What you need to know

ISO 1400: What you need to know

Jackson, Suzan L

ISO 9000, the enormously successful worldwide quality management system standards, helped to spark the creation of ISO 14000-a similar series of international standards for environmental management. After three years of development, the series was officially launched with the publication of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 in September 1996. Most observers believe the impact of ISO 14000 will far exceed that of ISO 9000.

Over the years people followed the development of ISO 14000 with different feelings, often because of their positive, negative, or mixed experiences with ISO 9000.

With the potential stakes so high, questions and concerns have multiplied.

Q. WHAT IS ISO 14000?

A. ISO 14000 is a series of voluntary international standards covering environmental management tools and systems developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Best known for producing the ISO 9000 series of quality management system standards, ISO is a Swiss-based, worldwide organization of national standards bodies from 111 countries.

ISO’s intent is to provide all industries-whether in manufacturing or services-with a structure for an environmental management system that will ensure all operational processes are consistent and effective and will achieve the stated environmental objectives of a given organization.


A. ISO 14001 will enhance the efficiency of an organization’s processes, increase the effectiveness of its environmental program, and improve its performance. In the process, the adoption of the standards will also strengthen a company’s environmental credibility with customers, governments, and communities.

Although the ISO 14000 series will ultimately include some 20 separate standards covering everything from environmental auditing and labeling to assessing lifecycles of products, ISO 14001, “Environmental Management Systems-Specifications with Guidance for Use,” (EMS) is the first standard a company will use to establish its own environmental management system. It both provides an overall framework for environmental management and integrates that framework with overall business management activity.

ISO 14001 tells an organization how to establish a disciplined system for achieving stated environmental objectives that adhere to relevant legislative and regulatory requirements, to perform according to its own policies and procedures, and to audit to assure full conformance and continual improvement.

ISO 14001 recognizes that all management systems-whether for safety, quality, or the environment-must provide a defined and organized approach to the relevant activities, while also meeting bottom-line business needs.

Common elements required in all effective management systems are clearly defined policy and objectives, clear-cut responsibilities, documented systems, ongoing training, records, document control, control of critical processes, internal audits, a way to correct problems, management reviews, and continual improvement.

ISO 14001’s definition of an EMS focuses on these elements. As a result, an ISO 14000 defined environmental management system can be integrated with overall management activity.

Q. HOW IS ISO 14001 RELATED TO ISO 9001(2)?

A. The success of the ISO 9001(2) quality system standards gave impetus to the development of ISO 14001. ISO 14001 shares common management system principles with ISO 9001(2). So, an organization can build EMS using existing ISO 9001(2) system elements.

However, there are several major differences between the two standards. Unlike ISO 9001(2), ISO 14001 includes specific policy requirements, environmental aspect identification, setting objectives and targets at all relevant levels, and a commitment to compliance with all appropriate legislation and regulations.


A. No. The standard was written to apply to organizations of all types and sizes in diverse geographical, cultural, social, and economic situations.

It seeks to balance socioeconomic and business needs with support of environmental protection. It is within the reach of a powerful multinational that can afford the “best available technology,” as well as that of a smaller business in a less developed country.

Although ISO 14001 does not establish absolute environmental performance requirements, the standard does contain requirements that should result in a higher and steadily improving level of performance. Requirements that promote an improved performance are:

An organization must meet the requirements of the policy and the EMS created from that policy, including a commitment to prevention of pollution;

An organization must have a commitment to meet all applicable legislation and regulations;

An organization must set its own environmental objectives and targets and establish specific programs to meet each goal;

An organization must commit itself to continual improvement of its EMS, which, if followed, should eventually result in environmental performance improvement.

The standard recognizes that the EMS it specifies may not be the whole complete answer:

“The adoption and implementation of a range of environmental management techniques in a systematic manner can contribute to optimal outcomes for all interested parties. However, adoption of this international standard will not in itself guarantee optimal environmental outcomes.”

In practical terms, this means, for example, that the Environmental Protection Agency may only accept a registered ISO 14001 EMS as demonstration that the organization has partially met requirements. Proof that performance requirements have been met may also be necessary.


A. The auditable environmental management system specified in ISO 14001 is a model of brevity, clarity, and reason. Its lucidity will be particularly striking for those familiar with the somewhat rambling organization of ISO 9001(2), the specification standard for the quality management series. The standard’s auditable requirements cover approximately three pages, spread out over pages 2-5.

The system requirements are based on the traditional management structure, “plan-do-check-act.” The standard calls this a “dynamic cyclical process,” because the check and act phases lead back to a new planning phase and then a “do” or implementing phase.

The EMS model embodied in ISO 14001 is a distinct, specific version of this dynamic cycle. It moves through the development of policy, planning, implementation, operation, checking, corrective action, management review, and continual improvement.

The five principles and elements on which the model is constructed are succinctly stated on page 3 of ISO 14004, the guidance standard:

Principle 1-Commitment/Policy: A company should define environmental policy and ensure commitment to its EMS.

Principle 2-Planning: An organization should formulate a plan to fulfill its environmental policy.

Principle 3-Implementation: For effective implementation, an organization should develop the capabilities and support mechanisms necessary to achieve its environment policy, objectives, and targets.

Principle 4-Measurement and evaluation: An organization should measure, monitor, and evaluate its environmental performance.

Principle 5-An organization should review and continually improve its environmental management system, with the objective of improving its overall environmental performance.

The guidance standard then puts the principles in perspective: “With this in mind, the EMS is best viewed as an organizing framework that should be continually monitored and periodically reviewed to provide effective direction for an organization’s environmental activities in response to changing internal and external factors. Every individual in an organization should accept responsibility for environmental improvements.”


A.. Registration occurs when an organization hires an official, independent thirdparty auditing body, called a registrar, to assess its system to ensure that it meets the requirements of a particular standard (ISO 14001 for EMS registration).

Registrars are typically approved or accredited by some national accreditation body. In the United States, two authoritative organizations-ANSI (American National Standards Institute), which is the U.S. representative to ISO, and the RAB (Registrar Accreditation Board), which was developed to accredit ISO 9000 registrars, have joined together to create the National Accreditation Program (NAP). The NAP accredits third party EMS Registrars and Course Providers for both quality and environmental systems. The RAB will certify EMS auditors.


A. ISO 14001 does not require third party registration, but it is written to accommodate the process. The standard’s requirements can be either met through self-declaration or through assessment and registration by an accredited third-party registrar.

However, if an organization uses a third party registrar or wants to self-declare its conformance, it must be able to objectively demonstrate that it has met the requirements specified by ISO 14001.

Among other things, the organization must maintain records that demonstrate conformance to the standard, maintain procedures for critical elements of its EMS, and maintain a program of periodic audits of its management system.

The primary difference between selfdeclaration and third-party registration is that registration provides a professional, objective verification that an organization’s EMS meets ISO 14001 requirements.


A. Implementation of the standard and registration of your EMS are two separate questions.

Conscientious implementation provides the same internal benefits as does a registered system, e.g., a structured and controlled EMS, improved internal processes, better cost control, conservation of input materials and energy, and a source of evidence for reasonable care and regulatory compliance.

Registration increases an EMS’s credibility and official standing. Traditionally, organizations that deal directly with external customers, regulators, and other external groups are more likely to seek registration than those that don’t. Here are some of the benefits an organization might expect from registration:

Marketing/Public Relations. A registered EMS may give organizations a competitive advantage, especially with customers who have a strong commitment to the environment. Given the pressures from societies around the world for environmental protection and pollution control, there is a growing trend toward strong, public commitment. Some companies may even request or require registration of their suppliers.

Regulatory Bodies. The EPA and/or state regulatory agencies may accept a registered EMS to help satisfy some requirements. This may result in reduced reporting and monitoring requirements, reduced inspections, and improved regulatory flexibility. The EPA has taken steps in this direction in some voluntary programs.

Community/Environmental Activist Groups. Such groups may be more satisfied with a registered system as opposed to a self-declared one. Indeed, some groups may request EMS registration of a local facility.

Insurance. Insurance or financing companies may provide preferences, e.g., lower rates or better access to capital, if the system is registered.

Judicial System. Recent actions by the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicate that companies with an active environmental management system (such as that defined by ISO 14001), may see real benefits if they appear before federal courts for environmental violations. The potential for such benefits is heightened if the system is registered.

Competitive Pressures. Several prominent multinational companies, including Sony, Ford, Toyota, and Akzo Nobel, have already made public commitments to ISO 14001 registration of their facilities. As registrations grow, many organizations will feel pressure to implement and register their EMS to keep up with competitors. This trend has marked the growth of ISO 9000.

Many of these issues are not yet resolved. But any company or organization can begin to implement an EMS now. If registration later seems like the right strategy, the system will be in place and already functioning.


A. There is no official implementation process, but here is an overview of the typical steps an organization would take to implement ISO 14001:


1. Assess existing systems against ISO 14001 to determine current status.

2. Identify environmental aspects and environmental impacts of your processes, products, and services. Environmental aspects are causes, e.g., exhaust emissions, potential for spillage; environmental impacts are effects, e.g., water and air pollution.

3. Define realistic, achievable environmental objectives and targets.

4. Develop or revise environmental policy. Define realistic plans and programs for meeting the objectives and targets.


1. Execute planned programs to meet objectives and targets. This will be an ongoing activity.

2. Analyze existing management systems, e.g., in training, communication, documentation, document control, to determine best practices. Effectively integrate EMS elements into ISO 9000 and other existing management systems.

3. Improve existing systems and develop new ones where needed, e.g., emergency response plans and supplier control system.

4. Define and document systems.


1. Establish baseline measurements and implement ongoing measurement system.

2. Conduct ongoing internal EMS audits.

3. Conduct ongoing management reviews.


1. Take corrective and preventive actions based on ongoing measurements.

2. Continually review and revise aspects, policy, objectives, programs, and systems as necessary.

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ISO 14000: What You Need to Know

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Suzan L. Jackson heads Environmental Management Senrices for Excel Partnership. She may be reached at Excel Partnership, Inc., 75 Glen Road, Sandy Hook, Conn., U.S.A., 06482.

Copyright PRIMEDIA Intertec Sep 1999

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