ISO 14001 Update – What You Need to Know About the Key Changes

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Whilst designed to help companies reduce their environmental impact, ISO 14001 is also a key requirement for companies to win work through tendering. The management system standard was updated in 2015 and companies need to transition to keep their certification. We spoke with Darren Chadwick, Managing Partner of sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green to find about the changes to the standard and what they mean for companies. Here’s all you need to know about the latest update to ISO 14001 and how it helps companies reduce their environmental impact.

What do the updates to the ISO 14001 standard mean for companies?

The last version of ISO 14001 was published in 2004 and so after more than a decade of service, it was very much in need of an update. That update came in 2015, when a new edition of the standard was published, introducing a range of significant changes. These changes have helped to bring the standard right up to date with the latest best-practice in environmental management.

The ISO 14001:2015 standard is now a much more strategic tool to help drive improvements in business and environmental performance. With maturing legislation, growing investor and stakeholder expectations, and improving technology, environmental management is an issue that can no longer be ignored. Companies across all sectors are looking at how to embed environmental considerations into core business decisions. The ISO 14001 standard provides a proven framework to assist senior management in doing this. However, it does require organizations to significantly expand and upgrade their processes.

With ISO 14001:2015 Becoming More Strategic, the Standard is Much More Applicable to Business of All Sectors.

We recently worked with Saatchi & Saatchi London on their transition to the updated ISO 14001:2015 standard. They became the first advertizing agency in the UK to achieve certification to the new standard. The direct environmental impact of professional services firms like Saatchi may be limited. However, the new standard helps to define the wider value proposition. This includes winning more tenders and finding opportunities for cost reduction. It also covers attracting and retaining staff by demonstrating commitment to responsible values.

The updated standard goes beyond looking at how an organization has a negative impact on the environment, and examines the ways environmental issues might impact the business. In addition, the new standard requires organizations to understand the needs and expectations of interested parties, i.e. your customers, investors and staff. This makes it a powerful framework for improving relationships with important stakeholders.

What are the key changes?

There are four main themes you need to know about in the new standard:


The new standard requires greater leadership from top management on environmental issues. This includes more accountability for the environmental management system as well as providing the support and resources needed to manage environmental issues effectively. This will be something that auditors will be looking at much more closely, so you’ll need to prepare your senior team.

Context of the Organization

The 2015 standard introduces some new language: context. Whilst some organizations may have considered this before, there is now a requirement to formally consider and analyse the internal and external drivers for environmental management. This includes a specific requirement to understand and meet stakeholder expectations, borrowing principles that have been used in materiality analysis for some time now. This approach will undoubtedly help companies find ways to build more value and manage risk better.

Broader Horizons

Environmental impacts for a business are often like icebergs. The majority of the impacts hidden in the supply chain or in product use and disposal. The new standard recognizes that these indirect impacts are important to manage. In additon, it extends the requirements for companies to do so.

The updated standard now expects businesses to take a life-cycle approach. Businesses need to also consider impacts that occur in the supply chain, during the use of products and services, and at end-of-life. The “life-cycle considerations” are likely to bring new business processes into scope for the first time for many companies

It’s Not Just About Risk

The 2015 standard moves away from just managing risks and impacts. Now specifically includes a requirement to identify opportunities arising from better environmental management. This has been a key theme in successful business cases for environmental programs and is helped by the inclusion of whole life thinking in the new standard.

Do you have any advice for companies making the transition?

Companies now have until September 2018 to transition to the updated ISO 14001:2015 standard or face losing their certification. Having already helped some of our clients to transition, I would recommend considering your transition sooner rather than later. The significant changes and new criteria mean the process can take up to 12 months. It is therefore crucial to leave enough time to develop the new processes and get them properly embedded in your team and wider-organization.

I would also recommend taking the time to really explore what the new standard means to your business. This change is a great opportunity to take a good look at your business and engage with colleagues, customers and investors. We’ve been amazed about the extra benefits this has delivered.

Also, a gap analysis can really help to focus your efforts. Especially, if you are just starting to explore what changes you need to make to meet the new requirements. This is something your consultant or certification body can do.

If you are at a more advanced stage of your transition, enlisting external support at the pre-audit stage can help to identify any issues you may have missed. Additionally, it can make sure you’re fully ready for the external audit. Again, this can be done by your consultant or certification body.

About Brite Green

Brite Green is an award winning sustainability strategy consultancy which specializes in delivering enhanced business performance through improved sustainability performance. Brite Green delivers sustainability solutions that drive business performance. They cover business strategy, management systems, solution implementation and sustainability reporting. If you would like to know more visit the Brite Green website.

Get in touch to learn more about how Cority can support your ESG journey.