An updated green building standard designed to meet wider business objectives 0

CaptureThe publication in September 2015 of the revised ISO 14001 Global Environmental Management Standard has been heralded as a move that will “shift business focus on the environment from compliance with regulations and direct operations, to placing the environment at the heart of thinking and strategy.” This will assist businesses around the world to respond to increasing global sustainability challenges and ensure long-term business success. Currently there are over 300,000 organisations worldwide that are certified to the ISO 14001 Standard, first published in 1996. According to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, (IEMA) ISO 14001 is the second most used standard companies employ to manage their performance globally, with 171 countries now represented. Its popularity as a management tool has been linked to both improved financial and environmental performance.

In a recent survey carried out by IEMA, around 60% of businesses responding reported saving over £10,000 as a consequence of implementing an Environmental Management System, with some businesses saving over £5m. The majority of these savings were delivered through energy efficiency measures (71%) and improved waste management (64%). Wider benefits include improved environmental performance (38%), meeting legislative requirements (39%), enhancing stakeholder relations, and generating new business opportunities (22%).

But why the revision?

In response to what Martin Baxter Executive Director – Policy of IEMA has called “a perfect storm of global challenges,” such as climate change, resource scarcity, volatile energy markets and soaring population growth, the International Standard for Environmental Management Systems ISO14001 has been revised, a process taking over three years to complete, in order to support businesses to manage these growing risks and take advantage of business opportunities. The new Standard has been developed to better align with business strategy and to support organisations becoming more resilient to external environmental change.

The new Standard will require companies to:

  • put in place measures to proactively respond to growing environmental risks;
  • ensure top management are accountable for environmental performance improvement; and
  • place greater emphasis on managing environmental impacts across the value chain.

 One of the key changes is that ISO 14001 will not just be a framework for managing the organisation’s impact on the environment; it will also help organisations manage (and become more resilient to) external environmental change, for example climate change and resource availability.

“Environment and sustainability has become more important as a business issue, and the challenges of climate change and resource availability are set to increase over the coming years,”said Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor and UK appointed expert to the ISO 14001 revision working group. “It was essential to ensure that ISO 14001 is able to support businesses meeting these challenges over the coming decade.”

It’s early days but the revised Standard has already received widespread recognition and support from business, with over 40% of businesses surveyed by IEMA responding that the updated version will bring greater ‘buy in’ from senior management due.

Leadership role strengthened

The 2015 revision of the Standard brings in a number of important changes, including greater emphasis on ‘leadership’. So how should an organisation set about facilitating the level of engagement and understanding by top management that will be needed to demonstrate compliance?

“Top management really need to understand their dependencies on the environment if their company is going to be successful over the long-term,” maintains Baxter. “IEMA’s Leading with Environmental Sustainability course provides them with a high-level overview to help them fulfil the Standard’s requirements. It’s essential for businesses to look beyond direct operations and see where environmental risks and opportunities are across the whole value chain. This will help companies to develop greater resilience to external environmental change, and also to take advantage of the new opportunities.”

The biggest challenge will be getting environmental management positioned at the highest level of the organisation. If environmental management is currently in its own silo, integrating across the whole organisation will be difficult for some. However, there has been some consideration by regulatory bodies, such as the Environment Agency, that organisations may be able to reduce the number of compliance visits regarding permitted activities if they have a certified ISO 14001 EMS in place. A financial and efficiency incentive such as this will be key for environmental management gaining traction in the boardroom, allowing it to rise higher up the business agenda.

Baxter agrees. “There’s a new requirement for organisations to have knowledge and understanding of their compliance status – this implies more proactive compliance management. There is also a new requirement on the reliability of information that is communicated – this includes regulatory reports on performance to the regulators.”

A period of transition

There is a three-year transition phase from the 2004 to the 2015 version.  Businesses are being advised that implementing the new ISO 14001 Standard should be used as an opportunity to refresh and invigorate the way existing users can get value out of good environmental management. It’s also important to recognise that you don’t need to be certified to use the Standard and get the benefits. Given that ISO 9001 is also changing, and the structures of these standards, together with the forthcoming Health and Safety standard (ISO 45001) have been aligned, developing a joint and integrated approach to implementing the new standards makes sense.


00ffb8cSue Gregson is an Environmental Consultant at International Workplace. A shorter version of this feature appears in the new issue of Work&Place.