ISO 14001 – Environmental Management Systems

Environment, ISO Standards

ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems – requirements with guidance for use

An organization may want to improve its environmental performance but find it difficult to do so in an efficient and effective manner.  ISO 14001:2015 is a recognised method for identifying and addressing environmental performance. With over 300,000 certifications issued across 171 countries, the standard is the most widely adopted environmental management system worldwide.

There are a number of reasons why an organisation chooses to implement an environmental management system.  These reasons include:

  • To demonstrate management commitment;
  • Responding to pressure from interested parties (stakeholders);
  • Acting in a socially responsible manner;
  • Reducing the risk of prosecution;
  • To meet regulatory requirements including permits (e.g. IED, PPC , environmental permit )

This series of blogs aims to assist you to understand the requirements of ISO 14001:2015.

ISO has adopted a high level structure, identical core text and common terms and definitions which are mandatory in all ISO management system standards, including ISO 14001. ISO 14001 contains the following principal clauses:

  • Clause 1 Scope
  • Clause 2 Normative references
  • Clause 3 Terms and definitions
  • Clause 4 Context of the organisation
  • Clause 5 Leadership and worker participation
  • Clause 6 Planning
  • Clause 7 Support
  • Clause 8 Operation
  • Clause 9 Performance evaluation
  • Clause 10 Improvement

ISO 14001Clause 4: Context of the organization

Clause 4 focusses the organization on defining what it is and does, and what can affect its ability to manage its environmental responsibilities to achieve intended outcomes.

Intended outcomes include:

  • Enhancing the organization’s environmental performance;
  • Conforming with compliance obligations;
  • Achieving its environmental objectives

4.1 Understanding the organisation and its context

The organization must understand the internal and external issues that can positively or negatively affect its environmental performance including,  organizational culture and structure, the external environment including cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological, economic, market competition and natural factors of significance to its performance.

The company will be required to identify all relevant internal and external issues including conditions, characteristics or changing circumstances that can affect its environmental management system and then address those requiring further attention.

External issues include the following:

  • The cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological and economic conditions in which the company operates, whether at international, national, regional or local level;
  • The legislative framework in which the organization operates including statutory, regulatory and other forms of legal requirements;
  • Environmental conditions affected by the organization or which affect the organization (e.g climate change, air quality, water quality or land contamination);
  • Competition and market conditions;
  • Key drivers and trends relevant to the industry or sector in which the organization operates.

Internal issues include:

  • The size and complexity of the organization and the nature of activities conducted;
  • The strategic direction of the organization, its policies and objectives;
  • Organizational governance and structure, roles and accountabilities;
  • The capability and capacity of the organization in terms of resources, knowledge and competence (e.g. capital, employee competencies, processes, systems and technologies);
  • Information systems: information flows and decision-making processes (both formal and informal) and the time frame within which they are accomplished;
  • The process for introducing new products, materials, services, tools, software, premises and equipment;
  • Organizational style and culture of the organization;
  • The form and extent of contractual relationships, including outsourced activities;

An understanding of the organization and its context can be achieved at a strategic level by using techniques such as SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, and PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental) analysis.  Alternatively a simpler approach, such as brainstorming and asking, “what if” questions may be used.

A formal process or documented information is not required in order to satisfy the requirements of this sub-clause – the onus is on each organization is to adopt the approach which best suits its circumstances.  Regardless of the approach adopted, the organization must develop an understanding of its context, and guide its efforts to plan, implement, maintain and continually improve its environmental management system.

It is recommended that the organization documents and periodically updates the process and its results as necessary.

The results can be used to assist the organization in:

  • Setting the scope of its environmental management system;
  • Determining the risks and opportunities that need to be addressed;
  • Developing or enhancing its environmental policy;
  • Establishing its environmental objectives;
  • Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties;
  • Fulfilling its compliance obligations

Clause 4.1 Understanding the organisation and its context – Quick Check

  • Have you identified relevant external environmental conditions?
  • Have you identified external issues using a PESTLE analysis or other means?
  • Have you identified internal organisational issues using a SWOT analysis or other means?
  • Does the organization have an adequate appreciation of its context?
Annex SL , Environment , Environmental management system , ISO 14001 , ISO 14001:2015 , management system standards
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