How to define EMS key performance indicators (KPIs) according to ISO 14001

When implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) using the requirements of ISO 14001, you will probably have heard the term key performance indicators used, but what are these? The term is not used within the ISO 14001 standard, and therefore is not something that you need to do for your EMS, but they can be very helpful in controlling, maintaining, and improving your system. Here’s more on how key performance indicators can help you with your EMS.

What are key performance indicators in ISO 14001?

Key performance indicators are often used in a Quality Management System to define the critical feature or features of a process that will control the quality of the product or service created by that process. By monitoring and controlling the key performance indicator, and maintaining the level of the indicator as required, you can ensure that the product or service being created by the process is created correctly. In short, what is the critical feature of this process that we need to monitor and control for the process to perform well?

For the EMS, the question is what features of this process do we need to monitor for it to meet the environmental performance requirements that we have defined for the process to meet? While these may be related to the key performance indicators you have defined for the quality performance of the process, they will most likely not be the same. So, how do you define the EMS process key performance indicators?

How do you define key performance indicators in ISO 14001?

One of the most critical steps of implementing an EMS is the identification of your environmental aspects and their associated impacts. Once you have the aspects identified, you need to determine which are significant environmental aspects – in other words, those that can have a significant environmental impact. For the best benefit from implementing an EMS, it is these significant environmental aspects that you want to monitor and control. It is here that the key performance indicators for the EMS can become useful.

For example, say you are in the chemical industry and you have a process that performs a chemical reaction using a substance that has a severely negative effect on the environment. Since this chemical is identified as having a significant environmental effect, then the amount of this chemical used might be identified as a key performance indicator to monitor and control as part of your EMS. By comparison, if the amount of chemical did not affect the quality of the product created by the process, it might not be a key performance indicator for the Quality Management System.

Even in the chemical industry there is an office environment, so another example could be the office that has targeted the usage of paper as a significant environmental aspect within their environment, with a target to reduce the amount used. In this case, the key performance indicator of this process would be the measurement of paper usage, and the monitoring of this key performance indicator would tell you if the improvement activities you are performing are, in fact, working.

For more on significant environmental aspects in the EMS, take a look at this article on What makes an environmental aspect significant in ISO 14001?

Do you need to use key performance indicators in your EMS?

The simple answer is no, you do not need to use the term key performance indicators. Clause 9.1.1 does require you as an organization to determine which criteria you will evaluate your environmental performance against and the appropriate indicators for this performance, so you do need to monitor some environmental indicators, but the term key performance indicators is not used. ISO 14001:2015 has no requirements for using the term key performance indicators, so the use of this term is completely up to you.

However, if you are in an industry that already uses the term key performance indicators within your Quality Management System or elsewhere, then it might make it easier for you to explain what you are talking about when it comes to monitoring and controlling the processes you have with significant environmental aspects – and anything that makes it easier for people to understand is good.

Of course, the choice about using the term key performance indicators is yours to make for your Environmental Management System, but the crucial thing is that you monitor and control the appropriate indicators for your environmental performance as well as your significant environmental aspects in order to prevent significant environmental impacts. This will make your processes better for the environment, which is the main reason you implemented an EMS in the first place.

To find out more about the requirements of ISO 14001:2015, check out this free online training course:  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations Course.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.