Is a gap analysis desirable for ISO 14001 implementation?

Any organization that has become certified against ISO 14001 will testify that it is a major undertaking, with a significant investment of time, resources, and knowledge required. Meeting legislative requirements, defining environmental aspects that affect your organization, and defining programs to influence and improve your EMS (Environmental Management System) can all seem daunting, but it is entirely possible that when you start on the journey of ISO 14001 implementation that your organization is actually undertaking some of the actions needed to satisfy parts of the ISO 14001 standard already. If that is the case, the distance between where your company EMS is now and meeting the terms of the standard in readiness for a certification audit may not be as great as you imagine. But, how can you identify exactly what is done and what needs to be done? This is where a gap analysis becomes useful.

Gap Analysis – Why and how?

Gap analysis is not mentioned in the ISO 14001 standard, and clearly is not a requirement of the standard itself; however, most organizations who are certified according to the ISO 14001 standard will testify that a gap analysis is the correct place to start if your organization wants to clearly identify what areas of its EMS need strengthened, and also to prevent extra work in the case of working on a process or initiative that has already been established. So, what should a gap analysis bring to your organization? Let’s examine the main benefits:

  • Establish the processes and documentation that exist within your organization.
  • Identify the requirements of the standard so that the gap between what you have and what is required is accurately perceived.

It will often occur that a gap analysis will leave the organization in a stronger position than before, even before the ISO 14001 implementation begins. Along with identifying gaps, your knowledge of the requirements of the standard itself will greatly increase during the gap analysis itself, thereby increasing your organization’s ability to meet the requirements of the standard and challenges that lie ahead. So, given that, how exactly should the gap analysis be carried out? Let us look at this in detail:

  • Use a gap analysis tool and a selection of employees who are very knowledgeable about the internal processes within your organization. Examine the standard itself and use the gap analysis tool to gauge the difference between the standard’s requirements and your processes and documents.
  • Measure what your organization does versus the requirements of the standard: Do you have the necessary resources and knowledge to organize your EMS in a way that ensures that the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard can be met? It may be that you need to further train your employees, hire more staff, or engage with an external consultant to fill that gap.
  • Create a project plan from your findings and plan how these gaps can be addressed in terms of responsibilities, methods, and timescales. This can provide an accurate guide of how and when your EMS and its performance can be aligned with the ISO 14001 standard, usually signifying that your EMS may be ready for certification – our previous article, How long does it take to implement ISO 14001:2015, can help you with this topic.

So, is a gap analysis for my organization?

The answer to that question depends on a number of factors. It may be that you have some processes that existed before ISO 14001 implementation was considered, but even so, it will still pay to audit these processes and their outputs against the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. During a recent gap analysis at a medium-sized technology company it was stated that the organization believed it met the requirements regarding documented information. However, on close study of clause 7.5 of the standard it quickly became clear that the requirements for review and approval of documents was not fully met, and actions were taken to address this, illustrating the tangible benefit of a gap analysis in this situation. I would suggest that unless you have an EMS with virtually no processes at all – which seems highly unlikely – then a gap analysis can be a good idea. At best, you may discover that you have a process that meets one of the mandatory requirements and enables you to score that off your project plan; at worst, you will at least have the correct information at hand to measure the gap between what your organization has and what it needs to comply. In other words, it seems obvious that a gap analysis can bring real benefits to almost all organizations that have an EMS and have aspirations to be ISO 14001:2015 certified.

The gap analysis will allow your organization to better manage its costs, wastage, and resources in a more efficient manner, and can be especially beneficial in the instance your organization is under pressure to deliver 14001 certification due to external influences, such as stakeholder, shareholder, or customer expectations. Whatever your reasons, a gap analysis can provide a sound foundation for your ISO 14001:2015 implementation.

Why not use our free  ISO 14001 Gap Analysis Tool to help define the gap between your EMS and the requirements of the ISO 14001:2015 standard?

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.