How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015

One of the fundamental changes of the ISO 14001:2015 revision is outlined in Section 5, and is the clause dealing with leadership. Since the new revision was released on September 15, there has been much discussion over the changes within the ISO community. In my opinion, the change in leadership requirements is undoubtedly the most significant, given that the terms of this clause change the responsibility for delivery of ISO 14001:2015 itself within organizations. This should not only mean a real and meaningful change in the way that top management approaches the application of an ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management System (EMS), and therefore compliance with the standard, but significant changes in the way that leaders need to perform and behave. So, what is different from the 2004 standard and what do we need to do to comply?

Leadership: The new requirements

Firstly, the standard states that top management must take accountability for the “effectiveness of the EMS.” This one statement sets the tone for the whole of Section 5. No longer is there specific mention of a “management representative” in terms of taking responsibility, although specific responsibilities for other tasks may be delegated to the management representative elsewhere in the EMS. Given that top management will now be held responsible for the system’s effectiveness, it stands to reason that when this is broken down, then the following aspects must also be displayed by top managers under audit conditions:

  • Ensuring that the strategic plans of the organization and the EMS objectives are compatible and integrated, and within the scope of the organizational context (which you can read more about in the previous article Determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001)
  • Ensuring the correct resources are available and that the EMS can interact with the existing business processes
  • Adopting responsibility for delegating and directing people to ensure performance objectives are met
  • Ensuring continual improvement can be achieved
  • Providing leadership to other supporting roles in the organization to ensure overall targets can be met
  • Communication: ensuring that critical objectives, aspects, and performance metrics and results are continually communicated effectively to all stakeholders

So, the leadership requirement is a huge departure from the 2004 standard, where responsibility could be devolved and delegated to a large degree to a “management representative” or other nominated person. This is clearly no longer the case, and that means big changes for many top managers, including a huge increase in EMS involvement and knowledge. So, how do you go about ensuring your organization is ready?

Leadership and 14001:2015 – The audit and beyond

It is obvious with the changes to the ISO 14001:2015 standard that there will be a defined change to the way in which organizations are audited, and the true scope of this can only be assumed by translating the standard at this point in time. However, come audit time it is clear that your “top management” will have to be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the EMS objectives and provide an overview of where these sit within the organization’s overall vision
  • Demonstrate that consideration has been made over the coordination of the EMS and other strategic goals and internal processes jointly
  • Demonstrate that leadership has been shown to the team in terms of communicating the importance of the EMS, ongoing results, and progress versus stated environmental objectives
  • Be familiar with the process of ensuring and encouraging continual improvement and demonstrate that this culture exists within the organization as a result of that leadership

So, it would appear that the days of the auditor being passed over to the management representative after the initial introductions, and remaining there until the audit ends, may be over. Clearly, the leaders of organizations are now expected to lead, and lead by example. They are also expected to be able to understand and justify the objectives, results, resourcing, and methodologies of the EMS. To me, this seems very obvious and sensible, and coupled with the changes in the risk-based thinking issues, (see an overview of all the changes in the article 12 Steps to make the transition from ISO 14001:2004 to 2015), it appears to be the first major step towards making ISO 14001:2015 a real driver for business and environmental improvement, instead of simply another certificate on the wall. That surely has to be good news for everyone!

Why not find out more about new version of the standard by visiting our ISO 14001:2015 Foundations online course.

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.