ISO 14001: everything you need to know to become an expert

Are you familiar with ISO 14001? It was developed to help companies minimise their environmental impact. This article explains how.

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In recent years, the majority of consumers have been opting for companies that care about the environment. So as not to betray customers’ trust, it is essential to take concrete action to protect the planet through the implementation of specific initiatives.

This voluntary approach is all the more effective because it can lead to certification.

What is ISO 14001 certification?

ISO 14001 certification involves defining a framework for setting up an effective environmental management system. This internationally-recognised standard is based on a voluntary approach via which various actions are rewarded with certification from an approved external body.

Definition: ISO 14001 standard

Developed in 1996 by a worldwide federation of national standardisation bodies from some 140 countries, ISO 14001 is the most widely used of the ISO 14000 family of standards. Aimed at all companies and organisations regardless of their sector of activity (including Corporate Social Responsibility), the standard is a set of guidelines (not requirements) designed to develop an environmental management system (EMS).

The goal is to reduce the environmental impact of the company by complying with basic regulations. The standard establishes a practical framework to guide the company in complying with these procedures. Such actions to protect the environment can result in certification: offering a real guarantee of quality.

It rallies the support of the entire organisation by:

  • Raising the awareness of staff;
  • Boosting employee commitment;
  • Reinforcing the involvement of management;
  • Incorporating suppliers into the organisation’s environmental system and improving their performance.

As a result, each company develops an effective CSR approach that is fully tailored to the improvements it needs to make to protect the environment.

The four core principles of ISO 14001

Based on a voluntary approach, the ISO 14001 standard is founded on four principles represented by the Deming Cycle, a quality management system:

  1. Plan environmental objectives in line with the organisation's environmental policy;
  2. Do i.e. implement a programme of actions;
  3. Check the impact of the actions implemented and compliance with environmental regulations via an audit;
  4. Act to improve the process by implementing carefully thought-out actions.

These different principles allow for continuous improvement of the systems put in place by the company. Once the company has adopted this standard, it regularly checks its compliance with current and future environmental regulations. It is important to make such checks to maintain certification and improve environmental performance over the long term.

What is the purpose of ISO 14001 in the field of CSR?

The ISO 14001 standard offers two major advantages for CSR:

  • It establishes a regulated framework for developing an effective environmental management system;
  • It offers certification and rewards all the effort made by the company to limit its impact on the environment. This official recognition is essential for a CSR strategy and the company’s image.

The standard provides a dual benefit that is now essential to preserve the environment, maintain consumer confidence and compete with the major brands in your market. Combined with a CSR approach, application of the standard promotes the company’s development according to environmental and human issues.

Why implement ISO 14001 within your company?

Although it is not a legal obligation, implementing ISO 14001 within your company is highly recommended because of its dual impact. In addition to taking action to protect the environment, you will benefit from significant economic advantages.

The environmental benefits of ISO 14001

According to the rules of the ISO 14001 standard, every company must review its operations, production and management while limiting its impact on the environment.

This includes:

  • Reducing waste;
  • Reducing CO2 emissions;
  • Saving resources;
  • Managing water and waste water; and
  • Improving internal processes.

By complying with environmental legislation and regulations, the company will save money while improving its performance in this field. It must make changes to some of its environmentally-damaging processes, thus reducing unnecessary costs. For example, the company may make savings on electricity bills, transport or cardboard costs.

The financial and economic benefits of ISO 14001

ISO 14001 offers many financial and economic benefits. In addition to improving the company’s image, reassuring consumers and reducing its environmental impact, certification will make the company more competitive.

By improving processes and operations, the management system will make the company more efficient. Such changes will help the company to win multiple contracts, and certification will open the door to new markets.

In a survey conducted by the British Assessment Bureau, nearly 66% of ISO 14001 certified companies stated that they had found it easier to win contracts and participate in tenders that were only open to those with certification.

This is a significant competitive advantage that is achieved by setting strategic objectives to improve the company's reputation. In just a few years, this certification has become an essential business standard to differentiate companies in the field of CSR.

How do you implement ISO 14001?

Implementing ISO 14001 requires a thorough analysis of the company's human activities. Before taking action, the environmental impact of these activities must be measured.

Conduct an environmental audit

An environmental audit is the first step in setting up an effective management system tailored to the company’s specific needs. The audit can be conducted by the company itself or by an external body but it must represent an objective evaluation in the form of a review of the environmental management system.

The aim is to evaluate the company’s performance in order to better understand the environmental impact caused by one or more sites. This step is not only about gaining awareness of the environmental impact caused by each action, it also helps to avoid more serious consequences.

The analysis is focused on the following issues:

  • Accounting and financial statements;
  • Adopted procedures;
  • Internal auditing of a particular department;
  • Checking of the impact of activities on the environment;
  • Product quality.

Once completed, the audit will help companies to identify possible improvements that can then be easily resolved.

Establish a programme of actions to be taken

In order to define the actions to be taken, the results obtained from the environmental audit must be closely examined. For each improvement identified during the audit, there should be a well-defined action plan implemented according to a schedule that includes deadlines and internal monitoring criteria.

The aim is to comply with the company’s environmental policy and the legislation already in place in order to define practical and achievable objectives. Furthermore, a programme can be established for each site in order to improve its human and financial organisation, define each individual’s responsibilities and ensure the actions to be taken are properly understood.

Report on new practices

New practices that have been implemented during the second stage and their consequences on the environment must be regularly evaluated during an annual audit conducted over 3 years. This regular monitoring demonstrates the commitment to continually improve the company’s environmental management system to meet the requirements of the standard. These regular checks should ensure the sustainability and proper management of environmental measures.

The ISO 14001 standard is renewed every three years. Certification can be obtained from three approved organisations:

  • AFNOR (Association Française de Normalisation - French Standardisation Association);
  • OFC (Organisme Français de Certification - French Certification Body);
  • DEKRA Certification.

Where can I get a copy of the ISO 14001 standard?

A full copy of the ISO 14001 standard can be purchased via the ISO online consultation platform, or from the AFNOR store or website.

You will receive a highly comprehensive document last revised in 2015. This new version requires concrete results from companies and greater involvement from management. Finally, it takes into account global warming and new environmental issues such as the life cycle of products or the consideration of risks.

Some examples of strategies used to implement ISO 14001

Once you have obtained a copy, you can use the standard as the foundation of many environmental strategies. However, the impact of the ISO standard on the company depends on the findings of the audit.

It may involve reducing electricity, water or energy consumption, reducing waste or limiting CO2 emissions. The company may also need to insulate buildings or better manage its heating and lighting. The actions will be different for each set objective.

Environmental issues affect both individuals and companies. Therefore, the ISO 14001 standard is a strategic tool with many advantages. You can minimise your impact on the environment and your carbon footprint by opting for ISO certification!

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