“The ISO 14000 environmental management series is a major step forward in corporate environmental management” Discuss with particular reference to the ISO 14001 EMS


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An environmental management system (EMS) is the system by which a:

‘company controls the activities, products and processes that cause,

or could cause, environmental impacts and in doing so minimizes

the environmental impacts of its operations.’1

From, the onset it was expected that registration under ISO 14001 would become an important business priority.2 It was felt that third party certification would be the vehicle to achieve future business success and a desirable corporate image.

Organisations are increasingly concerned with achieving sound environmental performance.3 Moreover, there are growing pressures from national and international sources, such as increasing legislation, financial penalties, environmental disasters and public awareness of sustainability.4 Thus there has been a growing realisation that all organisations have an impact on the environment and that these impacts need to be reduced.

ISO 14001 will be introduced as a specification standard and its components will be reviewed. The focus of this report will be to analyse whether ISO 14001 serves as a major step forward. Case studies are used in order to identify the positive and negative aspects of ISO 14001.


The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) was established in 1947 and is a non-governmental organisation. The series provides a framework for organising the tasks essential for effective environmental management.5

ISO 14001 is a specification standard published in 1996, which states the requirements for establishing an EMS. Its aim is to support environmental protection and prevent pollution in harmony with socio-economic needs.6The standard is similar to BS 7750, however, the wording is not as prescriptive as BS 7750 which allows for wider interpretation.7

The standard is intended to be applicable to all types and sizes of organisation, from anywhere in the world. Prior to the ISO 14000 series, attempts at assessing environmental performance had been limited to environmental reviews or audits. These attempts were insufficient assurances that performance will continuously meet legal and policy requirements.8 For such reviews to be efficient, they need to be conducted within a structured management system and integrated into general management activity. Thus we can see the link between the introduction of ISO 14001 and the need for an effective EMS.


Although there are often concerns that establishing an EMS will lead to high costs, there are two main advantages to be had. The first is that it is good for the planet. Global economic activity has increased dramatically and it is felt that present business practices are destroying life on earth and that the current level of consumption cannot go on. To put this into perspective, 83 per cent of commercial energy used in the world comes from non-renewable energy sources.9

Secondly, there are believed to be five benefits for your business. The first is cost savings since you will be able to identify inefficiencies when conducting the environmental review.10Secondly, a management programme enables you to monitor target compliance. Thirdly, an organisation may gain an enhanced public image and increased market opportunities by demonstrating their commitment to the environment.11Fourthly, having an EMS could mean less supervision from environmental regulators and enhanced ability to attract investment.12Lastly, it can encourage increased motivation from employees.13


* Environmental Policy

A policy must be drafted which sets out the intentions of the organisation in relation to the environment. There must be a commitment to prevent pollution, continual improvement and compliance with relevant environmental legislation.14Targets must be communicated to all employees.

* Planning

Objectives and targets need to be set. Environmental aspects should be identified by means of an environmental review. This review is important because it forms the foundation upon which the rest of the management system is built.15The organisation must devise an environmental management programme which identifies time-frames and responsibility.

* Implementation & Operation

* The roles and responsibilities of people involved in the EMS must be defined and management should provide the necessary resources.

* All employees involved with the environment must receive training on appropriate environmental procedures and they must be competent.16

* There must be a suitable system for communication regarding the EMS from external and internal sources.17

* EMS documentation must describe the elements of the management system and provide links to related documentation.18

* Procedures need to be established for controlling all documents required by ISO 14001. This allows for easy location and periodic reviews.

* There must be documented procedures and work instructions to ensure compliance with ISO 14001. Such procedures need to be communicated to suppliers and contractors.

* Potential accident and emergency situations need to be identified and appropriate procedures implemented to prevent the potential environmental impacts.

* Checking & Corrective Action

An organisation needs to establish and maintain procedures to periodically monitor and measure compliance with ISO 14001 and establish a system for dealing with non-conformance.

* Management Review

Management must periodically review the EMS to assess its continuing effectiveness and relevance to the company’s needs. The need for change must be addressed in light of the audit results, changing circumstances and the organisation’s commitment to continual improvement.19


An organisation can demonstrate that it has met the requirements of ISO 14001 by self-declaration which means the organisation checks its own compliance.20However, for compliance to carry more weight it should be checked by an independent third party. This process is known as certification. It must be stressed that certification is of the management system itself. Thus it will not differentiate the environmental performance of companies:

‘Today, ISO 14001 certification may offer business advantage, tomorrow it may not.’21

It is up to individual companies to conclude whether or not certification is justifiable. Moreover, the credibility of the certifier and certification process will determine the value of certification.22


ISO 14001 is a ‘major step forward’ in that today there is a strong need to use an EMS that conforms to ISO 14001 in order to reduce an organisation’s environmental impact.

There are five main benefits of ISO 14001. The first is that it cultivates involvement of top management which is significant because they are a difficult audience to reach.23Certification appears to be an issue of competitiveness and it has been predicted that it may become a prerequisite for business transactions. In 1998 the number of ISO certifications was relatively low. About 2,055 organisations received certification within the EU24and 2,017 outside the EU.25 However, larger organisations are now pushing ISO 14001 down the supply chain.26Rover has asked their 700 first tier suppliers to make a commitment to become certified under ISO 14001 therefore there is great potential for the number of certifications to rise.

Secondly, ISO 14001 is attractive because it encourages a systematic and holistic approach to environmental management.27This is important because there is no government mandate that requires such an approach. Thirdly, a framework for continual improvement is established by the creation of time-lines and periodic compliance audits.28Fourthly, it could be argued that ISO 14001 attempts to encourage innovation by requiring environmental awareness and training of employees.29 Lastly, it improves compliance with legislation.

VAUXHALL MOTORS (BSI 1998) Case Study30

According to Ken Davies:31

‘Managing the environmental process has been rewarded by substantial

cost savings which are likely to increase in the future’

Since implementing ISO 14001 the company reduced its environmental impacts and has a motivated workforce.32By adopting sub-metering of electricity, individual sections of the factory were encouraged to take responsibility for their own fuel use. The annual electricity cost of �4 million was reduced by 5 per cent due to the better control of consumption. Although this meant high costs, the payback for investment came under a year.


The spirit of environmental awareness and commitment spread widely since ISO 14001 certification.34The whole organisation made a commitment to improve environmental performance by lessening pollution and practising effective waste management.

Anand Sud35said:

‘The greatest difficulty in implementing ISO 14001 is changing the mindset of

human beings, the most complicated machine around’36

An excellent culture was created by motivating people so that there was total commitment from all levels of the workforce. A lesson that could be drawn from this case study is that everybody needs to get involved in the EMS. All employees were encouraged to participate in environmental activities. Moreover, the management structure used was a success because people were appointed and the environment was turned into a responsibility.


Simply following ISO 14001 is not enough.37The case study of Ontario Hydro38 (OH) clearly illustrates this. OH had made attempts to develop, implement and document its EMSs with limited success.39The arrival of the ISO 14001 standard was welcomed because it introduced a new definition of how an EMS is meant to work. However, the standard did not entirely fulfil the needs of the organisation. In order to extend the standard, 10 areas of ‘abuse’ were introduced.

OH felt that the standard put insufficient emphasis on communication therefore it was made into a sub-element of each of the 5 stages. Moreover, the standard did not include business plan decision-making for the environment, environmental education, employee recognition and reward programmes nor a requirement for environmental performance reporting.40Thus OH added these elements.

In order for the standard to make sense within the corporate culture some changes had to be made to the terminology used, including substituting the term ‘Environmental Aspects’ for ‘Environmental Issues’ since the organisation was used to the latter term and it would avoid misunderstandings.41

This case study suggests that any company developing an EMS should first ensure that the ISO 14001 standard is met as a minimum and then the EMS should be tailored to meet the individual needs of each organisation.42

The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable ISO 14001 Workgroup White Paper43 (NPPR) highlights further areas of weakness that may reduce the standard’s effectiveness. A general shortcoming is that ISO 14001 evoked scepticism from the public because it was developed by voluntary representatives without sufficient input from the environmental community. There is a fear that ISO 14001 will be used by industry as proof of commitment when there is no way of guaranteeing environmental improvements will be made.44Owing to the fact that regulators are considering granting regulatory flexibility to certified organisations there is concern because the word ‘commitment’ is left undefined.45Thus an organisation could fail to comply with environmental regulations and still become certified as long as they can prove that overtime their EMS will lead to compliance. This provides little reassurance that certified companies are more compliant than uncertified companies.46

Another contentious issue is that of audit privilege, since it is felt that ISO 14001 lacks sufficient public disclosure of an organisation’s environmental impacts.47Although confidentiality is an incentive for organisations to conduct audits, at the same time regulators do not want to absolve managers of all accountability.48There is also an argument that ISO 14001 is being oversold by consultants in that they tend to exaggerate its utility and downplay its limitations.49

When organisations are designing their EMS it is crucial that they adopt a ‘sustainability-seeking’ interpretation of ISO 14001 rather than a ‘default’ approach which is merely a by-the-book application. 50 Such an approach would not amount to best practice since it is only driven by the private interests of the organisation. ISO 14001 appears to unintentionally, yet powerfully reinforce this default approach.51Society’s interest as well as the organisation’s drive a sustainability-seeking approach. Thus it has been suggested that a sustainability-seeking interpretation of ISO 14001 requires commitment from the whole organisation to the values that drive the organisation’s environmental action.52

Finally ISO 14001 may project a culture which discourages risk and encourages tradition.53 Although the standard has been welcomed by leading figures in the business, governmental and academic communities the cultural impact of ISO 14001 appears to have been overlooked.54

The standard endorses a hierarchical design since decisions are left to senior management. This does not advocate participatory or flexible decision-making. ISO 14001 also stresses the importance of rules, regulations and procedures with little scope for line-managers or employees to exercise choice or judgement.55As a result it was suggested that ISO 14001 be revised because of the value it places on top-down management.56

Teamwork and devolved decision-making tends to promote innovation and creativity and this was clearly illustrated by the success of the Rasa Sayang case study. Developing a role culture needs to be avoided because it tends to block the change required to remove the barriers which stop the incorporation of environmental considerations into business practices.57


The importance of the ISO 14000 series cannot be denied:

‘This is a significant milestone in the whole area of business and the environment’58

ISO 14001 differs from many traditional environmental regulatory systems since it allows organisations to focus on environmental efforts against internationally accepted criteria.59Thus allowing progress to be made towards achieving sustainable development.

It could be argued that the major attraction of the ISO 14000 series is its flexibility and its ability to capture the attention and backing of top management.60

However, the standard is not without faults. There appears to be a lack of trust when it comes to believing the claims of businesses regarding the environment and the existence of an audit privilege does not help alleviate such worries. Furthermore, it cannot be forgotten that ISO 14001 only provides the minimum requirements for establishing an EMS. That said, at least the standard has managed to get companies to pay attention and get involved in the environment.


* Roberts, H & Robinson, G (1998)

ISO 14001 EMS Implementation Handbook

(Oxford: Butterworths Heinemann)

* Sheldon, C (1997)

ISP 14001 & Beyond: Environmental Management Systems in the Real World

(Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing) Part 1

* Whitelaw, K (1997)

ISO 14001 EMS Handbook

(Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann)

* Welford, R (1996)

Corporate Environmental Management: Systems & Strategies

(London: Earthscan)

* Gilbert, M. J (1993)

Achieving Environmental Management Standards: A Step-By-Step Guide to Meeting BS7750

(London: Pitman)

* Rao, P (2001)

Environmental Management Systems in Southeast Asia: Towards A Green Millennium

(Asian Institute Of Management)


* Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Aud.7, 82-90 (2000)

ISO 14001: A Case of Cultural Myopia

John Moxen & Peter A. Strachan


* accessed on 23/10/01

National Pollution Prevention Roundtable ISO 14001 Workgroup White Paper

* accessed on 22/10/01

Penarth: Description of BS EN ISO 14001 And EMAS

* accessed on 22/10/01

Conformance Environmental: ISO 14001

* accessed on 22/10/01

ISO International Organisation for Standardization

* accessed on 18/10/01

Quality Network – International Standard ISO 14000

1 Roberts & Robinson (1st Edition) p.2

2 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.263

3 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.68

4 Whitelaw, K (1st Edition) p.3

5 NPPR White Paper

6 Roberts & Robinson (1st Edition) p.4


8 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.68

9 Miller & Tyler (8th Edition)

10 Roberts & Robinson (1st Edition) p.12

11 Roberts & Robinson (1st Edition) p.13

12 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.87

13 Roberts & Robinson (1st Edition) p.15

14 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.69

15 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.71

16 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.72

17 BS EN ISO 14001

18 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.73

19 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.74

20 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.75

21 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.137

22 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.133


24 Table 4.5 – Welford, R (1st Edition) p.86

25 Table 4.6 – Welford R (1st Edition) p.87

26 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.88




30 taken from Welford, R (1st Edition) p.85

31 Communications Manager at Ellesmere Port

32 Welford, R (1st Edition) p.85

33 taken from Rao, P (1st Edition) p.143

34 Rao, P (1st Edition) p.158

35 part of the Environmental Committee & handled training awareness and competence

36 Rao, P (1st Edition) p.159

37 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.222

38 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.263

39 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.276

40 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.276

41 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.272

42 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.276

43 January 28, 1998



46 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.134




50 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.239

51 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.221

52 Sheldon, C (1st Edition) p.230

53 Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Vol.7 (2000) – Moxen & Strachan p.88

54 Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Vol.7 (2000) – Moxen & Strachan p.82

55 Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Vol.7 (2000) – Moxen & Strachan p.87

56 Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Vol.7 (2000) – Moxen & Strachan p.82

57 Eco-Management & Auditing Eco-Management Vol.7 (2000) – Moxen & Strachan p.85

58Sir Neville Purvis, Chief Executive of The BSI, 1995




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