Understanding the needs & expectations of interested parties in ISO 14001

In the beginning of the ISO 14001:2015 requirements for implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) there is a critical step that takes place after you identify the context of your organization, but before you determine the scope of your EMS. This step is understanding the needs and expectations of the interested parties for your EMS, and although it may sound simple and not necessarily important, the information you gather and the decisions you make during this phase of your implementation can greatly influence the direction of your Environmental Management System.

For more information on EMS scope, see this article on How to determine the scope of the EMS according to ISO 14001:2015.

There are three parts to clause 4.2 on understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties for your EMS, and these requirements are for your organization to determine the following:

  • Who are your interested parties?
  • What are the relevant needs of your interested parties?
  • Which needs will become obligations for you?

Who are your interested parties?

Remember that this step comes right after you have determined the issues that are relevant to the EMS of your company, both internal and external, which will affect how you achieve your environmental outcomes. This being said, you will need to think about the interested parties that are relevant to your EMS in this manner – those who can affect your environmental outcomes. So, who is interested in the environmental performance of your company? The list of relevant interested parties will be unique to your business, so think through all the processes you do, and who may be interested in how they interact with the environment, as a way to generate the list.

In most jurisdictions, there are environmental laws and regulations that can apply to your operations, so the governmental agencies behind those laws will definitely be an interested party, but other interested parties may not be as easy to determine. Some examples may include:

  • people living near your facility if there is a chance of a local environmental impact,
  • your shareholders who want to avoid fines and penalties,
  • your customers and consumers who want to deal with environmentally friendly companies, and
  • even your employees who want the satisfaction of knowing that their job has a low carbon footprint.

What are the relevant needs of your interested parties?

Now that you have identified who is interested, list out their needs and expectations. In the standard, the term “needs and expectations” is followed by the term “requirements,” so what are the requirements of your interested parties? Go through each person or entity that you identified as interested in your EMS and identify what they expect from you. Whatever you think their expectation is, write it down.

The government agencies above expect you to follow the laws applicable to you and report on time if required. Your immediate neighbors will expect that you have controls to prevent environmental damage near their homes, and that you have an emergency plan in place should something happen. Shareholders and employees might expect that you are finding improvements in your EMS processes and are therefore reducing your environmental impacts.

Which of these needs should become compliance obligations for you?

Of course, not every expectation of an interested party needs to become something you concern yourself with. So, after determining what your interested parties expect, you then need to determine which of these expectations will become obligations within your EMS. Again, it is good to go through each of the expectations you identified and determine if this will become something you will plan to address within your management system.

While it is easy to think that every legal requirement will be included, there may be some expectations that are outside of what you are able to do. If you have a neighbor who expects you to call if there is even a minor chemical spill, this might not be necessary if the spill is very small for a chemical that is not toxic and you are able to contain and clean the spill without any environmental impact; so, would you make the call? It is important to remember that unlike legal or customer contract requirements, not every expectation is necessarily within your realm to address. You do have some ability to say no to stated needs that do not apply to you or are unreasonable.

A firm foundation for your EMS

Once you have your interested parties and relevant needs identified, you can then move onto the scope of your EMS – the boundaries and applicability of your management system. Knowing which requirements you have decided to incorporate within your EMS is critical to defining this scope, so ensure that you have your information accurate and complete. However, remember that although this is important you don’t need to keep documented information such as a procedure or records of your activities around interested parties, but the information needs to be included in many other pieces of documented information within your environmental management system such as your scope.

Having a full understanding of who is interested in the environmental impact of your business processes, what they expect from you, and how you will incorporate those needs gives you a firm foundation upon which to build an Environmental Management System. By doing so, you will provide an adequate return on your investment, because you will be more able to address the important issues presented to you rather than addressing unimportant concerns by mistake. Save yourself time and money by laying the groundwork properly up front, so that you don’t need to change things later.

Learn more about interested parties and relevant ISO 14001 requirements using 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.