The story of ISO 14001 and why it matters.

The story of ISO 14001 and why it matters.

Today care for the global environment has never been so important. It is not just about ‘being green’ and socially responsible but much more. It is about the long term sustainability of the planet we live on and it is good to see that after so many years governments and big corporate companies around the world have at last started to take such matters seriously.

The original concept for an environmental management system, or EMS, can be traced back to 1972, when the United Nations (UN) first organised a conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was also launched. These and other early initiatives led to the establishment of the “World Commission on Environment and Development” (WCED) and the adoption of the ‘Montreal Protocol’ and ‘Basel Convention’. It was the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio-de-Janeiro though, which first generated a global commitment to the environment.

In the same year, BSI published the world’s first environmental management systems standard – BS 7750. This created the template for the development of the ISO 14000 series in 1996 by the International Organisation for Standardisation which has representation from committees all over the world. Today, ISO 14001 is used in thousands of organisations across 159 countries.

The ISO 14001 standard represents the core set of standards used by organisations for designing and implementing an effective environmental management system. Another standard in the series is ISO 14004 which gives additional guidelines for a good environmental management system. The major objective of the ISO 14000 series is “to promote more effective and efficient environmental management in organisations and to provide useful and usable tools – ones that are cost effective, system-based, flexible and reflect the best organisations and the best organisational practices available for gathering, interpreting and communicating environmentally relevant information”.

Unlike previous environmental regulations, which were more ‘command and control’ oriented, ISO 14000 is based on a voluntary approach to environmental regulation. In other words it acts both as an internal management tool as well as a way of demonstrating a company’s environmental commitment to its customers and clients.

Prior to the development of the ISO 14000 series, organisations voluntarily constructed their own EMS systems which made comparisons of environmental effects between companies very difficult. The more universal ISO 14000 series was developed for this very reason.

The ISO 14001 standard therefore serves as a framework to assist organisations in developing their own environmental management system and can be integrated with other management functions assisting companies in meeting their environmental and economic goals.

The main aim of ISO 14001 is therefore to assist companies in continually improving their environmental performance, whilst complying with any applicable legislation. Organisations are responsible for setting their own targets and performance measures, with the standard serving to assist them in meeting objectives and goals.  This means that two organisations with completely different measures and standards of environmental performance can equally comply with the ISO 14001 requirements.

The standard can be applied to a variety of levels in the business, from organisational level down to the product and service level and rather than focusing on exact measures and goals of environmental performance, the standard highlights what an organisation needs to do to meet these goals.

As with all standards success of the system is very dependent on commitment from all levels of the organisation, especially top management, who need to be actively involved in the development, implementation and maintenance of the environmental management system.

ISO 14001 is known as a ‘generic management system standard’, meaning that it is applicable to any size and type of organisation, product or service. It covers almost all types of activity and is able to accommodate diverse socio-cultural and geographic conditions. Also, all standards are periodically reviewed by ISO and new ones issued as and when applicable.

Certification International is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to provide certification to ISO 14001 and our aim is to support organisations wishing to minimize the way in which their operations affect the environment as well as assisting with compliance to applicable laws and regulations.

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