What Is ISO 14001 Environmental Management System?


ISO 14001 is an internationally recognised standard with guidance for environmental management.

ISO 14001 is intended to provide the elements of an Environmental Management System (EMS) for achieving environmental and economic goals.

The standard is applicable to all types of organisations. The overall aim of ISO 14001 is to ensure environmental protection and prevention of pollution – in balance with socio-economic needs.

In this article I provide an overview of the scope of ISO 14001 as well as outline the key elements covered in an EMS. based on this information you should be able to make an informed decision as to whether ISO 14001 is right for you

What is ISO 14001 – Scope

The scope of ISO 14001 specifies the requirements for implementing an EMS. The scope covers the environmental legislative requirements for a company, as well as provides information about significant environmental impacts and environmental aspects which the organisation can control and influence. The scope of ISO 14001 does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria.

ISO 14001 shares common management principles with ISO 9001 Quality Management System (QMS) and same clause numbering with OHSAS 18001:1999. However, while a QMS will deal with customer needs, an EMS addresses the needs of a broader range of interested parties.

What is ISO 14001 – Elements

An ISO 14001 Environmental Management System is made up of a number of key elements. To become a certified ISO 14001 organisation you will need each of these elements to be correctly implemented.

Environmental policy

An ISO 14001 compliant environmental policy sets out the aims and vision for an organisation’s commitment to environmental protection. A typical ISO 14001 environmental policy is one page in length and is signed by the most senior individual in an organisation. More information on how to write an ISO 14001 compliant environmental policy can be found here.

Environmental Aspect Identification

This element of ISO 14001 involves identifying and rating aspects in an organisation that have a significant environmental impact. By rating the aspects an organisation can then prioritise preventative actions.

Review of legal & other requirements

Legal obligations are a key element in ISO 14001. This element results in the drafting of a detailed legal register which sets out all the relevant local, national and international environmental legislation that could have an influence on the duty of care for an organisation. The legal register identifies the important parts of the legislation or regulations that an organisation needs to be aware of in order to fulfil its legal obligation.

Setting of objectives and targets

The setting of environmental objectives and targets is another important element of ISO 14001 as it demonstrates that an organisation is actively managing its environmental impact. Environmental objectives and targets are usually recoded in an objectives and targets table and are reviewed annually. The objectives and targets should be consistent with the aims of the environmental policy and focused on continual improvement

Environmental management programmes

The individual environmental management programmes or initiatives sets out how the objectives and targets will be achieved. For example, a typical environmental programme may be the measurement, monitoring and management of an organisation’s carbon footprint to achieve a specific climate change objective or target

Structure and responsibility

Central to ISO 14001 is the allocation of responsibility to personnel at all levels of an organisation. Typically an environmental management system will have an environmental manager running the day to day implementation of the EMS, delegated responsibility to internal auditors to ensure that the EMS is meeting the standards and procedures set out in ISO 14001, and a steering committee to oversee key decisions and review the EMS quarterly

Training, awareness & competence

To ensure that the EMS is having the desired impact it is critical that staff in an organisation understand the purpose of ISO 14001 and have been trained on the role that they can play to reduce their environmental impact at work. Typically, training can be run through a green team. Read this article to find out how to setup a green team


Communicating the organisation’s commitment to environmental improvement both internally and externally is an important feature of ISO 14001. Internal communication usually takes the forms of staff briefings, posters, emails, and information on the company website. External information can be published in trade journals, provided on the company website and presented in the company reports. At a minimum the organisation’s environmental policy should be made available to external parties – suppliers, customers etc.

EMS documentation

EMS documentation refers to a collection of procedures that give insight to an EMS. These procedures set out how an organisation is going to manage its environmental impact and provides an overview for the control of documents

Operational control of significant aspects

Working with the impacts and aspects register, an organisation has to set out how it plans to control these aspects. This information is detailed in method statements which are called work instructions. Each instruction describes how the aspect will be controlled and identifies any planning, organisation, supervision or training that is required to implement the work instruction

Emergency Preparedness

The emergency preparedness element requires an organisation to demonstrate competence dealing with accidents and emergencies, such as spills of hazardous material. This element often means that an organisation will need the correct equipment and personnel training to deal with an emergency

Monitoring and Measurement

The role of monitoring and measurement plays in important part in the implementation of ISO 14001. Monitoring and measurement allows an organisation to assess the effectiveness of the EMS and take corrective action where objectives and targets are not being met, or where non-conformances are discovered


The paper trail in ISO 14001 is very important. All actions, meetings, audits and changes to procedures or documentation need to be recorded in an environmental records log. The log is kept in the environmental manual alongside the environmental policy, registers, procedures and work instructions.

Internal EMS Audits

The internal audit process is a requirement of ISO 14001 and is typically conducted by impartial and objective personnel. The internal audit programme covers all key elements of an EMS and is undertaken to ensure that an organisation is ready for an external audit. In this way the audit system for ISO 14001 works in a similar way to financial auditing.

Management Review

A steering committee of senior managers as well as the environmental manager should meet quarterly to review results of internal audits and assess the extent to which objectives and targets have been met. It is also the role of the steering committee to evaluate the continuing suitability of the EMS and address concerns amongst relevant interested parties.

External Audits

To become ISO 14001 certified an organisation will need to be audit externally by a third party accredited body. Depending on the size of the organisation, an external audit can take up to 2-3 days to complete. To maintain ISO 14001 certification an organisation will need to be audited by an external third party company every year.

So there are all the key elements that go into achieving ISO 14001 certification.

It is quite a lengthy and complex process and therefore I only recommend ISO 14001 to organisations of a decent size (i.e. over 100 employees) and who have a significant impact on the environment.

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1 comment
Abodh kant says July 21, 2015

Thanks for this great information.

One thing I want to know, I.e. what should be the content of EMS scope?

Like In case of QMS we define manufacturing scope & inclusion or exclusion of design.

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