Application of the process approach in ISO 14001 implementation

Many organizations that are implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) will be integrating their EMS with their current Quality Management System (QMS), and will have heard of the process approach, which is integral to those requirements. However, it might be less understood how the process approach is applicable to the EMS requirements in ISO 14001:2015.

Since the ISO 14001:2015 and ISO 9001:2015 standard requirements are easy to implement together, it is not surprising that the process approach is easily applied to the EMS as well. Both standards follow the same format for their requirements and contain many common elements, such as internal audit and management review, which can be performed together, and integrating the standards makes sense as a way to reduce the necessary resources.

So, how does the process approach show up in the ISO 14001:2015 standard?

If you want to see how to better integrate ISO 14001 with ISO 9001, see this article on ISO 14001:2015 integration with ISO 9001:2015 – What has changed?

The basics of the process approach

First, it is important to understand what the process approach is. The ISO 9001 requirements for a Quality Management System are founded on seven quality management principles, and one of these is the process approach. The principle is basically the understanding that you can get more consistent results when you consider and manage your activities as interrelated processes, which together, make up a system.

So, the process approach has to do with looking at your business as a set of activities called “processes,” which together let you deliver your product or services to your customers. However, even if the QMS is based on the understanding that you have processes in your business, and that they are interrelated, how does this apply to the EMS?

For a better understanding of the process approach as it is defined in the QMS, see this article on our ISO 9001 blog: ISO 9001: The importance of the process approach.

How does the process approach fit with the EMS?

The process approach becomes easily applied to the EMS, because most of what you are doing when implementing the EMS relates to the processes that your organization has in place to do business. Even if you don’t have a QMS in place, you will have business processes (if you had no business processes, you would have no need for an Environmental Management System, anyway). Here are six of the main requirements in ISO 14001:2015 that necessitate your understanding of your organization`s processes in order to implement the standard:

  1. Determining environmental aspects: Your environmental aspects are the ways you interact with the environment. In order to determine the environmental aspects that are applicable to your business, you will need to look at each process in your business and see how that process interacts with the environment and how that aspect may impact the environment. If you don’t approach this one process at a time, you risk overlooking some of your environmental aspects.
  2. Competence: When you determine your environmental competence needs, you will have to pair these with the competence needs of your processes. If you need certain employee competences to operate a process that will produce conforming products and services, these employees will also need to meet the competences required to operate these processes so as to avoid environmental harm.
  3. Operational controls: Identifying the environmental controls necessary for your operations so that you improve your environmental performance means that you need to understand what your processes are. It is also best to include the environmental requirements for control into your process control practices if you want the process to run well. Having two sets of process requirements becomes confusing, and can lead to non-conformances when employees don’t follow both the quality process instructions and the environmental process instructions; it is best if they are together.
  4. Monitoring and measurement: When you need to monitor and measure the environmental controls for your processes, it only makes sense that you would include all monitoring and measurement together for each process – environmental and quality. You may even find that when monitoring a process, you can reduce the amount of monitoring you do when you do all monitoring together.
  5. Internal audit: The process of auditing involves reviewing the outputs of a process and comparing them with the plans for the process to see if what is occurring is what was planned. In order to do this you need to look at a process, so understanding the process approach is an inherent part of the audit process.
  6. Corrective action: While you may be addressing a problem that was identified in your EMS, you will invariably need to update or change a process in order to correct the problem and stop it from happening again. In order to update and correct a process, you will need to apply the process approach.

Use the process approach for a better Environmental Management System

By using the process approach when you implement your Environmental Management System, you will find it much easier to apply the ISO 14001:2015 requirements. By focusing on each process that you have, it will become easier to think through such elements as environmental aspects and implementing actions that arise from environmental objectives and evaluating your environmental compliance. As the ISO 14001:2015 standard asserts, top management can address requirements more effectively by integrating environmental management into the business processes and incorporating environmental requirements into the overall business management system.

If you need to better understand the requirements of ISO 14001:2015 in order to apply the process approach, why not check out this free online training:  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.