How the ISO 14001:2015 upgrade will affect Certified Organisations

Why has the Standard been changed?

ISO Management System Standards are reviewed and, when necessary, revised every 5 years to ensure they remain relevant to the marketplace. The latest revision of ISO 14001 resulted from a number of recent trends, including an increase in organisations recognising the need to factor in both external and internal elements that influence their environmental impact, including climate volatility.

How much has changed?

The first significant change noted between the 2004 and 2015 versions of the standard is Clause 4 (Context of the Organisation). It’s a new clause which requires top management to understand how internal and external issues affect the Organisation’s ability to meet the expectations of interested parties. The Organisation needs to determine who are the relevant interested parties, i.e. stakeholders, and their expectations. These could include particular requirements for how the Organisation manages its responsibilities towards the climate, availability of resources and applicable legislation. Reflecting upon the internal and external issues enables a more accurate definition of the Scope of the Management System. The guiding principle of Clause 4 is therefore to unite the Environmental Management System with the Organisation’s strategy; encouraging the development of processes that fit the Organisation’s purpose and objectives. The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) methodology is now intrinsic in all processes, so each one should be monitored to ensure that it fits with the Organisation’s purpose and objectives.

  • Clause 5 (Leadership) describes how top management now need to be able to demonstrate a greater involvement in the Management System. Top management must take leadership of the Management System, not simply manage its implementation. They need to ensure the Management System is at the core of the business, not at the periphery. As part of this process, top management have to encourage participation throughout the Organisation to ensure the Management System is operated effectively and fully integrated into the Organisation’s processes.
  • Clause 6 (Planning) contains enhanced requirements for planning, considering the potential for change, emergency situations and the response to abnormal conditions. There are enhanced requirements for determining the environmental aspects over which the Organisation can exercise control, which includes a requirement to define the criteria used to identify environmental aspects. A new requirement, to consider the life cycle of products and services, is introduced in clause six. The importance of considering legal obligations is also highlighted in clause six. Clause six also specifies the requirements for addressing risks and opportunities, replacing the need for preventive action. The Organisation needs to understand the environmental threats and benefits presented by its environmental aspects; to identify the risks faced and decide how they will be addressed. On the other hand, the Organisation needs to consider possible environmental benefits and how to maximise such opportunities.
  • Next, Clause 7 (Support) now includes a communications strategy with equal emphasis on external and internal communication. This includes
    a requirement for communicating consistent and reliable information so that employees can make suggestions about improving the EMS.
    Clause 7 also considers how the Organisation reports upon external communications in respect of the requirements of regulatory bodies and external interested parties.
  • Clause 8 (Operations) specifies requirements for consideration of the product life cycle. The Organisation needs to ensure environmental
    requirements are addressed during any design and development activities, the idea that a product may eventually be disposed of should be considered and opportunities for recycling should therefore be designed into the product from the outset to reduce or avoid waste to landfill. The Organisation also needs to consider whether and how customers should be provided with guidance about environmental best practices when using its products and services. Clause 8 also features enhanced controls over the ‘value chain’, which includes outsourcing to manufacturers and sub-contractors. Change control is being applied to changes in engineering controls and procedures. This is because change needs to be managed both during environmental design and development, as well as the documented information required by the Environmental Management System.
  • Clause 9 (Performance evaluation) is an entirely new clause, which is made up of existing clauses. These include ‘Monitoring and measurement’
    and ‘Management Review’. This new clause will guide Organisations in the effective collection and assessment of evidence to prove their Environmental Management System is meeting business objectives.
    Finally, a more structured approach has been suggested for clause 10 (Improvement). It still retains the principle behind the ‘Non-conformity and
    corrective action’ clause, but is now more detailed in consideration of nonconformity.

ISO 14001:2015 follows the new Annex SL framework that is now used for all new ISO Management System Standards. This means new Standards will be easier to understand and far more compatible; saving you time during internal and external audits of your Management Systems.

What are the benefits of these changes?

The 2015 version of the ISO 14001 standard aims to bring a number of benefits that the 2004 version of the standard either briefly covered or did not offer at all:

  • Increased prominence of environmental management
  • More leadership responsibilities
  • Greater emphasis on protecting the environment
  • Stronger focus on improving environmental performance
  • Addresses environmental impact at all stages within product life cycle
  • Better communication strategy
  • More modern approach to documentation management

What actions should you take following the revision?

If you are currently certified to ISO 14001 and you wish to maintain your certification, you will need to upgrade your environmental management system to the 2015 version of the standard and seek certification to it. You have a three-year transition period from the date of publication (September 2015) to move to the 2015 version. This means that, after the end of September 2018, a certificate to ISO 14001:2004 will no longer be valid.


If you would like assistance with upgrading your Management System or if you would like QMS to do this for you, please contact us at [email protected] or 0333 344 3646.