ISO 14001:2015 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Wondering how to get ISO 14001:2015 certification? When should you start your organisation’s transition to the new 2015 version of the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard? Answers to those common questions and many others below.

What are the key changes introduced by Annex SL in ISO 14001:2015?

The changes that are being driven by Annex SL are very similar to the ones that have taken place within ISO 9001:2015. Annex SL has led to changes in relation to the term ‘Documented Information’ rather than procedures or records. In addition, Annex SL will lead to the incorporation of the environmental management system (EMS) into the strategic thinking of the organisation and increased responsibilities on top management.

What changes have been made to the standard?

Most of the changes to ISO 14001:2015 enhance the processes by which an organisation protects the environment using their EMS. The committee was responsible for drafting the clause on environmental policy which now requires that an organisation should commit to protecting the environment.

This is an expansion over the previous policy commitments, which were limited to prevention of pollution and compliance with legislation and is now a generic term which encourages organisations to look at protecting their overall environment rather than just the pollution they or their products and services may cause.

ISO 14001:2015 introduces the terminology of life cycle perspective which will require an organisation to look at their products and services from the beginning to the end of their life cycle.

This incorporates looking at how they will control outsourced processes. To do this, organisations need to determine what they can control and/or influence, and then apply the appropriate controls or influence through their management system.

They also need to look at the end of life treatment and the disposal of their products or of their service. This will extend into areas such as design, because when they are designing new products, they will need to consider its design to see how they can improve its environmental performance.

Another area which is important within the ISO 14001:2015 is in the area of communication - both internal and external. Whilst this was covered in ISO 14001:2004, within the new standard, there is now a need for the organisation to develop a process by which they will determine what they will communicate, when they will communicate and to whom they will communicate.

Another change that has occurred as a result of Annex SL is that the Plan, Do, Check, Act model within ISO 14001:2004 has been redrawn to reflect the Annex SL structure.

What is the first thing that ISO 14001:2004 certified organisations should be doing?

Firstly, remember that the three-year transition deadline for ISO 14001:2015 is September 2018.  The clock is ticking – more than a year has already passed on the transition timeline, so don’t risk your existing ISO 14001 certification by waiting any longer to begin your transition journey.

In parallel, research and read the communications from ISO and LRQA to understand the proposed transition guidance.  ISO has published transition guidance, as well as guidance for the interpretation and implementation of ISO 14001:2015.

Then, have a look at how your organisation already manages your existing environmental or integrated management system.  You should already begin thinking about an outline plan, and timings for when and how you will review your management system to understand how well it relates to the new areas within ISO 14001:2015.

Also, consider how your key stakeholders’ knowledge and skills may need to be developed to help your organisation through the changes, and if they might benefit from third-party training from LRQA.

What impact does ISO 14001:2015 have when considering Interested Parties?

Annex SL introduces a new section on context of the organisation (clause 4) which means a company has to have a process in place for the identification of internal and external interested parties. The identification includes recognising the views which are key to the environmental performance of the organisation and take those into account when they are looking at designing their EMS. As a result, this has become an important part of the new requirements.

How will the ISO standards revisions impact the way organisations manage their current management systems?

Organisations should start looking at the requirements for both ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 which will give an indication as to the direction in which they need to move their management systems in order to accommodate the Annex SL requirements. 

The changes that will occur to the future replacement for OHSAS 18001 (the proposed ISO standard to be known as ISO 45001) will also be in line with the requirements of Annex SL.

How are the changes likely to impact smaller organisations?

Typically, the leadership of smaller organisations tends to be closer to their activities, so they will have a much clearer idea as to the context in which the organisation operates, who their interested parties are, and what they wish their EMS to deliver.

How do the features in the new standard impact organisations and their transition plans from the existing ISO 14001:2004?

This depends upon what organisations have included and managed within their current EMS. Organisations should contact LRQA to help them develop their transition plan.

This can be formulated through a gap analysis undertaken by an LRQA assessor, which will tell them their position in relation to the new requirements and where they need to move to. It may also identify any training needs that are necessary for the organisation.

How long will organisations have to transition to the new standard?

The transition period will be three years from the publication date of the standard itself, organisations have until September 2018 to transition.

In order to maximise the benefits offered by ISO 14001:2015, it is recommended that you plan your transition as soon as your organisation is able. Should something happen to delay your transitional assessment, your existing approval will still remain valid.

Could the standard change before the final ISO 14001:2015 is published?

The strategic direction of the standard is established and is now focused on the level of detail within the requirements. Any changes will be based on suggestions made by the National Standards Bodies and external interested parties during the three month comments period.

Following the next Drafting Committee meeting, the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) will be published and the requirements will be defined. Any changes after that will purely be of a grammatical or editorial nature.

Next steps

Talk to LRQA; as a member of the Independent International Organisation for Certification (IIOC), we are a member of all the major ISO technical committees helping to shape the new standards. We not only understand the revisions, but more importantly, we know what the revisions mean to your EMS and wider organisation and how to apply it to best effect.

Engage with LRQA to find out how a gap analysis and training on specific areas of ISO 14001:2015 can benefit you personally, as well as your organisation.

Focus on the areas that are completely new or have been revised. Those are the areas that are likely to be included in your transition plan.  Also, make sure that environmental managers and internal auditors understand the differences that Annex SL (common text and structure) will bring to the design, operation and performance of your EMS and any other management system standards in your organisation.

Begin formalising a transition plan and process and ensure that top management is involved from the start.