Can ISO 14001 Help An Organization Improve Its Environmental Performance?

Last week, we began our new series on ISO 14001 and corporate sustainability by framing the basics of an EMS or environmental management system.  In this installment, we are going to provide some depth to ISO 14001 and what a company can hope to achieve through its implementation.

An EMS based on ISO 14001:2004 provides management with an exceptional tool that enables an organization to identify and control the environmental impact of its activities, products or services and improve its environmental performance continually.  ISO 14001 helps the organization implement a systematic approach for setting, obtaining and documenting the achievements of environmental objectives and targets.

ISO 14001 is based on the plan-do-check-act methodology, which has been expanded to include 17 elements, grouped into five phases that relate to plan-do-check-act (e.g. environmental policy, planning, implementation & operation, etc.).  Because ISO 14001 does not specify levels of environmental performance, the standard can to be implemented by a wide variety of organizations, whatever their current level of environmental maturity or size.  However, a commitment to compliance with applicable environmental legislation and regulations is required, along with a commitment to continual improvement.  A fundamental principle and goal of the ISO 14001 standard, is the concept of continual improvement.

ISO 14001 is a tool that can be used to meet internal and external corporate objectives.  Internally, it can provide assurance to management that it is in control of the organizational processes and activities having an impact on the environment.  It can also assure employees that they are working for an environmentally responsible organization.  Externally, ISO 14001 can communicate to stakeholders such as customers, the community and regulatory agencies that the organization complies with environmental regulations.  Additionally, ISO 14001 can support the organization’s claims about its own environmental policies, plans and actions.

Most importantly, it provides a framework for demonstrating conformity.  ISO 14001 is a standard that is audited by an independent certification body.  In the current business climate, concerns about corporate sustainability and a company’s carbon footprint are front and center for many businesses, regardless of specific regulatory requirements.  Environmental impact and stewardship is equally about positioning and marketability.  In next week’s article, we will outline how a company can gain a significant competitive edge by certifying to ISO 14001.  A recent study completed by the Journal of Operations Management will be reviewed.  This study illustrates how markets respond to sustainability efforts.  It may not reveal what you think…so stay tuned!  For more information on ISO 14001 implementation contact: