 155 countries worldwide.
Recently, over 40 experts from some 25 countries, members of ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, the ISO technical committee that developed ISO 14001, gathered at the Berlin headquarters of DIN, the German Institute for Standardization, to discuss key issues related to the mandate for WG 5, the working group responsible for the revision process. Following is a report of recommendations and early accomplishments.

Two significant actions

The mandate requires the WG to consider two significant pieces of work. First, the work of the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB) Joint Technical Coordination Group (JTCG) on the High Level Structure for Management System Standards (MSS), covering identical text, common terms and core definitions.

Its aim is to standardize the structure and core requirements of MSS to facilitate the integration of multiple MSS into an organization’s management system. Although new standards have been developed using this structure, the revision of ISO 14001 will be the first in which an existing MSS has been recast into the standardized format and text.

Second is the final report of the ISO/TC 207 SC 1, Environmental management systems, Future Challenges for EMS Study Group, which evaluated the potential implications of evolving stakeholder expectations and new developments in the field of environmental management systems (EMS) since 1996. Eleven themes were analyzed, including sustainable development, environmental performance improvement, legal compliance, strategic business management, conformity assessment and national/international policy agendas. The study group also analyzed the obstacles and opportunities to increase uptake of ISO 14001 in small organizations, to control environmental impact in the value/supply chain, engage stakeholders, and communicate externally. In addition to these two significant actions, the mandate requires the basic principles and existing requirements of ISO 14001:2004 be retained and improved (see box).

Early accomplishments

The initial Berlin meeting of ISO/TC 207 summarized the ISO standards development process for WG members, established a timeline and code of conduct, reviewed details in the two key reports forming the basis for the revision, and provided guidelines on writing standards – particularly taking into account the needs of SMEs. Among early accomplishments of the meeting, the WG :

  • Developed draft operating principles
  • Began the process of integrating ISO 14001:2004 requirements into the JTCG MSS structure and text
  • Brainstormed key issues and concerns related to each clause. These will be discussed at future meetings and evaluated for inclusion in the next revision.

The 25 recommendations

In total, the Future Challenges Study Group tabled 25 recommendations for consideration in the new revision of ISO 14001:

1.    When considering new requirements in a revised version of ISO 14001, one should remember that the EMS standard is a tool to improve environmental management – thus new requirements should not be set in such way that they only reflect “ best in class ” levels that could dissuade or exclude entry level organizations. The use of “maturity matrices” should be considered to show how requirements could be applied in an increasingly comprehensive manner
2.     An organization should retain the responsibility to align its ISO 14001 processes with its environmental and business priorities
3.     Strengthen focus on subjects such as :
•  Transparency and accountability in environmental management issues and performance
•  Value chain influence and responsibility
4.     Express environmental management more clearly as contributing to sustainable development [the key pillar of social responsibility (SR)]
5.     Broaden/clarify the concept of “Prevention of pollution”
6.     Consider addressing other environmental principles from ISO 26000 (social responsibility), Clause 6.5
7.     Consider aligning language between ISO 26000 and ISO 14001
8.     Clarify the ISO 14001 requirements for improving environmental performance
9.     Strengthen performance evaluation as part of ISO 14001 4.5.1 (e.g. use of indicators) ; consider how performance evaluation is addressed in ISO 14031 (environmental performance evaluation), ISO 50001 (energy management), and in the EMAS III (EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative)
10.     Communicate the approach to and mechanism of achieving legal compliance in ISO 14001 (e.g. in the Annex)
11.     Address the concept of “demonstration of the commitment to legal compliance”
12.     Consider including the concept of demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the organization’s compliance status
13.     Emphasize the strategic considerations, benefits and opportunities of environmental management for organizations in the introduction and requirements sections
14.     Strengthen (on a strategic level) the relationship between environmental management and the core business of an organization, i.e. its products and services and the interaction with stakeholders (including clients and suppliers)
15.     Use the JTCG’s identical text on “context of the organization” to strengthen the link between environmental management and the organization’s overall strategy
16.     Consider the implications of new (strategic) business management models in applying ISO 14001
17.     Draft clear and unambiguous ISO 14001 requirements
18.     Provide clearer guidance in Annex A to avoid misinterpretation of the requirements
19.     Maintain the applicability of ISO 14001 to SMEs, e.g. by drafting simple and understandable requirements
20.     Consider the information given in the European Committee for Standardization’s CEN Guide 17, Guidance for writing standards taking into account micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) needs
21.     Address life cycle thinking and the value chain perspectives more clearly in the identification and evaluation of environmental aspects related to products and services
22.     Include clear requirements and guidance on environmental strategy, design and development, purchasing, and marketing and sales activities, in alignment with organizational priorities
23.     Introduce a more systematic approach to identifying, consulting and communicating with stakeholders on environmental issues, based on the JTCG text
24.     Introduce a requirement to establish an external communication strategy, including communication objectives, identification of relevant interested parties, and a description of what and when to communicate
25.     Provide guidance to external interested parties in the Annex on information related to the environmental aspects of products and services.

WG members

WG 5 membership represents 25 countries. It is comprised equally of newcomers to the ISO standards process, bringing fresh views and perspectives, and those seasoned in the ISO processes, some of whom were involved in the initial drafting of ISO 14001 during the early 1990s, and therefore provide valuable historical context.

Susan L.K. Briggs, representing the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), is Convener of the WG, with Horacio Martirena, of the Latin American Institute for Quality Assurance (INLAC), as Vice-convener. Mike Henigan of the British Standards Institution (BSI) and Katherina Wührl of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) share joint secretariat responsibilities.

Next meeting

WG 5 will next meet at the ISO/TC 207 Plenary meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, 24-30 June 2012.

Susan Briggs
Susan L.K. Briggs
Susan L.K. Briggs
Director, Environment, Health and Safety
Textron Systems
Massachusetts, USA

Susan L.K. Briggs holds a Bachelor’s degree in natural science from Harvard University. Susan Briggs is the Chair of the US Technical Advisory Group to ISO/TC 207 on environmental management, and has been a member of TC 207/SC 1 since 2000.