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ISO 14001 helps meet legal requirements and improve environmental performance but new version should take a broader perspective - users say

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A recent survey of the environmental management system standard ISO 14001 covering its future content and its current benefits, which received over 5 000 responses, found that it is particularly useful in meeting legal requirements and improving environmental performance. However, a clearer focus on preventing pollution, eco-efficiency and life-cycle thinking should be provided in the next version of the standard.

The survey had responses from organizations of various sizes in 110 countries – a majority of whose system is built on ISO 14001 – with 46 % from small and medium-sized companies. Conducted in 11 languages, the survey was run by the ISO committee responsible for the standard (ISO/TC 207/SC 1).

"The level of response was incredible. The detail of responses provides experts writing standards in this area with valuable input and real understanding," said Anne-Marie Warris, Chair of ISO/TC 207/SC 1.

"The survey was designed in part to get a better idea of what people see as the main benefits of ISO 14001 and what could be improved, as the standard is currently being revised," explained Lisa Greenwood of the Rochester Institute of Technology, lead author of the survey report.

"For example between 70 % and 80 % of respondents said ISO 14001 was of high or very high value with regard to meeting legal requirements and improving the environmental performance of an organization, which are important intended outcomes for an environmental management system. In addition, improving public image was also highlighted as a key benefit," she added. On the other hand, the results suggested potential opportunities for improvement relative to stakeholder and supplier engagement.

Inform the ongoing revision

“The results will be used to inform the ongoing revision of the standard based on the importance users gave to a number of future challenges and whether they felt the standard should address this,” explained Maiko Okuno of Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, one of the experts involved in analysing the survey responses and taking part in the revision to ISO 14001.

According to the survey results, the most important issues that required more attention were reducing and controlling pollution, strategies for efficient use of resources and reducing waste and pollution, as well as identifying and evaluating the environmental aspects related to the life cycle of products and services.

"One really important thing for the working group experts in the revision process is to make ISO 14001 as "future proof" as possible," explained Susan Briggs, Convenor of the group responsible for the revision of ISO 14001. "This means taking into account future challenges and trying to design for them."

More help for those implementing an EMS

The survey also revealed that ISO 14004, a resource designed to help organizations understand and implement an environmental management system (EMS) was not being used as widely as the committee had envisaged.

"Our challenge in the ongoing revision of ISO 14004 will be to provide a deeper insight into environmental management for a wide variety of users. This survey has shown that people are not as aware of this resource as we had hoped." explained Per Arne Syrrist, Convenor of the group responsible for the revision to ISO 14004.

ISO 14001 is currently at the Committee Draft phase (CD) and can be bought from the ISO Store or your national member. The group dealing with the revision is meeting in Panama City in May to address comments and prepare a draft for public enquiry later this year. The revised version is expected by mid-2015.

The full survey results and accompanying report can be found here.