Transitioning to ISO 14001:2015

Three steps are needed to make the transition to certification to ISO 14001:2015:

Step 1 – Develop a Transition Plan
Step 2 – Modify Your Management System
Step 3 – Get Certified to ISO 14001:2015

Step 1 – Develop a Transition Plan

The changes to ISO 14001 are extensive – both in overall structure and in the requirements themselves.

Given the level of change, simply tweaking your existing management system procedures is likely not going to be enough. You will need to have a transition plan to –

  • Identify where changes to your existing environmental management system may be needed
  • Determine the extent of the work necessary to meet the new requirements set out in ISO 14001
  • Determine when and how this work can be completed within the transition time allowed

Making the necessary changes will require both time and money.  This means requesting additional resources and justifying allocation of the funds needed.  In most organizations, this requires a written request justifying the money to be budgeted and getting the needed approvals. Since many organizations operate with lean staffing, with personnel already working at or beyond their capacity, additional staff may be needed. Depending on the timing of when this work is scheduled, qualified personnel may be in short supply and high demand.

Significant changes will require a well-thought-out plan.

Not sure where to start with your plan?

The ENLAR ISO 14001 Transition Assessment Tool can help. This tool covers the ten most significant impacts of the ISO 14001 revision.   The checklists developed for assessing each of these impacts will help you evaluate the changes you will need to make and estimate the time and resources that will be necessary. Since every organization is different, the checklists are focused on helping you come up with your own site-specific plan that makes sense for your organization.

Step 2 – Modify Your Management System

Once you have your plan developed, you can start making the changes needed to your existing environmental management system. According to the ISO website, organizations that are already third-party certified will have three years to make the transition.  This does not mean, however, that you should wait 2 ½ years to get started.

Significant change can’t happen overnight.

Although the details of the revision will not be completely know until the standard is published as a final standard, there are some changes that are already certain. For example, organizations will be required to have a process in place for external communication that addresses environmental issues.  ISO 14001:2004 gave organizations the option of deciding whether external environmental communication was desired. That flexibility will be gone. Going forward, the question will not be whether an organization has decided to communicate externally.  Instead, the question will be whether the organization’s communication processes conform to the ISO 14001:2015 requirements.

ISO 14001 is no longer an environmental focused standard. It is a management system standard with environmental components.

Several of the new requirements will require fundamental changes to existing business processes that are not typically under the control of the environmental department.  Changes will require integration of the environmental management system into all aspects of the business with specific requirements related to the following functions –

  • Strategic business planning (requirements in 4.1, 5.1 and 6.2)
  • Communication and public relations (requirements in 4.2, 4.3, 5.2, 7.4 and 9.3)
  • Product design (requirements in 6.1.2, 6.1.4 and 8.1)
  • Legal counsel (new compliance requirements throughout the standard)
  • Purchasing and supply chain (requirements in 8.1)
  • IT and information security (requirements in 7.5)
  • Human resources (requirements in 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4)
  • Operations (requirements in 8.1)
  • Top management (obligations set out in 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, and 9.3)

Whenever changes to organizational processes necessitate the involvement of multiple business functions, additional time is needed to obtain the buy-in and approval of all of the individuals with responsibility and accountability for the functions being impacted.  This inter-department coordination can require a great deal of time and effort.

Want help getting started?

The ENLAR ISO 14001 Transition Assessment Tool provides the information and resources to help you come up with a plan that makes sense for your organization.

Step 3:  Get Certified to ISO 14001:2015

Just as organizations are currently evaluating the impact that the revision of the ISO 14001 will have on their business processes, so are the certification bodies (i.e. registrars).  Before they can offer accredited certification to ISO 14001:2015, they must be accredited.  This involves changing their internal processes and documentation.  In particular, registrars will need to revise their audit protocols and ensure that their auditors are competent to audit conformance with ISO 14001:2015.  This will take time.

There are also logistical considerations.  Since there are only so many competent registration auditors and an auditor can only audit one organization at a time, not every organization can have their registration audits scheduled at the same time.

This could mean – “If you snooze, you lose.”

In other words, if you wait until the end of the transition period and there are no auditors available, there is the possibility that you could lose your certification. If maintaining your certification status is important, you may want to schedule your transition audits well in advance and then ensure you have appropriate plans in place to be ready when the scheduled audit dates arrive.

Most registrars have already initiated “outreach” efforts to assist their clients in making the transition. For more information about the certification impacts of ISO 14001:2015, go to the web page EMS Certification.

Page last updated 07/23/2015


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