The deadline for transitioning to the 2015 version of ISO 14001 has now passed, with certificates for ISO 14001:2004 expiring in September 2018. There is no single source of accurate data on the number of organisations that made the transition before the deadline, but there are indications that around 90% did so.
Although some companies planned their transition well in advance, for many it will have been a last-minute challenge. Some will have done the bare minimum to meet the new requirements, and it has been suggested that certifiers may have taken a lenient stance as their clients hurried to complete the transition. Inevitably, by rushing to modify their EMS processes, many organisations will have missed the opportunity to make genuine improvements in their approach to environmental management.
The revised standard set out to encourage organisations to benefit from having an effective EMS aligned with business priorities and being integrated into overall business processes. The requirements for considering their business settings and stakeholder needs was intended to help focus effort on areas of priority, and the new leadership requirements were intended to provide the drive to ensure that environmental and business strategies were aligned. Organisations making minimal changes to their systems are failing to derive maximum value from their EMSs, as well as running the risk of failing to conform to all of the new requirements, especially if certifiers incrementally adopt a more robust interpretation.
It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next couple of years. Will more organisations elect to integrate their various management systems, in response to the common structure now adopted by the management systems standards? Will certified companies ultimately embrace the spirit of ISO 14001:2015 and develop more holistic approaches to strategy and business processes?
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Nigel Leehane is an environmental sustainability consultant and trainer, and chairs the International Organization for Standardization’s environmental auditing sub-committee. He works with Bywater as an associate environmental trainer.