ISO 14001 Certification Information

A guide to ISO 14001:2015

ISO 14001:2015 is a global standard used to confirm that your business is working in an environmental manner and that you consider the impact your actions have on our Earth. Its purpose is to:

a) help businesses to build strong environmental management systems

b) create a benchmark against which the performance of companies can be judged

c) help businesses reduce their impacts on the environment and set objectives to make a positive impact



Why is ISO 14001 certification so important?

There are a number of benefits to having a well implemented ISO 14001 Environmental Management System:


It strengthens your credibility, helping win projects

Without a doubt, the ability to show clients that you have a certified environmental management system in your business is one of the most powerful arguments for achieving certification. Having an independent third party verify your organisations environmental performance sends a strong message to clients and prospective clients that you will deliver your services in a way that minimises the impact on the environment.


It creates opportunities for cost savings

There are numerous ways in which improving your organisations environmental performance helps to reduce costs. Be it from more fuel efficient vehicle fleets, reduced travel costs by promoting remote meetings, or lower energy bills due to enhanced environmental behaviours, ISO 14001 helps you focus on these improvements and take action.


It ensures you meet legal requirements

The environmental legal requirements placed upon businesses will differ, however ISO 14001 requires all businesses to consider the legislation that applies to them and how they will fulfil it. In some cases this will highlight legislation or controls that are missing and need attention to prevent the potential for fines and legal action.


It helps you meet society's expectations

Environmental awareness in society has never been greater. It is the expectation of consumers that businesses do not negatively impact the environment during their activities. ISO 14001 provides business with the language required to have these conversations and demonstrate the tangible actions they are employing to have a positive impact.


All companies have an ethical responsibility to the environment

It is the ethical duty of businesses to work in a way that does not harm the environment. ISO 14001 helps business to carefully analyse all the ways they are currently impacting the environment and put in place objectives to improve performance.



How is the standard structured?

When you first look at the standard, the layout and terminology can be confusing. However, as you understand further how ISO 14001 is structured the logic starts to appear.


The 10 Clauses

The ISO 14001:2015 standard is written around 10 clauses. Of the ten clauses, it is clauses 4-10 that are audited. Clause 1-3 are used to set the scene of the standard but are less important when it comes to your ISO 14001 implementation.


Clause 4 - Context of the Organisation

Your organisation must identify, monitor and review external and internal issues that are relevant to your business and its environmental performance. This may be the way in which your business impacts the environment, or the way in which environmental conditions impact your business. You should document your findings and review them regularly.

This clause also asks you to document all the interested parties who have needs and expectations of your business. Finally, this is the clause that suggests that you should have documented environmental processes and procedures, e.g. for how you analyse your environmental impacts; how you control the adverse environmental occurences such as fire, flood or spill; or how you manage environmental decisions in the design of a product or service.


Clause 5 - Leadership

Leadership involvement is a critical component in making an environmental management system work, and for this reason the standard makes it a requirement. Leadership are required to create your Environmental Policy, set environmental objectives, be present in the environmental reviews and communicate the importance of environmental performance throughout the organisation. Some of the ways leaders are involved will be tangible, e.g. the writing of the Environmental Policy, but in other ways their involvement will be intangible, e.g. by acting in a way that positively promotes an environmentally conscious culture.


Clause 6 - Planning

In Clause 6 you need to demonstrate that you have planned the processes and controls needed to manage your environmental performance. There are a number of key parts to this:

i. The standard asks you to document the major risks facing your organisation. These risks should be linked to your environmental aspects, your compliance obligations, the contextual issues (Clause 4) and the needs and expectations of interested parties.

ii. A second key elements of Clause 6 is the requirement to document your organisations environmental aspects and associated impacts. Aspects are each element of your activities, products and services that can interact with the environment. These can include discharges to water, emissions to air, waste and use of natural resources and materials. Each of these aspects can have one or more environmental impacts. You are required to assess the significance of these impacts and put controls in place.

iii. Next you need to consider all the compliance requirements on your business, from a legal and contractual point of view. This review of compliance legislation can be a specialist task and if you don't have the expertise internally, you can make use of compliance specialists (such as 2SB) or online compliance software services.

iv. The final element in Clause 6 is setting environmental objectives. This can apply at different levels - strategic, project, product, service or process. Objectives should be chosen to drive the environmental performance of the organisation forward.


Clause 7 - Support

This section of the standard is about all the pieces of a management system that act like the oil, allowing everything else to run smoothly. You should make sure you have a representative with sufficient environmental knowledge, consider how you will make staff aware of environmental practices and how you will communicate internally and externally on environmental issues.


Clause 8 - Operations

Clause 8 states that your organisation should carry out its operations in a controlled manner, ensuring any changes do not compromise your environmental performance. An important consideration is the 'life cycle perspective'. This means you need to ensure that environmental considerations are made from the design and development stages, through to procurement, product & service delivery and end-of-life treatment. Evidencing this clause to an assessor is usually done through a walk through your workspace, observation of a job or project from end-to-end and interviews with staff.

As an organisation you will also need to have the correct processes in place to prevent emergencies occuring (fire, flood, spill etc.), and arrangements in place for dealing with them if they do occur. These plans should be periodically tested where applicable and staff trained upon them.


Clause 9 - Performance evaluation

There are four main components of performance evaluation. Firstly you will need to demonstrate that you are monitoring your environmental performance, be it power usage, carbon emissions or production of waste as examples. Secondly is a periodic evaluation of compliance in which you need to confirm you are working in line with all the legislation that applies to your business. Thirdly is the important business of internal auditing - you will need to demonstrate that you regularly audit all the key components of the management system to review performance. Lastly, you will need to hold periodic 'management reviews' in which the person responsible for the daily running of the management system reports back to the leadership team against a set agenda.


Clause 10 - Improvement

The key mechanism for continual improvement is a 'nonconformance process'. Although this sounds a bit foreboding, it is actually a constructive way to review your systems when something goes wrong and address the root cause of the issue. It is not about finding fault with individuals, rather the focus is on understanding why a process has broken down. The other half of improvement is the general way in which your business continually improves how it operates, either through small incremental changes or larger step changes.

How do your customers benefit?

  • Gain confidence that you will deliver products and services with minimal environmental impact

  • Streamline their own due diligence & tender process

  • Reduce their own environmental impact by procuring more responsible products and services

How does your company benefit?

  • Streamlined tendering processes and point of competitive advantage

  • Cost savings from improved environmental performance

  • Sense of pride that you run your business to international best practice

Key components of an EMS

  • An analysis of the internal and external environmental issues that can impact your business

  • A well utilised risk management process

  • Documented and communicated environmental processes

  • A well deployed process for raising environmental awareness amongst staff

  • Utilisation of well chosen indicators (KPIs) to monitor environmental performance

  • A process for choosing environmentally responsible suppliers

  • A process for addressing you largest environmental aspects & impacts

  • A process for considering environmental arrangements at every stage of product development or service provision

  • Internal audits to check environmental and compliance arrangements are being met in practice

  • Documented management meetings to make key environmental decisions


ISO 14001 is based upon a 'Plan-Do-Check-Act' Cycle to drive continual environmental improvements

Three different approaches to implementing ISO 14001

Self-led implementation

  • Appoint or train someone internally to implement the EMS
  • Build in additional time to learn the standard and its requirements
  • Embrace slightly greater uncertainty when entering the audit phase

Consultant support

  • Hire consultants who can guide you efficiently through implementation
  • Accelerate the implementation timeframe
  • Use the consultant's knowledge to enter the audit with confidence

External compliance officer

  • Employ an external consultant to take responsibility for your management system
  • Weigh up the cost versus benefit of outsourcing this responsibility
  • Benefit from years of experience of industry best practice

What does it take to be successful?

Here are what we consider to be the key ingredients to make a really strong environmental management system. It is also important to recognise that ISO is a journey and no company will have a perfect system in the first few years. It takes learning and continual improvement to embed environmental issues at the heart of a business:


Senior manager involvement

Senior management must be involved to give legitimacy to the environmental management system, ensure the team buy in & provide the resources needed. Senior management also need to be onboard so that environmental issues are considered when planning major business initiatives


Engagement of staff

Staff should be trained on environmental processes and the importance of environmental practices to the business. Staff should be encouraged to make suggestions for improvement. Many of the best ideas come from those undertaking the business processes


Thirst for continual improvement

A number of influential members must have a real desire to push the business to continually improve its environmental performance - the business should provide an opportunity for team members to voice these opportunities for improvement


Consistency & discipline

The Environmental Management System should not be a once-a-year consideration just before the auditors come in - instead work should be carried out on the management system little and often (e.g. spreading the internal audits throughout the year; or arranging quarterly environmental meetings)


Dare to lead

It is possible to maintain an ISO 14001 certification without really pushing the envelope on environmental performance. However it is our experience that those organisations who put environmental performance as a central consideration in their business and take bold & proactive steps to doing things differently are recognised for doing so

How does the certification process work?

The certification process can be even more confusing than the implementation of the standard when you first research it.

Here, we will throw light on how the process works.



The Key Certification Steps


Step 1

Firstly, you will need to have implemented or be in the process of implementing the Environmental Management System. You don’t need to have fully implemented the system before contacting the certification bodies, however having made a start or knowing how far you have to go can help set a date to aim for.


Step 2

The next step is to contact one or more certification bodies to ask for quotes. You will be required to provide information about your business (i.e. nature of your work, number of employees and the roles they do, number of sites) so the certification body can make a good approximation about how many days it will take an assessor to audit your business. 

We recommend contacting at least two certification bodies since the price and number of days they expect the audit to take can vary.


Step 3

Based upon the quotes received, you will need to decide the most appropriate body to certify your business and set a fixed date for your Stage 1 and Stage 2 audits.


Step 4

Before the external audits you must fully implement your management system. This includes organising processes, creating policies, conducting internal audits, holding a management review and putting in place other mechanisms. A good consultant can help you put in place a management system with maximum efficiency.


Step 5

On the agreed dates, you will receive two rounds of audits, a Stage 1 and Stage 2 audit, usually 4 - 6 weeks apart. On successful completion of these audits, you will receive the certificate.


The Stage 1 Audit

A Stage 1 audit is an initial visit from the assessor in which they aim to; get a feeling for your business and the processes involved; check your readiness for the full Stage 2 audit; and see if there are any major gaps that need to be filled before Stage 2.


This is an important step as if anything is missing it can be resolved before the full audit. You cannot ‘fail’ a Stage 1 audit however you should have your management system as fully implemented as possible. If your system is particularly weak at Stage 1, the Stage 2 audit may be postponed and you may need another Stage 1 audit at a later date. A good consultancy like 2SB will help you be ready for your Stage 1 so nothing major is missing from your system and that you can move on smoothly to the Stage 2 audit.


The Stage 2 Audit

At Stage 2 the assessor will take a much deeper look into your business processes. They will be walking around, speaking to staff in the organisation, looking at whether your own processes are well implemented, and checking to see if the system meets the requirements of the ISO standard. The auditor will typically take a job, project or process and look at it from start to finish to understand how you initiate, deliver and then follow up projects, or produce products.


The Stage 2 audit will give one of three results:

i. Your system is well implemented and meets the requirements of the standard. There may be some recommendations for improvements but there are no nonconformances. You will receive your certificate.

ii. There have been minor nonconformances observed, and these need to resolved. You will receive a report giving you details of the minor nonconformance(s) and a timeframe to address them within. Once you have submitted proof that the nonconformance(s) has been addressed you will receive your certificate.

iii. There is a major nonconformance observed. In this case it is likely you will have to resolve the issue and undergo another audit to confirm it has been addressed. Generally, major nonconformances will be prevented by the Stage 1 audit which should highlight any major gaps in the system.


Once gained, the certificate is valid for three years, with the UKAS requirement that surveillance audits carried out annually and re-certification audits every third year.


What are surveillance audits?

Once you have gained your initial certification, you will be required to have annual surveillance audits to ensure that your system is still functioning as intended.

Surveillance audits are ‘lighter’ audits than the initial certification audit and will generally focus on higher risk/more critical business functions and on areas that nonconformances have been previously observed. If a minor nonconformance is raised during a surveillance audit, you will be required to address this before the next annual audit. If a major nonconformance is raised, this will need to be addressed and proof submitted or further audits carried out to ensure the system has been repaired.


What is a re-certification audit?

The re-certification audit forms the final part of the certification cycle. It is more in depth than the surveillance audits and successfully passing it will give a renewed certificate for a further three year cycle (with annual surveillance audits).

Case Study view all

Meet a Consultant view all

Lucy Trimmer
Management Systems Consultant
Lucy Trimmer

Frequently asked question view all

Contact an ISO Consultant