Understanding ISO 14001 and related Environmental standards
The management and conservation of the Environment rely greatly on a set of crucial laws, protocols, and standards that have been derived for prescribing certain limits and encouraging effective management and mitigation strategies to various Environmental aspects that may harm the Environment directly or indirectly.
Be it any policy, law or protocol, the primary objective is to provide individuals, communities, organizations, and nations with guidelines and strategies to monitor their Environmental aspects and then mitigate or abate the corresponding Environmental impacts.
Difference between Environmental Aspects & Environmental Impacts
It is very important for a student or expert to clearly understand the difference between Environmental Aspects and Environmental Impacts before we carry on with the discussion here.
An Environmental Aspect is any activity by an individual, community or organization that directly or indirectly interacts with the Environment and its components.
An Environmental Impact is any kind of impact/effect on the Environment due to an Environmental aspect. An Environmental impact may be adverse or beneficial to the Environment.
ISO 9001 in brief
ISO 9001 and its latest revised amendment ISO 9001:2015 sets out the criteria for a quality management system and is the only standard in the family that can be certified to. It can be used by any organization, large or small, regardless of its field of activity. In fact, there are over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001.
This standard is based on a number of quality management principles including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, the process approach and continual improvement. Using ISO 9001:2015 helps ensure that customers get consistent, good quality products and services, which in turn brings many business benefits.
ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations
- Minimize how their operations (processes, etc.) negatively affect the environment (i.e. cause adverse changes to air, water, or land).
- Comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements.
- Continually improve in the above.
The ISO 14000 standards were issued in 1996 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a major, private organization involved in standardization of industrial management practices.
It is important to note that ISO 14000 standards are the product of a nongovernmental organization and compliance with the standards is voluntary. However, one of the primary purposes of the standards is to ensure that businesses comply with the applicable environmental laws.
Businesses view the implementation of ISO 14000 as a means to self-regulate, thereby minimizing their exposure to surveillance and sanctions by the Central Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its state-level counterparts.
Many beginners in the field of Environment Science do not clearly realize that the entire Environment Management System (EMS) functions and revolves around the concept of ISO 14000 standards, especially ISO 14001.
ISO 14001 is a voluntary standard that organizations can certify to. This standard is often integrated with other crucial ISO and management systems standards, most commonly ISO 9001 (Quality Management), to further assist in accomplishing organizational goals.
Definition of ISO 14001
ISO 14001 and its latest revised amendment ISO 14001:2015 is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). It provides a framework that an organization can follow, rather than establish environmental performance requirements.
In simple words, the ISO 14001 standards help organizations improve their environmental performance through the more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantage and the trust of stakeholders. If followed the right way, ISO 14001 empowers organizations and communities to improve both their Environmental responsibility and Environmental performance.
Components of ISO 14001
The ISO 14001 standard functions around a systematic framework of 5 typical components that eventually form the basis of every Environment Management System (EMS) in the world today.
- Environmental Policy
Establishment of an appropriate environmental policy that is documented and communicated to employees and made available to the public, and which includes a commitment to continual improvement and pollution prevention, regulatory compliance and a framework for setting objectives.
- Environmental Plan
A planning phase that covers the identification of the environmental aspects of the organization’s activities, identification and access to legal requirements, establishment and documentation of objectives and targets consistent with the policy, and establishment of a program for achieving said targets and objectives (including the designation of responsible individuals, necessary means and timeframes).
- Plan Implementation
Implementation and operation of the EMS including the definition, documentation, and communication of roles and responsibilities, provision of appropriate training, assurance of adequate internal and external communication, written management system documentation as well as appropriate document control procedures, documented procedures for operational controls, and documented and communicated emergency response procedures.
- Monitoring and Corrective Actions
Checking and corrective action procedures, including procedures for regular monitoring and measurement of key characteristics of the operations and activities, procedures for dealing with situations of non-conformity, specific record maintenance procedures and procedures for auditing the performance of the EMS.
- Management Reviews
Periodic management reviews of the overall EMS to ensure its suitability, adequacy, and effectiveness in light of changing circumstances.
EMS model based on ISO 14001
The Environmental Management System (EMS) in simple words is a tool which enables the organization to achieve and systematically control the level of environmental performance that it sets itself. An EMS as outlined in ISO 14001 provides a structured process for the achievement of continual improvement, the rate and extent of which is determined by the organization in light of economic and other circumstances.
It is rather interesting to know that the PDCA cycle of the EMS is designed completely on the guidelines stated under the ISO 14001 standards. Hence it won’t be wrong to conclude that if you understand ISO 14001 properly, then you will surely understand the concept of an EMS.
The establishment of an EMS will not, in itself, necessarily result in an immediate reduction of adverse environmental impact. Indeed, care needs to be taken that the mere establishment of an EMS does not push the organization into a false sense of security. But effectively used, an EMS should enable an organization to improve its environmental performance and avoid or reduce adverse environmental impacts over time.