Details have now been released of the 18-month period for organizations implementing environmental management systems (EMS) certified as conforming to the original 1996 version of the ISO 14001 standard to make the transition to ISO 14001:2004, the newly revised and improved version.

The transition period extends from 15 November 2004, when ISO published the revised standard, to 15 May 2006. Beyond that date, only certificates to ISO 14001:2004 will be recognized by members of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). This is an international association that represents the accreditation bodies of 44 countries and economies which have been set up to verify the competence ("accredit") of certification bodies. Certificates issued by accredited certification bodies may be perceived on the market as more credible than non-accredited ones. The IAF released its transition plan for accredited certification from ISO 14001:1996 to ISO 14001:2004, developed in consultation with ISO, on 20 December 2004.

"I encourage all organizations to begin implementing ISO 14001:2004 as soon as possible in order to benefit from its easier-to-understand language, clearer intention, and increased compatibility with the ISO 9001:2000 quality management system standard that many of them also implement," ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden commented.

"It is not necessary for organizations to be certified to attain the benefits that implementing the standard can bring, such as continually improving environmental performance. However, more than 66 000 organizations around the world [see The ISO Survey - 2003] have chosen to have their EMS independently certified and although ISO itself does not carry out either certification or accreditation, we naturally wish to ensure a smooth transition of certification to the improved standard.

"ISO has therefore supported the IAF in developing a transition plan for certification to ISO 14001:2004, accredited by IAF members. We are now counting on the IAF and its members to implement that policy for the benefit of current and new users of ISO 14001 which is one of ISO's most important standards in the service of organizations aspiring to sustainable development."

The IAF estimates that 18 months is sufficient for the transition to ISO 14001:2004, compared to the three-year transition considered necessary when ISO 9001:2000 was published. The reasoning is that the improvements made to ISO 14001 consist of fine-tuning, while ISO 9001 underwent major revision, such as introduction of the process approach.

IAF Chairman, Dr. Thomas Facklam, explained: "This 18-month transition period is considered as sufficient for national standards bodies to adopt and translate ISO 14001:2004, and for the accredited certification market to assess the requirements of the revised standard and to make adjustments as necessary to existing environmental management systems."

The IAF's 18-month ISO 14001:2004 transition plan is for implementation by certification bodies accredited by its members when they carry out ISO 14001 audits of users' EMS. The main points are summarized as follows:

  • For up to six months after the 15 November 2004 publication date of the new version, it is up to the certification bodies and their clients to agree on whether audits are conducted according to ISO 14001:1996 or to ISO 14001:2004. This concerns the entire audit cycle - initial, surveillance and reassessment audits.
  • During this period, no additional audits will be added to the auditing cycle solely to assess revisions made to existing EMS in order to conform to the requirements of ISO 14001:2004.
  • From six months after 15 November 2004, all audits of both existing and new clients should be to ISO 14001:2004.
  • Nonconformities to the requirements of ISO 14001:2004 may be raised against organizations currently certified to ISO 14001:1996, but will not adversely affect certification until the end of the 18-month transition period.
  • Existing ISO 14001:1996 certificates will be renewed as ISO 14001:2004 certificates only when the EMS concerned has been successfully audited as conforming to the new version. All existing certificates must be renewed as ISO 14001:2004 certificates before the end of the 18-month transition period.
  • Eighteen months after the publication of ISO 14001:2004 on 15 November 2004, any existing ISO 14001:1996 certificate accredited by an IAF member will be no longer be considered valid by the IAF. Outstanding nonconformities to ISO 14001:2004 will become active and will affect certification.

The IAF transition plan (IAF GD 4:2004), can be consulted on the IAF Web site (www.iaf.nu - under Publications, then Guidance Documents).