EMS - Getting started with the basics



In this post we will be starting the analysis of the elements of an environmental management system, in accordance with the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard.

I will begin by commenting that, as you surely know, the ISO 14001 standard is a document whose current version is the one published in 2015, which replaces the 2004 edition, as well as the corrigendum issued in 2009 and is equivalent to the third edition of the standard originally approved and published in 1996. Among the relevant changes in this latest version, the current one, is the one that adjusted the management system model to the characteristics that ISO has introduced to many management systems, under uniform criteria, that allow organizations to manage standardized management systems in an integrated manner.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) itself presents it as follows:


What is a management system?

A management system is the way in which an organization manages the interrelated parts of its business in order to achieve its objectives. These objectives can relate to a number of different topics, including product or service quality, operational efficiency, environmental performance, health and safety in the workplace and many more.

The level of complexity of the system will depend on each organization’s specific context. For some organizations, especially smaller ones, it may simply mean having strong leadership from the business owner, providing a clear definition of what is expected from each individual employee and how they contribute to the organization’s overall objectives, without the need for extensive documentation. More complex businesses operating, for example, in highly regulated sectors, may need extensive documentation and controls in order to fulfil their legal obligations and meet their organizational objectives.


The ISO model: agreed by experts

ISO management system standards (MSS) help organizations improve their performance by specifying repeatable steps that organizations consciously implement to achieve their goals and objectives, and to create an organizational culture that reflexively engages in a continuous cycle of self-evaluation, correction and improvement of operations and processes through heightened employee awareness and management leadership and commitment.

The benefits of an effective management system to an organization include:

  • More efficient use of resources and improved financial performance  
  • Improved risk management and protection of people and the environment
  • Increased capability to deliver consistent and improved services and products, thereby increasing value to customers and all other stakeholders


MSSs are the result of consensus among international experts with expertise in global management, leadership strategies, and efficient and effective processes and practices. MSS standards can be implemented by any organization, large or small.


Management Systems Standards (MSS)

These are ISO standards that set out requirements or guidance to help organizations manage their policies and processes to achieve specific objectives. MSS are designed to be applicable across all economic sectors, various types and sizes of organizations and diverse geographical, cultural and social conditions.

Many ISO MSS have the same structure and contain many of the same terms & definitions and requirements.


Annex L: more than a shared structure

In addition to being laid out in the same way, there are some parts of a standard where identical text can be used. This improves coherence and recognition, simplifies use, and is defined in something called “Annex L”. It means that in addition to having the same structure, MSSs can contain many of the same terms and definitions. This is particularly useful for those organizations that choose to operate a single (sometimes called “integrated”) management system that can meet the requirements of two or more MSSs being used simultaneously.

Annex L plays a key role in the interoperability and user friendliness of standards for countless users of ISO management standards around the world.


Why ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified to. It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system.

Designed for any type of organization, regardless of its activity or sector, it can provide assurance to company management and employees as well as external stakeholders that environmental impact is being measured and improved.

ISO 14001 provides requirements with guidance for use that relate to environmental systems. Other standards in the family focus on specific approaches such as audits, communications, labelling and life cycle analysis, as well as environmental challenges such as climate change.

In summary, in order to start its analysis, the ISO 14001:2015 specifies the requirements for an environmental management system that an organization can use to enhance its environmental performance. ISO 14001:2015 is intended for use by an organization seeking to manage its environmental responsibilities in a systematic manner that contributes to the environmental pillar of sustainability.

ISO 14001:2015 helps an organization achieve the intended outcomes of its environmental management system, which provide value for the environment, the organization itself and interested parties. Consistent with the organization's environmental policy, the intended outcomes of an environmental management system include:


-        -  enhancement of environmental performance;


-        -  fulfilment of compliance obligations;


-        -  achievement of environmental objectives.

ISO 14001:2015 is applicable to any organization, regardless of size, type and nature, and applies to the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that the organization determines it can either control or influence considering a life cycle perspective. It does not state specific environmental performance criteria.

This standard can be used in whole or in part to systematically improve environmental management. Claims of conformity to ISO 14001:2015, however, are not acceptable unless all its requirements are incorporated into an organization's environmental management system and fulfilled without exclusion.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created a particular technical committee for the ISO 14000 family of standards, which is the Technical Committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management.

In the next post we will delve into the context of this ISO 14001: 2015 standard.



Ernesto Palomares Hilton