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How long does it take to implement ISO 14001:2015?

Organizations that look to implement ISO 14001:2015 do so for several different reasons. Some see it as a natural progression as their company grows – perhaps having implemented ISO 9001:2015, some see it as a logical system to adopt to satisfy environmental obligations, and some react to pressure being applied by customers, stakeholders, or pressure groups. Whatever the reason, the first question normally tends to be “How long does it take?” While the standard itself provides no direct advice on timescales, it is clear that there are several key elements that dictate when an organization can be ready, and it probably follows that this period will be different for organizations of varied types and sizes. So, given that, what are these factors, and what do we have to bear in mind when planning a project like ISO 14001:2015?

Implementation period, the key elements

The management of an organization will generally want to know how long a 14001:2015 project will take at the outset, and that is only natural. Considerations of the resources that will be required for an implementation project will need to be assessed, and who is best in your organization to manage the project. The project manager will therefore need to have a thorough understanding of not only the standard itself, but also the context within which the organization operates, and the effect that will have on implementation time, for example:

  • What industry does your organization operate in? Tasks such as defining the context of your organization and gaining stakeholder engagement will be critical elements of your project, and those will differ greatly between, for example, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer and a small coffee shop.
  • What size is your organization? In the previous article Do you have to train your whole workforce on the ISO 14001 standard? we examined the requirements in terms of workforce training; however, it is clear that an organization of 1000 employees will have a longer implementation period than one of 10 employees. As with the example in the previous point, again, the sector you work in will also influence implementation time; a nuclear plant and a retailer will surely have different implementation periods.
  • Do you have one or multiple sites?
  • Do you have knowledgeable and available internal resources to implement, or do you need to hire a consultant?

These “contextual” elements need to be considered carefully before committing to an implementation plan. For the project manager, it is sensible to involve the leadership and top management of the organization to assess this, as it also can be considered a part of the definition of the context of the organization, which is a new and critical part of 14001:2015. We examined context of the organization in detail in the article Determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001. In terms of the implementation period, this is also a critical factor; your ease and time of implementation will be improved significantly if you have top management buy-in, and if your project manager is knowledgeable and efficient. So, we now understand the “contextual” elements we need to pay attention to; presumably there are elements of the standard we need to ensure we execute in order to understand what the implementation period should be.

How long should it take?

Typically, most organizations should be ready within six months if they have 50 or fewer employees, but some organizations of a larger size may take more time – up to or over a year for organizations of more than 200. Some rules of thumb would be:

  • Companies of up to 10 employees – up to 3 months.
  • Up to 50 employees – 3 to 6 months.
  • Up to 200 employees – 6 to 10 months.
  • More than 200 employees – 10 to 20 months.

As stated above, this will vary depending on the environmental impact of your organization; a consultancy and a manufacturing plant will have hugely differing impacts, for example, though both may have a similar number of employees. However, your organization should remember that despite the changes from the 14001:2004 standard to the 14001:2015 version, your implementation will not be considered complete and ready for audit until you display evidence of at least one example of:

So, while the 14001:2015 standard may appear less “cycle based” than its predecessor, it is vital to understand that most auditors will not consider your organization ready for audit unless the above elements exist in your EMS.

What can be done to speed up the process?

It goes without saying that the more expertise, resources, and education you employ within your project, the quicker your implementation can be. Also, when you set up your EMS and decide on the frequency of your audit, feedback, and risk-based functions, as well as meetings, you should remember that this will have an effect on your implementation timescale and, therefore, your readiness for audit. For example, if you plan to have your first internal audit nine months from establishment of the EMS, then this will mean you will not be ready for external audit until after that time. Many organizations also consider using external help, such as consultants, to implement the EMS; this extra resource, knowledge, and stimulation can increase the employees’ enthusiasm and speed up the process. In a previous article: Twelve steps to make the transition from ISO 14001:2004 to 2015 revision, you can find some useful tips for preparing for ISO 14001:2015, whether you have implemented the previous version of the standard or not, but you must remember that the key to implementation is in the effectiveness of the planning. If you set aggressive timelines and execute, communicate, and educate, then your results will be positive and your implementation time can be reduced.

Why not help calculate your implementation timescale with help from our ISO 14001 Implementation Duration Calculator?

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.