Important Changes to ISO 14001

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In today’s global markets, the requirement for organisations to demonstrate that they are a competitive, responsible and reliable supplier have never been greater. Gaining external accreditation to international environmental and quality management standards is becoming more and more a pre requisite for doing business.

Since 2010 on average approximately 15,000 ISO 14001 certifications are issued in the UK per annum to the 2004 specification second in popularity only to the international quality management standard ISO 9001 (approximately 40,000 per annum).

Both of these standards, after much global consultation have been revised and re issued in 2015 to adopt a common higher level structural language (Annex SL) to facilitate the increasing adoption of multiple certifications and the desire to integrate them. Annex SL is broken down into 10 standard clauses:-
1 – Scope
2 – Normative references
3 – Terms and definitions
4 – Context of the organisation
5 – Leadership
6 – Planning
7 – Support
8 – Operation
9 – Performance evaluation
10 – Improvement
ISO 14001 has also changed as a result to improvements to the environmental management system itself and global environmental pressures. The main changes are highlighted below.


The organisation is required to identify any external and internal issues that may impact on their Environmental Management System´s (EMS) ability to deliver its intended outcomes. These issues include any environmental condition that may affect or be affected by the organisation. The organisation is also required to determine the relevant needs and expectations of the relevant interested parties – that is, those individuals and organisations that can affect or be affected by, the organisation’s decisions or activities.


Top management is required to demonstrate that it engages in key EMS activities as opposed to simply ensuring that these activities occur. This means there is a need for top management to be actively involved in the operation of their EMS and be accountable for its results. The removal of references to the role of “management representative” reinforces the requirement to see the EMS embedded into strategic and operational business operations, rather than being operated as an independent system in its own right with its own specific management structure and processes.

Risk-Based Thinking:

The organisation must evidence that they have determined, considered and, where necessary, taken action to address any risks and opportunities that may impact (either positively or negatively) their EMS´s ability to deliver its intended outcomes. References to preventive action have disappeared. However, the core concept of identifying and addressing potential mistakes before they happen very much remains.


The communication with interested parties plays an important role in an effective EMS.
The organisation needs to be sure that the information provided is consistent with the information generated within the EMS.

Life Cycle Thinking:

The organisation needs to:
a) Ensure that products are designed in an environmentally friendly manner.
b) Determine environmental requirements on products and services to be purchased and communicate them to the suppliers.
c) Provide relevant information to customers and users.
Note: There is no need to carry out a formal and thorough life cycle assessment.


This has been an issue in the previous editions of ISO 14001; organisations have to improve their EMS in order to improve their environmental performance. Now, it is clear that these are two independent improvement actions: the performance can be improved by just operating the EMS, not necessarily improving it. A note also recognises that incremental (continual) improvement is not the only improvement profile. Improvement can also arise as a result of periodic breakthroughs, reactive change or innovation.

October 2016