The ISO 14000 family addresses various aspects of environmental management. The very first two standards, ISO 14001:2004 and ISO 14004:2004 deal with environmental management systems (EMS). ISO 14001 provides the requirements for an EMS and ISO 14004:2004 gives general EMS guidelines.
The other standards and guidelines in the family address specific environmental aspects, including: labelling, performance evaluation, life cycle analysis, communication and auditing.
An EMS meeting the requirements of ISO 14001 is a management tool enabling an organisation of any size or type to:
- identify and control the environmental impact of its activities, products or services, and to
- improve its environmental performance continually, and to
- implement a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets, to achieving these and to demonstrating that they have been achieved.
ISO 14001 does not specify levels of environmental performance. If it specified levels of environmental performance, they would have to be specific to each business activity and this would require a specific EMS standard for each business. That is not the intention.
ISO has many other standards dealing with specific environmental issues. The intention of ISO 14001 is to provide a framework for a holistic, strategic approach to the organisation’s environmental policy, plans and actions.
ISO 14001 gives the generic requirements for an environmental management system. The underlying philosophy is that whatever the organisation’s activity, the requirements of an effective EMS are the same.
This has the effect of establishing a common reference for communicating about environmental management issues between organisations and their customers, regulators, the public and other stakeholders.
Because ISO 14001 does not lay down levels of environmental performance, the standard can to be implemented by a wide variety of organisations, whatever their current level of environmental maturity. However, a commitment to compliance with applicable environmental legislation and regulations is required, along with a commitment to continual improvement – for which the EMS provides the framework.
ISO 14001 specifies the requirements for such an environmental management system. Fulfilling these requirements demands objective evidence which can be audited to demonstrate that the environmental management system is operating effectively in conformity to the standard.
ISO 14001 is a tool that can be used to meet internal objectives:
- provide assurance to management that it is in control of the organizational processes and activities having an impact on the environment
- assure employees that they are working for an environmentally responsible organization.
ISO 14001 can also be used to meet external objectives:
- provide assurance on environmental issues to external stakeholders – such as customers, the community and regulatory agencies
- comply with environmental regulations
- support the organization’s claims and communication about its own environmental policies, plans and actions
- provides a framework for demonstrating conformity via suppliers’ declarations of conformity, assessment of conformity by an external stakeholder – such as a business client – and for certification of conformity by an independent certification body.
ISO 14001 is a management system standard. Management system standards provide a model to follow in setting up and operating a management system. It is a generic standard which means that the same standard can be applied to any organisation, large or small, whatever its product or service, in any sector of activity, and whether it is a business enterprise, a public administration, or a government department.
The system requires documented plans and compliance and certification is judged by objective evidence of the system in operation.
The ISO14001 model is based on continual improvement meaning that its formal structure includes processes that regularly examine performance and ensure that the system continues to provide ongoing benefits.