Revisions to ISO 14001 Communication Requirements
Some of the changes to ISO 14001 appear large and potentially scary, while others are less extensive and, on the surface, not so challenging. The revised clause on communication fits into the second category, but could turn out to be one of the most challenging for environment professionals and organisations.
The key changes in revised clause 7.4 are the addition of the word “reliable” and an explicit requirement to link communications back to performance output information of the environment management system (EMS) as well as the introduction of a planned and controlled process.
At the NQA sponsored IEMA EMS forum in November 2014, we asked practitioners their thoughts on the implications of the changed language relating to communication in the revised 14001 standard.
The first question was: what communications does an organisation issue that might be relevant?
The challenge was to refocus minds from “environmental communications” to “communications with environmental content”. This was potentially far broader than many of the participants expected, and could include internal, external, formal, informal, written, verbal, local, global and corporate communications.
In essence the revised clause requires the organisation to think about any environmental information released in any form outside the company as well as what it releases internally. Alongside more formalised communications, which transmit actual messages, organisations need to consider implied messages that are given by actions and behaviours, and messages given out by staff, contractors or others working with the organisation.
The next question put to the audience was: what is environmental information?
The responses included annual company report and financial accounts, investor briefings and governance statements. A key point to remember is that information may be both quantitative and qualitative; it might be based on number data from the EMS or research, analysis, interpretation and judgment.
Our final question was: what does “reliable” mean?
A common response was that reliable information had to be audited. We checked this interpretation with Martin Baxter, chief policy advisor at IEMA and head of the UK delegation on the working group revising 14001. His response was clear: “One thing to emphasise is that the standard is not requiring that all environmental information is audited, but that it is controlled.”
We analysed the audience responses and looked at recognised definitions and commonly accepted principles of accounting for financial and non-financial data. To be reliable, information must be “a faithful representation of reality” and be “true, fair and balanced”. If this is the case, people who base their decisions on the information should have a reasonable expectation of the outcomes.
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Lucy Candlin is director of consultancy Planet and Prosperity and Ben Vivian is director of consultancy the Vivian Partnership.
A full version of this article can be seen here: www.environmentalistonline.com.