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Thriving With the Revised 14001:2015 Standard

A transition audit to ISO 14001:2015 is an opportunity to start fresh without having to start over

Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - 12:02

According the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), there are more than 300,000 certifications to ISO 14001 in 171 countries around the world, making it the most relied-upon symbol of environmental stewardship and sustainable business practice. True to its core tenant of continual improvement, the ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) standard has rolled out its latest update—the 2015 version—making the program leaner and more business-focused than ever before.

But the clock is ticking and has been since September 2015, when the new version was published. Beginning in March 2017, accredited certification bodies will cease issuing certificates to the earlier ISO 14001:2004 version, and in September 2018, ISO will end all support for the 2004 version.

“Too many organizations have gotten the impression that it’s just a routine update, and they can put it off until the last minute,” says Mickey Jawa, chairman and CEO of SatiStar Corp., a business-performance consulting company.

“In truth, the revised 14001:2015 standard is a fundamental advance in the design and value of the standard,” adds Jawa. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to get started as soon as possible. Not because the transition is particularly difficult—although the first audit will be more time-consuming—but because the time wasted can disadvantage your organization and delay its realization of the program’s significant new benefits.”

From a registrar’s perspective, there are only so many auditors to go around, and leaving your ISO 14001 transition to the last minute could put your company at risk of losing its certificate. That, in turn, can have a negative impact not only on your reputation but also on your standing with customers and supply chain partners that require ISO 14001 certification as part of doing business with them.

There will be some differences in your audit reflecting the new structure of the standard, and the increased integration of the EMS standard with your overall business strategy. In the end, however, the result should be a more streamlined process tightly tuned to the way you do business.

The updated standard provides greater detail about why various documents and actions are required, and it helps you better link compliance efforts to business processes.

In addition to addressing advances in technology and a higher sustainability expectation among all audiences, the ISO 14001:2015 update incorporates a common framework with the other popular ISO standards for business, making the entire standards family more uniform in language, format, and implementation. This is achieved by the use of a “high level structure” (HLS) in the way the standards are designed and organized. The HLS ensures greater commonality in the expectations and certification requirements of the ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment) standards.

Noteworthy changes to ISO 14001:2015 include:
• Easier to implement
• More closely tied to business strategy and operations
• More closely linked to environmental outcomes/performance
• Greater involvement of top management

The transition audit to ISO 14001:2015 is an opportunity to start fresh without having to start over. Meaning, you should thoroughly review the updated standard and compare it to your current certification requirements. That way you won’t be surprised by the few things that actually are different in the 2015 version. These include:
• 10 clauses instead of four
• 16 mandatory documents and records instead of 12
• Deletion of:
- Environmental targets
- Management representative
- Preventive action
• Addition of:
- Context of organization
- Life cycle approach
- Actions to address risks and opportunities

Taken holistically, the new standard demands that you take a broader view of your organization and carefully consider the needs and expectations of all key stakeholders. We’ve always said that certification is more than a certificate, and with ISO 14001:2015, that philosophy has very tangible meaning to your certification program. Seeing the bigger picture is no longer optional; it is essential.

“The biggest surprise our customers are experiencing is the idea of turning risks into opportunities,” says Jawa. “Certification is historically tied to compliance, and therefore promotes a problem-avoidance mentality. With the new version of ISO 14001, however, there is a profound shift in emphasis that asks organizations to find business advantages in their journey toward environmental leadership. For example, turning waste materials into reusable assets, or even new products.”

According to Jawa, who is in the field virtually every day working with organizations making the transition, this new mindset is the most time-consuming aspect of ISO 14001:2015 certification. Not because it’s complicated, but, ironically, because it is so simple, i.e., turn risks into opportunities. But it’s an unfamiliar territory for most organizations, particularly those that have not had deep involvement of senior management in their EMS certifications.

This will also become a crucial factor in selecting your registrar for ISO 14001:2015 certification. Not all take such a comprehensive view of certification. At DNV GL, we use what we call Next Generation Risk-Based Certification. It’s how we help organizations go beyond compliance and realize deeper business value from certification.

On Tues., Jan. 24, 2017, join Burt Holm, director of North American Eastern Territory Sales for DNV GL Business Assurance; Mickey Jawa, chairman and CEO of SatiStar; and with Quality Digest’s editor in chief Dirk Dusharme for the webinar, “ISO 14001:2015 Transition Experiences,” beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific and 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here.


About The Author

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DNV GL enables organizations to advance the safety and sustainability of their business. It provides classification, technical assurance, software, and independent expert advisory services to the maritime, oil and gas, and energy industries. It also provides certification services to customers across a wide range of industries. Combining leading technical and operational expertise, risk methodology, and in-depth industry knowledge, it empowers its customers’ decisions and actions with trust and confidence. It continuously invests in research and collaborative innovation to provide customers and society with operational and technological foresight. Operating in more than 100 countries, its professionals are dedicated to helping customers make the world safer, smarter, and greener.