An introduction to the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System and why its time has come

Steve Stubley, Group Technical Director at Alcumus, looks at how ISO 14001 has risen to prominence.

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Written by: alcumus
13th January

As someone who’s been in the ISO certification business for many years, it’s interesting to chart the rise of standards and reflect on how they found such popularity. And right now, it’s the turn of the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, British industry looked on with envy at the burgeoning Japanese manufacturing sector. They had found a way to churn out shiny new products with levels of excellence and reliability that British Leyland could only dream of. One response was that UK businesses rushed to adopt the BS 5750 Quality Management System (now ISO 9001). Too late to save the Austin Allegro, but certification to ISO 9001 is now a given in the industry.

Come the millennium, and health and safety was top of the agenda. The preceding few years had seen major railway disasters at Southall and Ladbroke Grove which resulted in significant loss of life. In the early 2000s, the deaths of 21 cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay shocked the nation. The HSE was extremely effective at campaigning to promote the adoption of better safety practices. Together with stricter implementation of laws and stiffer punishment for transgressions, the OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health & Safety standard (now ISO 45001) took off.

Now, our attention turns to environmental matters. A range of pressure groups across the globe has certainly ensured their message has cut through. It’s one of the few topics that has been able to kick the pandemic off the headlines. The pressure now on businesses to improve their environmental performance is intense, just as it was with quality in the 80s and health and safety after that.

And so we have the dash to adopt the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

In fact, the first iteration of this standard can be traced back to 1992 with the British Standard BS 7750, superseded in 1996 by ISO 14001 when it was adopted internationally. Back then, when it was a rather niche standard, its focus was mostly on pollution control, whereas the latest 2015 version is much more comprehensive.

Like all good ISO management systems, its implementation is not just a symbolic gesture that enhances your reputation (although it certainly does): ISO 14001 can bring about a material change in the measurable ‘environmental performance’ of your business. And by extension, that should lead to an enhancement in your commercial performance too.

We’re finding that businesses are coming to us for ISO 14001 for a variety of reasons:

  • It supports their broader ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) agenda, especially in terms of reducing environmental impact
  • It provides structure to the management of compliance with the growing legislative burden
  • To help control costs of inputs and waste (the ISO 50001 Energy Management System takes this a step further)
  • It’s an effective marketing / PR tool to enhance company image and brand
  • Certification is increasingly a requirement when tendering for contracts

For most, it’s a case of ‘all of the above’.

If you’ve stuck with me to the end of this article, then you must have at least some level of interest in using ISO 14001 to enhance your environmental performance! So I’d like to suggest that you get yourself a copy of our free Guide to the Requirements of ISO 14001. We’d also love to talk with you about how we can help to get you certified so please, feel free to get in touch.