How to achieve regulatory compliance in ISO 14001

Every organization will benefit from gaining ISO 14001 accreditation, as well as the obvious environmental benefits to our surroundings and the planet. The ISO 14001 standard tells us that our top management team shall “define the organization’s environmental policy,” and within it there should be a “commitment to comply with applicable legal requirements and other requirements to which the organization subscribes which relates to its environmental aspects.” So, in other words, before you worry about the identification of your environmental aspects – which you can read more about here, you must first ensure that your organization understands and complies with any appropriate local legislation first, and is equipped to know of and react to updates. So, what is the best way to achieve this?

Keeping up with legislation

Given the international scope of the ISO 14001 standard, the language that refers to “legal requirements” is intentionally non-specific. This means that there is a bit of work for the average environmental management system (EMS) representative to go through in order to determine an organization’s regulatory requirements. Given that legislation differs from country to country, and sometimes from region to region within a country, then this becomes increasingly more difficult and more important that it is scoped out accurately. What industry or sector you operate in will also have a huge bearing on what legislation you need to comply with; a chemical plant and a call center will have massively different legal requirements to consider, for example. Obviously, there will be work to do, so what is the best way to proceed?

Ensuring compliance – Where to start?

Unsurprisingly, there will be companies who can help with this task, but in my experience the value of educating yourself and strengthening your company’s environmental performance starts with gaining the knowledge of your local regulatory requirements. Firstly, establish an “Environmental Legislation Register” for your organization. This can be a simple document, even in Word or Excel, which basically lists which regulations apply, and also captures the following critical details:

  • reference to the legislation in question, and source of information, if applicable
  • any key requirements for clarification
  • any controls that should be put into place
  • a summary of your compliance
  • a record of responsibility and date for the entry
  • date for checking ongoing compliance with a piece of legislation

You are now ready to assess which pieces of legislation apply to you. The range of legislation is very wide, but your knowledge of the sector your company operates in should allow you to consider and reject many pieces of legislation that do not apply. In many regions, there are local government agencies that exist to aid you with exactly this type of issue. Again, most regions provide local or nationwide online resources to ensure that applicable legislation is available. Contacting your local governmental environmental department can be a good place to start. Legislation will vary, from waste management and output of hazardous substances right through to considering the materials used to make your products, should you be a manufacturer.

You will also have environmental aspects in your office environment to consider, which you can read more about here, such as gases that may be used in your heating or cooling systems, for example. Use your eyes and your ears; then, investigate if that specific legislation applies to you. You may even want to consider comparing notes with another similar organization in the same region to ensure that you have captured everything required.

Managing your compliance

Now that your legislation register is up to date, you will no doubt continue with identifying environmental aspects that affect you, and so on, but it is vitally important that you ensure your knowledge of legal aspects is continually monitored and kept up to date. Many of the local government agencies mentioned above provide a free legislation update service that you can subscribe to, which will prompt you when applicable legislation changes. It is good practice to set aside a regular time on a monthly basis where you research, record, and act upon any changes in legislation that may affect you.

It is critical that you can show any auditing body a record of what changed, how it was acted upon, and how you communicated that action within your organization, if requested. The validity of this process may also be examined by your internal audit procedure, which can be viewed here, so best to be ready, and ensure the discipline of reviewing is maintained.

Benefits of going solo

As mentioned above, there are definable benefits of establishing your organization’s environmental regulatory requirements broadly on your own. It allows you to educate yourself in terms of existing legislation, whether applicable to your organization or not. Remember that ISO 14001 compliance and accreditation means that you are responsible for all aspects of your product and service. Armed with your new knowledge, this could be the time to ensure that your supply chain is managed to compliance too, the benefits of which can be examined in this previous article: How to drive your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance. Overall, establishing your own company’s legislative compliance requirements will make you more ready to face the future and meet the challenge of providing an excellent product or service to your customers with a minimum environmental impact.

You can find out what needs to be documented in an ISO 14001 EMS in this whitepaper on  Checklist of ISO 14001 Mandatory Documentation, and learn how this fits into the regulatory requirements.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.