EMS - Preliminary elements (Part 1)



With this post we begin an analysis of the standard ISO 14001: 2015, and we will first identify what I have called “the context” of this standard, to later analyse the text of each of the specific requirements that comprise it.

If you are establishing, or are planning to establish an environmental management system in an organization in compliance with this standard, or more importantly, you are dedicated or wish to dedicate yourself professionally to the field of environmental management supporting other organizations to apply this ISO 14001 standard, it is very important that you know and properly understand each of the requirements of this standard, either to comply with each one of them correctly, or that you can offer a valuable consulting or technical support service to organizations that work in some or some economic sectors. Otherwise, you should rely on someone who can reliably support you.

Over the course of a few decades, I have met hundreds, and I could say thousands of people whose professional performance is related to ISO 9001, ISO 14000 or other management systems standards and, in general, I have seen that what I mention in the previous paragraph is fulfilled. Most of these people have been concerned with knowing and understanding the requirements of the standard, but no more than that.

However, I have repeatedly mentioned in this blog that if someone wants to use a standard correctly, it is important to know and comprehend not only the requirements of that standard, but also its preliminary and complementary elements, which are what make up its context, because they will help to understand several of the fundamental elements of the standard itself.

In relation to the people who work with the ISO 14001 standard on a daily basis, very few people take care to know and understand the context of said standard. That is, they know the text of the requirements of the standard, but not the context of the application of those requirements, which sometimes leads to costly mistakes in the development of an environmental management system.

Due to this importance, we will begin the analysis of this context of the ISO 14001 standard, starting from its preliminary elements, with the Foreword, which describes the organization that has issued this international standard, indicating what part of its structure, that is, the technical committee and its subcommittee responsible for the development of this standard, as well as some basic elements for its structure and drafting.

It tells us that ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (ISO member bodies). The work of preparing International Standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. Each member body interested in a subject, for which a technical committee has been established, has the right to be represented on that committee. International organizations, governmental and non-governmental, in liaison with ISO, also take part in the work. ISO collaborates closely with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on all matters of electrotechnical standardization.

The procedures used to develop this document and those intended for its further maintenance are described in the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1. In particular the different approval criteria needed for the different types of ISO documents should be noted. This document was drafted in accordance with the editorial rules of the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2 (see www.iso.org/directives).

Attention is drawn to the possibility that some of the elements of this document may be the subject of patent rights. ISO shall not be held responsible for identifying any or all such patent rights. Details of any patent rights identified during the development of the document will be in the Introduction and/or on the ISO list of patent declarations received (see www.iso.org/patents).

Any trade name used in this document is information given for the convenience of users and does not constitute an endorsement.

For an explanation on the meaning of ISO specific terms and expressions related to conformity assessment, as well as information about ISO's adherence to the World Trade Organization (WTO) principles in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) see the following URL: www.iso.org/iso/foreword.html.

The committee responsible for this document is Technical Committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, Subcommittee SC 1, Environmental management systems.

This third edition cancels and replaces the second edition (ISO 14001:2004), which has been technically revised. It also incorporates the Technical Corrigendum ISO 14001:2004/Cor.1:2009.

We then begin with the analysis of the Clause Introduction of the ISO 14001: 2015 standard.

Due to the large amount of information that has been placed in this clause, it is displayed in five subclauses, which are the following:

- 0.1 Background,

- 0.2 Aim of an environmental management system

- 0.3 Success factors

- 0.4 Plan-Do-Check-Act model

- 0.5 Content of this international standard

The first point that is worth mentioning about all the information contained in a standard such as this is that the texts should be as simple and clear as possible. The information that is placed there should not be duplicated or contrasted. It is not allowed to include what we colloquially call "padded", which are long descriptions of some element or requirement, or abundant explanations about it. The requirements are presented in a concise way, and in case any additional explanation is required, “clarifying notes” are used, in the simplest way that they can be described.

It is due to this way of presenting the information in a standard, that very commonly it is difficult for us to fully understand what some requirement establishes. Therefore, we must carefully read and understand what a standard establishes in each of its requirements. That is why there are organizations that offer courses to interpret the requirements of certain standards.

Subclause 0.1 Background, explains that the Achieving a balance between the environment, society and the economy is considered essential to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable development as a goal is achieved by balancing the three pillars of sustainability.

Societal expectations for sustainable development, transparency and accountability have evolved with increasingly stringent legislation:


This has led organizations to adopt a systematic approach to environmental management by implementing environmental management systems with the aim of contributing to the “environmental pillar” of sustainability.

Subclause 0.2 Aim of an environmental management system informs us the purpose of this international standard is to provide organizations with a framework to protect the environment and respond to changing environmental conditions in balance with socio-economic needs. It specifies requirements that enable an organization to achieve the intended outcomes it sets for its environmental management system.

A systematic approach to environmental management can provide top management with information to build success over the long term and create options for contributing to sustainable development by:


This international standard, like other international standards, is not intended to increase or change an organization’s legal requirements.

Regarding subclause 0.3 Success factors, it explains that the success of an environmental management system depends on commitment from all levels and functions of the organization, led by top management.

Organizations can leverage opportunities to prevent or mitigate adverse environmental impacts and enhance beneficial environmental impacts, particularly those with strategic and competitive implications. Top management can effectively address its risks and opportunities by integrating environmental management into the organization's business processes, strategic direction and decision making, aligning them with other business priorities, and incorporating environmental governance into its overall management system. Demonstration of successful implementation of this International Standard can be used to assure interested parties that an effective environmental management system is in place.

Adoption of this International Standard, however, will not in itself guarantee optimal environmental outcomes. Application of this International Standard can differ from one organization to another due to the context of the organization. Two organizations can carry out similar activities but can have different compliance obligations, commitments in their environmental policy, environmental technologies and environmental performance goals, yet both can conform to the requirements of this International Standard.

The level of detail and complexity of the environmental management system will vary depending on the context of the organization, the scope of its environmental management system, its compliance obligations, and the nature of its activities, products and services, including its environmental aspects and associated environmental impacts.

In the subclause 0.4 Plan-Do-Check-Act model, the standard tells us that the basis for the approach underlying an environmental management system is founded on the concept of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). The PDCA model provides an iterative process used by organizations to achieve continual improvement. It can be applied to an environmental management system and to each of its individual elements. It can be briefly described as follows.

  • Plan: establish environmental objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the organization’s environmental policy.
  • Do: implement the processes as planned.
  • Check: monitor and measure processes against the environmental policy, including its commitments, environmental objectives and operating criteria, and report the results.
  • Act: take actions to continually improve.

Figure 1 shows how the framework introduced in this International Standard could be integrated into a PDCA model, which can help new and existing users to understand the importance of a systems approach.

Figure 1 - Relationship between PDCA and the framework in this standard.

In the last subclause of this
Clause Introduction, the 0.5 Content of this International Standard, explains that this International Standard conforms to ISO’s requirements for management system standards. These requirements include a high level structure, identical core text, and common terms with core definitions, designed to benefit users implementing multiple ISO management system standards.

This standard does not include requirements specific to other management systems, such as those for quality, occupational health and safety, energy or financial management. However, this standard enables an organization to use a common approach and risk-based thinking to integrate its environmental management system with the requirements of other management systems.

This international standard contains the requirements used to assess conformity. An organization that wishes to demonstrate conformity with this International Standard can do so by:

  • making a self-determination and self-declaration, or
  • seeking confirmation of its conformance by parties having an interest in the organization, such as customers, or
  • seeking confirmation of its self-declaration by a party external to the organization, or
  • seeking certification/registration of its environmental management system by an external organization.

Annex A provides explanatory information to prevent misinterpretation of the requirements of this International Standard. Annex B shows broad technical correspondence between the previous edition of this International Standard and this edition. Implementation guidance on environmental management systems is included in ISO 14004.

In this International Standard, the following verbal forms are used:


Information marked as “NOTE” is intended to assist the understanding or use of the document. “Notes to entry” used in Clause 3 provide additional information that supplements the terminological data and can contain provisions relating to the use of a term.

The terms and definitions in Clause 3 are arranged in conceptual order, with an alphabetical index provided at the end of the document.

(This topic continues in the post: EMS - Preliminary Elements (part 2).



Ernesto Palomares Hilton