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ISO 14001:2015 The First Commandment

26 October 2015
Understanding the context of your organisation is the first requirement of ISO 14001:2015. Meeting this requirement, enables a system that can promote organisational success, improve efficiencies, resourcefulness, savings and reputation.

September 15th, 2015 saw the launch of the much-anticipated revision to the International Standard for Environmental Management ISO 14001.  This marked the culmination of input from environmental experts from 70 countries and is a significant milestone that will boost the profile of environmental management, putting it at the heart of business more than ever before.

Aligning with business strategy

The revised standard will ensure that environmental management is now completely integrated and aligned within the business strategies of an organisation. The standard will guide organisations to take steps to protect the environment and improve their environmental performance. 
The key changes in the new standard are:

  • The emphasis on leadership
  • The focus on risk management
  • Emphasis on objectives measurement and change
  • Communication and awareness
  • Fewer prescriptive requirements

The NEW clause: Context

A new clause in 14001: 2015 requires organisations to understand their context and will require high-level understanding of the critical internal and external issues that can affect their environmental management system.
Traditionally, an EMS tended to comprise of one or two people within an organisation, that would introduce, monitor, review and improve environmental policies and procedures. These would often be formulated without consideration of businesses or environmental issues happening in the outside world.

Systems were structured to look at the organisation’s impact ON the environment rather than how it was affect BY the environment. As a result, systems often lacked exposure to “big picture issues”, which have the potential to seriously affect, negatively or positively, the on-going success of the EMS and the business itself. 
The revised ISO 14001 standard requires organisations to determine the external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcomes of its EMS - namely improved environmental performance.
Although the revised 14001 standard does not specify how to determine context, we would strongly suggest that an organisation undertakes a context review.

Conducting a context review

A context review could include:

  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires
  • Surveys
  • Research.

Fundamentally is the process should receive input from all departments. A breadth of expertise is required from all departments within your organisation. Not only will this ensure an appreciation of the ‘context’ but also wider engagement, particularly within those department functions not previously involved with the EMS. This support will be critical for every other requirement of 14001: 2015.
One way of ensuring this is carried out effectively is to use a PESTLE analysis, as a tool for considering  external macro environment (big picture) issues in which a business operates. These are often factors that are beyond the control or influence of a business; however, it’s important to be aware of them when looking at product development or business strategy. 
A PESTLE analysis considers six key themes:

  • Political – Who is or could be in government? What are their policies? What about internal politics, organisational structure and style? Local politics and Council planning strategies.

  • Economic – Is there growth or recession? How about inflation levels? Are interest and exchange rates rising, falling or stable? What capital is available?

  • Social – What are the changing demographics and trends? What are the primary concerns of society?

  • Technological – What new technology or materials are emerging? What is the cost of renewables? What are the levels of internal R&D expenditure?

  • Legal – What are the changes in international, European, national and local policy? What is the internal structure to manage legal compliance?

  • Environment – How is the environment changing due to, say, the impact of climate change, local air quality and the availability of space? Are resources available on a continuing level or becoming scarcer? 

14001:2015 The first commandment

Understanding the context of your organisation now the first requirement of 14001: 2015. Implemented correctly, the system will then engage senior managers that are not typically involved in the EMS and require them to consider the environment as a strategic issue. This will increase the resilience of the EMS and contribute further to organisational success in terms of improving efficiencies, resourcefulness, savings and reputation.
NQA encourage organisations pursuing the new ISO 14001:2015 standard to take full advantage of the free Gap Guide and Webinars designed to walk you through the changes.
Richard Walsh MIEMA CEnv.