What is ISO 14001 and How Can it Help Your Business?

ISO 14001

If you’ve researched how to reduce your organisation’s environmental impact, you’ve seen the term ISO 14001 certification. But what is ISO 14001 and how does it help businesses?

The ISO 14001 standard sets the benchmark for environmental management systems. Achieving certification proves that your organisation is actively cutting its environmental impact and finding more efficient ways of working.

Our guide answers your questions on ISO 14001 certification, including its benefits and what you need to do to achieve it.

What is ISO Certification?

ISO certification is evidence that your organisation meets the performance benchmarks set by ISO – the International Organisation for Standardization.

ISO is one of the oldest non-governmental organisations in the world. Its stated goal is to “agree on the best way of doing things” for almost all business aspects. Following an ISO-approved system should guarantee that your processes are as safe, reliable and effective as possible, and you can prove this to stakeholders with ISO certification.

There are over 25,000 ISO standards, ranging from AI management to animal welfare. Each standard is numbered, so what is ISO 14001 evidence of?

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 certification relates to environmental performance and sustainability. It proves you have developed and implemented an outstanding environmental management system (EMS).

An EMS is a set of policies and processes that reduce an organisation’s environmental impact. A solid EMS will also ensure compliance with environmental regulations and government or international targets.

You can develop an EMS system without following ISO’s recommended practices. However, ISO spends considerable time and resources establishing the most effective way to do things. Matching your EMS to ISO standards should deliver the best environmental performance possible for your organisation.

Sustainability and Environmental Management Training

Our Sustainability and Environmental Management Training helps leaders reduce ecological impacts and integrate sustainability into their business practices. Learn how to develop an environmental management system, promote resource efficiency, reduce waste and comply with environmental regulations.

What are the Benefits of Certification?

The most obvious benefit of ISO 14001 certification is improved environmental performance. If your organisation has met the certification criteria, it will have an exceptional EMS.

An EMS has three primary benefits. The first is reducing your environmental impact, which is often the headline benefit of ISO 14001 certification.

The second is a significant improvement in resource efficiency. Organisations that adopt ISO 14001 standards can maintain or improve productivity while reducing:

  • Energy use
  • Raw material use
  • Travel costs
  • Waste disposal costs

Evidence backs these claims up. While the report is over ten years old, research from DEFRA concluded that an EMS could save small to medium businesses an average of £4,875 per £m turnover in the first two years. The report also found that these savings typically increased over time.

The third benefit is boosting your organisation’s profile and green credentials. Consumers and stakeholders increasingly prioritise sustainability when choosing where to invest their money. They’re also increasingly wary of hollow or misleading statements, aka greenwashing. The EU is drawing up legislation to ban this questionable practice, which other countries will likely follow.

Similarly, governments are tightening environmental regulations. And while this process is painfully slow compared to the frightening pace of global warming, it is happening. ISO 14001 certification will comfortably keep you ahead of legislative changes.

How Can I Achieve ISO 14001 Certification?

The first and most critical step is to develop an EMS that meets ISO 14001 criteria.

The ISO sets out these requirements:

  • Establish an environmental policy
  • Identify the environmental impacts of your organisation
  • Set environmental objectives and targets
  • Implement operational controls to minimise your environmental impact
  • Monitor and measure their performance
  • Continually improve your environmental management system

These steps can be summarised as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, which underpins the ISO 14001 framework:

  • Plan what you want to achieve with respect to sustainability and environmental performance
  • Do and actually implement the plan
  • Check that you’re progressing towards environmental objectives by measuring key performance indicators
  • Act to improve your EMS based on the insights gained during the ‘check’ phase

Your EMS should account for environmental performance across your organisation. So it’s necessary to train every employee in your new procedures and explain their role and responsibilities in improving environmental performance.

Applying for Certification

After implementing your EMS and training your employees, you need to apply for certification. ISO 14001 certification is available through a number of accredited third parties.

You do have to pay for ISO certification. Costs can vary depending on your organisation’s size and sector, but most find the returns worth it. DEFRA’s report on the benefits of ISO 14001 certification found that most organisations recovered the initial costs after three months based on cost savings alone.

Applying for certification is not strictly necessary. The ISO 14001 standard primarily exists to help organisations become more efficient and develop more sustainable ways of working. Certification is an entirely separate step. But it’s also essential to realise every benefit.

ISO certification proves commitment to stakeholders and consumers. They can trust that your organisation takes sustainability seriously and is among the best when it comes to environmental performance. This recognition can win business and boost customer loyalty.

Is ISO 14001 Only for Large Organisations?

No. The ISO 14001 standard applies to any business size, including SMEs. And any firm can achieve certification provided it meets the requirements.

The framework is also relevant to all industries and sectors. Its systematic approach can potentially help improve any organisation’s environmental performance.

Understanding Environmental Standards

Hopefully, this guide has answered the question, “What is ISO 14001?” It should also have highlighted the main benefits of certification.

If you want to improve your organisation’s environmental performance, resource efficiencies and public image, ISO 14001 certification will help. But achieving every requirement laid out in the 44-page standard won’t be easy without a solid understanding of environmental management and how to measure and improve performance.

If you’re seeking ISO 14001 certification, our online Sustainability and Environmental Management Training course explains how to develop, implement and improve an EMS that meets ISO benchmarks. The course content aligns with all ISO 14001 requirements, including using the PDCA cycle, meeting environmental regulations and setting and hitting carbon targets.

You can enhance environmental performance while ensuring compliance with legislation and ISO 14001 standards.

About the author(s)

Authors Photo
Jonathan Goby
Share with others
You might also like