The international environmental management system (EMS) standard ISO 14001 is in the process of undergoing major changes that will directly affect the way certified businesses manage their EMS and measure their environmental performance. The supporting EMS guidance standard ISO 14004, which explains in more detail how to develop, implement and improve an EMS, is also being revised. John Barwise reports.

ISO 14001, first published in 1996, is an international EMS standard, designed to assist organisations that wish to reduce environmental impacts and assess the effectiveness of environmental policies and procedures. It is a certifiable standard, suitable for all types of commercial, industrial and public sector organisation. To date, more than 267,000 organisations worldwide are certified to ISO 14001, including more than 10,000 in the UK. Various EMS guidance and best practice techniques are set out in other international standards in the ISO 14000 series, including ISO 14004.

The ISO 14001 review process has reached Committee Draft (CD) stage 1 and outlines some of the key requirements that may be introduced or amended in the revised standard. This report presents an overview of the proposed changes and the implications for organisations using the standard.

The overall aim of ISO 14001: “to support environmental protection and prevent pollution in balance with socio-economic needs” remains unchanged. The Deming system’s model: “plan, do, check, act” will also continue to provide the framework for EMS implementation. Other parameters that were established earlier in the process and are not open for change include:

  • no reduction or diminution in the requirements of ISO 14001

  • ISO 14001 will use the high-level structure (including core management system terms and definitions)

  • the main text of ISO 14001 will contain requirements; the annex will provide interpretation of these requirements (ie guidance on implementation will no longer feature in the annex of ISO 14001)

  • ISO 14004 is also being revised and will provide guidance on implementation; it is scheduled to be published at the same time as the revised ISO 14001, although is not yet at the CD stage.

However, there are proposed changes to the scope of the standard, with greater emphasis on external impacts on an organisation and requirements to specify a “life-cycle perspective” when identifying environmental aspects.

Key changes proposed in CD1

  • Scope: this is likely to require greater detail than is included in the current scope of ISO 14001, which may include impacts from a changing climate on an organisation's activities. The scope also puts emphasis on the need to take advantage of opportunities as well as reducing negative impacts.

  • Context of the organisation: including external environmental conditions that might impact on the organisation and the need to take account of external parties.

  • Leadership and commitment: this is likely to be strengthened in the proposed CD1 with a requirement to align the EMS with an organisation’s overall strategy and core business processes, and for top management to integrate environmental performance into strategic planning and organisational decision-making.

  • Policy: additional commitments may be included to “support environmental protection” and provide some examples of potential environmental threats. Broadening policy commitment is intended to show that organisations are going beyond pollution prevention to incorporate wider environmental aspects, although the revision stops short of specifying what these might be.

  • Risks and opportunities: these were addressed in the earlier revision, ISO 14001:2004, through the identification and evaluation of environmental aspects and legal requirements. However, the proposed revisions also include specific requirements for the management of the potential business risks and opportunities arising from environmental impacts.

  • Environmental aspects: CD1 specifies a “life-cycle perspective” to be taken when identifying aspects. It is important to note that this does not require a life-cycle assessment to be conducted, but would mean that the impacts of the organisation’s products/services are to be considered and to not limit the EMS to direct operational management.

  • Environmental performance indicators: these are covered extensively in ISO 14031. CD1 introduces a requirement for each identified objective to have one or more defined indicators associated with it, through which performance is evaluated. Flexibility is maintained by not specifying further what the indicator should consist of or specifying impacts to be included, which is required in the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).

  • Communication: CD1 requires organisations to determine what and when to communicate to internal and external audiences, although there is no requirement to communicate externally, beyond that legally required.

  • Value chain planning and control: building upon the “life-cycle perspective”, CD1 introduces requirements to control or influence upstream processes such as design and development, and downstream processes, including processes governing procurement of goods/services and those activities which are outsourced.

  • Performance evaluation: CD1 introduces more detailed requirements to determine criteria against which performance is evaluated, including the incorporation of the value chain perspective on an organisation’s environmental impacts.

  • Evaluation of compliance: this is strengthened in CD1 with the introduction of a requirement to maintain knowledge and understanding of compliance status, and not rely on external parties to inform an organisation when activities were non-compliant and which the organisation was not aware of.


The proposed changes in CD1 will impact on all ISO 14001-certified businesses and those currently considering implementing a certifiable EMS in the future. Publication of the revised ISO 14001 is expected in early 2015.

Martin Baxter, Executive Director, Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA), policy and UK member of the international working group that is redrafting the standard, is holding a special webinar on 16 May 2013 to help people learn more about the proposed changes and their potential implications for certified organisations. The webinar is open to members and non-members. To book a place, go to the IEMA website.

Last reviewed 10 May 2013