ISO 14001 Certification Basics

Today social and political forces have resulted in an abundance of attention on the environment. These same forces have also created a real market driver for organizations to develop “green” processes and practices. Many global markets, such as the EU and China, have import regulations that require ISO 14001 certification and other environmentally focused directives like REACH and RoHS. In addition, many large multinational companies like Toyota and Chrysler require ISO 14001 certification of all their key suppliers. The result is that companies in nearly every industry are considering whether to simply be more environmentally conscious or to implement a formal Environmental Management System (EMS) such as ISO 14001. Some basic reminders regarding ISO 14001 and its place in the organization can be helpful in deciding whether ISO 14001 certification is right for your company and if now is the best time.

In my free publication ISO 14001:2004 Simplified, I offer the following summary of the ISO 14001 requirements:

“The standard requires an organization to develop an environmental policy, identify its environmental aspects, and determine which of those aspects are considered significant. The company develops environmental objectives, targets, and a management plan for how to reach these goals. A company must have a system in place for periodically checking its own compliance. Furthermore, management must review the continued suitability and effectiveness of the environmental management system (EMS), internal audits must be effectively performed, and corrective actions taken when necessary.”

In general, an ISO 14001 EMS deals with the company’s environmental footprint. A company’s environmental footprint consists of a “legal” or “regulatory” component and a “voluntary” component.

The legal component deals with issues like permitting, air or water quality, mandatory disposal requirements, etc. Laws tell you what these requirements are at the local, state, and federal levels. If your facility has been in business for any length of time, you are probably already aware of applicable legal requirements and are in compliance with them. If your facility is new, some research is in order and you may need some help.

The voluntary component reflects a company’s unique, ongoing, and potential efforts toward managing its environmental footprint. Do you truly know what your environmental footprint is? How efficiently are you using your raw materials? Is it possible to consolidate customer shipments to reduce fuel consumption? How well are you managing your waste streams?

It is important to understand that ISO 14001 certification is not an end in itself. If you approach it by simply looking for another plaque on the wall or plan to create a bunch of paperwork and forget about it, then ISO 14001 certification will be a waste of valuable time and resources.

The real purpose for implementing ISO 14001 is to build a practical and sustainable foundation for an environmental management system. The EMS gives the company an infrastructure by which to manage its environmental footprint. While environmental responsibility is a great priority for any business to have, one of the most exciting things about implementing and using ISO 14001 is not necessarily environmental. Sure, ISO 14001 gives you an ongoing system for identifying environmental issues and focusing on them in productive ways to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. And a properly implemented EMS will also ensure that you are compliant with legal and regulatory issues at all times. But one of the most attractive features of ISO 14001 certification is what doing these things can bring to the bottom line; sometimes in the form of cost savings and reduction, and sometimes by creating brand new revenue streams.

For example, ISO 14001 requires an organization to periodically assess its “environmental aspects” and the associated “environmental impacts.” As part of its routine ISO 14001 EMS function TOA (USA), a key component supplier to Subaru and Toyota, evaluated its water usage during production and the resulting wastewater it generated. Water usage and wastewater treatment are regulatory concerns, part quality variables, and cost centers. Don Stock, TOA’s Manager of Maintenance and Engineering, took on the project and identified the deionization unit (D.I. Unit) as the major consumer of water and associated chemicals. Draining, rinsing, filling, and regenerating the D.I. Unit used a lot of water, chemicals, and time that were essentially going down the drain.

By investing in a new D.I. Unit, TOA was able to reduce the amount of water used by 70%. Monthly costs, including chemical usage, went down 70% too. And the return on investment was only 22 months. Of course we should not forget the positive environmental consequences, but it is nice to make some “green” while being “green.”

Another example is a metalworking company that uses five drums of cutting fluid per week. As a matter of procedure, the company may be used to having the fluid components mixed at the manufacturer and shipped to their facility ready for use. When their fluid management and usage processes are evaluated as part of an ISO 14001 EMS implementation, they find that since the fluid is 10% lubrication components and 90% water they are essentially paying shipping costs for about 4.5 drums of water per week.

By shipping the components in one drum per week and mixing the cutting fluid on site, the company saves weekly freight cost. They also pay less to the fluid supplier for the additional service of mixing. Because they receive 16 fewer drums per month they also do not have drums to dispose of or return to the fluid supplier. Other related cost savings may be realized if space previously used to store fluid can be used for other billable services such as locating an additional machine.

If your company already has a quality management system, such as ISO 9001, then ISO 14001 certification may be easier than you think.  ISO 14001 requirements can be integrated with your existing ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS). The two standards are designed to compliment each other. They share many common elements: document and records control, corrective and preventive action, internal audits, management review, training and awareness, and others. Integrating ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 will give you the ability to systematically move your business beyond the scope of the QMS or EMS alone.

A key concept to internalize is that ISO 14001 certification is a long-term commitment. When you achieve ISO 14001 certification, it is a moment to be proud of. But your ISO 14001 EMS is just an infant. The initial implementation took a concerted effort, often with the aid of an experienced consultant. But the work of maintaining a practical and functional EMS is only beginning. Once the consultant leaves, your ISO 14001 EMS will need to mature over time through continual use, exercise, monitoring, and improvement.

ISO 14001 certification should make the management of your company’s environmental impact part of the overall business management system and culture. The key is to avoid a bloated bureaucracy and a mountain of paperwork. A cumbersome ISO 14001 EMS is overhead that no business should accept. Modern ISO 14001 implementation methodologies, like Pinnacle’s Lean EMS®, are now available to companies. Certainly a visual and intuitive approach like the Lean EMS® will make your ISO 14001 implementation and certification efficient and effective. More importantly, however, it makes the ISO 14001 EMS something everyone in the company can be involved in, not just those on the implementation project or management team. This is, after all, critical to long-term sustainability, improvement, and value to any business.

Kirill Liberman, President

7 Responses to “ISO 14001 Certification Basics”

  1. Chris Carson says:

    Great explanation of legal vs voluntary requirements and really incorporating it into the awareness of aspects. These are two key areas that a lot of companies struggle with.

  2. Kirill says:

    Thanks, Chris.

    I am glad you think this may be helpful. Many companies fear ISO 14001 because their misunderstanding of the legal vs voluntary requirements issue.

    I think there may be an ISO 14001 Myth article coming. 😉


  3. Mary Radnich says:

    Excellent summary of ISO 14001 and how it fits with an ISO 9001 QMS.

  4. Kirill Liberman says:

    Thank you, Mary.

    Integrating ISO 14001 with an ISO 9001 QMS platform is an important subject. Please stay tuned. I plan on writting on this subject.


  5. Thad designs says:

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  6. Kirill says:

    Thank you Thad. I am glad you found the ISO 14001 certification information on this blog helpful. I hope you will come back often and post you questions or comments.


  7. OSS Certifications says:

    Thank you for sharing . Your ISO 14001 information article is very helpful.

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