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What is ISO 14001?

It is a standard that describes global expectations for a management framework that enables you to better manage your environmental relationship. A term that is synonmous with ISO 14001 is an EMS, an environmental management system.

There are many ways to explain ISO 14001; here are just a few.

ISO 14001 is a business tool.

It can be used as a(n):

  • process to revolutionize your business
  • mechanism to enhance productivity
  • tool to optimize your "contract with Mother Nature"
  • purchasing criterion or vendor screening opportunity
  • enabler of innovation and collaboration between companies
  • passport to trade
  • opportunity for professionalizing management
  • succession tool preparing for transfer or sale of the business
  • guideline for corporate reporting

ISO 14001 is a voluntary standard:

  • which outlines a systematic approach for managing your environmental responsibilities, the things you have or do
  • backed by international consensus
  • recognized as a mechanism for risk management
  • providing evidence of due diligence
  • addressing regulatory compliance
  • enabling organizations to reduce their footprint

ISO 14001 serves as an internationally recognized framework to manage, measure, evaluate, and audit your environmental performance alongside productivity improvements. You write your own policy. You determine what it is you have or do that impacts the environment, deserves attention and action. You set your own objectives and targets. So, it can apply to any type or size of organization, be it for profit or not-for-profit from any economic region in the world.

ISO 14001 enables a range of results and benefits, these are dependent on how well your design your EMS. Too often the focus of presentations talk about meeting or exceeding the requirements in ISO 14001 as the goal post. Yet success occurs when the design of your management system using 14001 meets your specific needs and circumstance. This is worth repeating. While ISO 14001 is the de facto EMS of choice, and experts around the world support the concept that meeting the requirements is a good idea, how you adapt the requirements to your own situation is where success lies. That's why templates or 'off the shelf' products for EMS often fail.

ISO 14001 leads a series of guidance standards to help you understand how the international community believes organizations should address related topics such as environmental claims, verification of greenhouse gas emissions, management of sustainable forestry, environmental auditing, performance evaluation, and life cycle assessment.

What you do does make a difference.

The biggest single challenge to ISO 14001 for many is determining what it is your organization does, or what it has that causes impacts on the environment. It is one of the primary reasons that brought countries and businesses from around the world together to address environmental management. In the standard, the focus of the EMS is to better manage environmental aspects.

These aspects have a cause and effect relationship; environmental impacts being the impact or consequence.

Not everything your organization does is negative; not all impacts are significant.

One last point for small business

Don't underestimate the value of using ISO 14001 as the basis of your environmental management system. Like it or not you will be measured against it, and judged accordingly if you say you have an environmental management system. There is a growing opportunity for small businesses that want to supply larger entities and governments. It also will put those small business owners wanting to retire in front of the crowd of businesses that will be up for sale or transfer as part of the grey tsunami. The wave of aging business owners and the mass transition of companies will not pass until 2025. Don't wait for "boomerangst" to take over. If you do not have an EMS, you run the risk of being passed over completely you won't even be a blip on the radar screen.