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How to Prepare for ISO 14001 Certification

What is ISO 14001 Certification and How to Prepare for It?

Preparing to audit ISO 14001.

ISO 14001 is considered the gold standard when it comes to businesses demonstrating a commitment to environmental management. Developed by the experts at the International Organization for Standardization, ISO 14001 lays out the ground work for an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). Over a quarter of a million organizations globally have an ISO 14001 certificate, with some of the world's greenest businesses touting their ISO certification as part of their sustainability accomplishments and / or choosing to do business only with other ISO 14001 certified suppliers.  

If you're reading this article it likely means you are interested in learning how to get ISO 14001 certified and what ISO 14001 certification costs. This article will put you on the right path to getting your certification and explain some of the finer points you may not be aware of. 

The process towards ISO certification can be a difficult one. Whether you are preparing for your first audit for ISO 14001, or simply readying to re-certify for the latest revision, approaching ISO can seem a daunting task. The goal of this article is to promote the use of ISO, as well as to inform and educate, describing the various potential problems one may face when readying for ISO certification. It will also cover the benefits of ISO 14001 certification. Once the potential pitfalls have been addressed, we have included several suggestions to aid in overcoming them. The first step is the most difficult, and one that you have already taken, which is recognizing the need to prepare.

How Do I Get ISO 14001 Certified?

The process of how to get ISO 14001 certified involves designing and implementing an EMS that follows the ISO's best practices for an environmental management system (EMS), getting it up and running, and having an ISO-approved auditor perform a full audit of the system. This audit will require extensive documentation and the auditor may have recommendations that need to be met before you get ISO 14001 certified.

The average amount of time it takes to design, implement and certify for ISO 14001 can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. It is therefore essential that there is a reliable hand guiding and recording every step of the process. A monitoring system drastically reduces human error, and provides a central database that collects and records all documentation (Procedures, manuals, emergency plans, checklists, records, etc.). The larger an organization, the greater the amount of documentation to review, update and control. ISO will also require much, if not all recorded documentation. A monitoring system can aid in all these aspects, as well as providing a rapid turnaround time in the generation of new or updated documents.

For many organizations it makes more sense to implement an already-established EMS system using ISO standards rather than trying to built a bespoke version from scratch.

Studies in the United States has shown that the identification of environmental aspects and their associated impacts takes the greatest effort as compared to the other requirements. Evaluating significance and prioritizing steps can be difficult, especially in a larger operation. A monitoring system can help ease the pressure and provide expertise for the corporate and stakeholder agendas, which otherwise would require much research and deliberation.

A common issue in the ISO 14001 certification process is human resources; the essential tool in creating and maintaining new environmental standards is competent manpower. There is an overall lack of cross functional employees who can adapt and cover the wide range of environmental topics (air, water, waste, etc.) for effective EMS implementation. Oftentimes, ISO 14001 certification is driven by having an ISO environmental expert or champion on your team. Unawareness of the potential benefits is also a demoralizing factor, as many employees tend to view the extra workload with disfavor. A system, run by those with an expertise in environmental topics and sustainability, can aid in mitigating the lack of specialized staff, as well as promoting awareness and aiding in supplemental environmental training sessions.

What are the Benefits ISO 14001 Standards?

The world is rapidly expanding, with vast amounts of people, cultures, and businesses becoming increasingly interconnected. This global connectivity has also increased the amount of public – and by extension governmental – awareness about sustainable development and environmental standards. ISO 14001 certification is designed to aid organizations implement an EMS (Environmental Management System), with the goal to identify, manage, monitor and control potential environmental issues. Complying to the ISO environmental management standards proves that a business is considering the environment within its goals, which in turn aids its international reputation, selection as a vendor, and overall material efficiency (which also translates directly to cost savings). 

The public benefits of ISO certification can seem intangible, but it actually can have a huge effect on stakeholders, other businesses, the market, and the government. It is therefore imperative to make every effort that the ISO certification audit goes well, as there can be many potential benefits, including environmental improvements, risk avoidance and business growth.

Companies aiming for ISO certification set their own target goals for compliance, which should be realistic in terms of viability and in line with industry standards. ISO is in this regard quite flexible; however, this approach also means that there are no set guidelines, or easy to follow rules. It is here where an Environmental Management Information System or Environmental Management Software can come into play and help your business out significantly.

What is the Latest ISO 14001 Standard?

One of the strengths of the ISO system is that the standards get revisited and improved periodically - following the same continuous improvement cycle that the environmental standard requires. That being said, the latest ISO 14001 standard was published over 5 years ago, in 2015. The current and latest ISO 14001 standard is 14001:2015.

There were many changes from the previous version, 14001:2004. These largely expanded the general scope of the EMS requirements including further documentation, more leadership engagement, increased interactions with third parties, and... increased certification cost. Notably, ISO 14001:2015 also added a need for risk-based planning to be part of your environmental management. 

In general the latest ISO 1400 standard represented a philosophical change for the standard; 14001:2004 required organizations to reduce negative impact (like emissions) whereas 14001:2015 asks those organizations to actively improve the environmental conditions around their sites. 

How Environmental Software Can Help with ISO 14001 Certification

The core of ISO 14001 certification is all about having a reliable, effective, and responsible environmental management system in place for your operations. For most businesses, the amount of human labor, time, and resources to create and implement a total EMS solution is overly burdensome. This is why many EHS professionals seeking to meet ISO 14001 standards rely on an environmental software platform to provide the infrastructure to achieve ISO 14001. 

Using an ISO Environmental Software platform is one of the most efficient methods of achieving ISO 14001 certification and maintaining your ISO status. Essentially, an Environmental Management Software provides a backbone to the ISO Environmental Management System (EMS ISO 14001) – having a centralized digital platform for your ISO documentation and a place to track environmental goals or KPIs sets you on the right path for ISO 14001 certification.

ISO 14001 standards use a Plan-Do-Check-Act model, in which you first plan an environmental objective out fully, do the tasks within the plan, check  your progress regularly, then act in accordance with your findings in order to improve on your performance. It’s all about a continuous improvement cycle with no end. Environmental Management Software can automate or support each step of the process:

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Plan:

  • Compliance task assignment and automated task creation: plan all your tasks in advance, batch create a year (or other time period) of compliance tasks to support your goal. Keeps everyone on your team on track.
  • Forecasting: using built-in business logic, forecast the environmental impact of certain chemical products or processes via digital modelling.

Do:

  • Automated notifications: inform need-to-know staff for timely action to mitigate environmental risk.
  • Intuitive mobile apps: Involve more employees at all levels and capture information accurately, even in remote locations.

Check:

  • Numeric scoring of assessment elements: get quantitative metrics to compare and measure across your enterprise.
  • KPIs about your goal: lets you see where you stand, if your efforts are paying off, and where you can still improve.
  • Automated audits and inspections: Set up any set of questions to ensure the right information is captured efficiently.

Act:

  • Integrated corrective and preventative actions: reduce future risk, and fulfills the “Act” requirement of ISO 14001 - react and adapt to what your find in your audits and inspections.

How to Implement ISO 14001 Standards

A third-party monitoring system like ERA’s can provide a small business with the expertise and resources it may lack internally for ISO 14001, and provide a larger business with a central database to store documentation and employee follow-ups. These systems are designed to ease the burden placed on organizations by creating an online blueprint of the ISO 14001 process. This is done to allow for preparation and reflection, as it can give a perspective on what sort of goals to set and how they may be achieved.

The purpose of our system is to showcase what is to be expected, and to aid in developing a methodology to further expand and develop the internal Environmental Management System (EMS) that ISO 14001 expects.

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This post was written by Gregory Barnes