ISO 14001:2015 vs. EMAS: Which one to go for?

If you are planning to implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) in the European Union, you will find that you need to compare the requirements of ISO 14001:2015 with the requirements of the European Union Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). Which requirements should you use, and which will be the most effective for your business?

Similarities and differences between ISO 14001:2015 and EMAS

ISO 14001:2015 and EMAS have many similarities, such as the focus on monitoring environmental indicators to assess environmental performance and the use of auditing to monitor environmental processes for conformance and improvement. Most importantly, both documents support continual improvement of environmental performance. While both documents give requirements for environmental management, and many of the benefits are the same for that reason, there are some differences between them.

The first difference is in the scope of the body that writes the standard. ISO 14001:2015 is issued by the International Organization for Standardization, which is recognized internationally and is agreed upon by 163 member nations. EMAS is distributed by the European Union (EU), and although it is recognized internationally, only EU countries agree upon the requirements (EMAS is governed by European Regulation (EC) No 1221/2009).

The biggest difference when comparing the requirements is that EMAS has a stricter interpretation of how environmental processes are to be planned and managed. For instance, ISO 14001:2015 requires you to identify your environmental aspects and impacts, while EMAS requires you to perform an initial comprehensive environmental review of your processes. Likewise, ISO 14001 requires you to define your external legal reporting based on the needs of external parties (such as legal agencies), while EMAS requires external reporting through a regularly published environmental statement.

For more information on environmental aspects for ISO 14001:2015, see this article: Environmental aspect identification and classification.

When it comes to checking the EMS, there are a few differences. ISO 14001:2015 refers to certification bodies that are accredited by national accreditation bodies that follow ISO rules, but are not government regulated. On the other hand, EMAS requires environmental verifiers (also auditors) to be licensed by governmental bodies. Certification body auditors use other ISO standards to govern how they perform and plan their audits, while the EMAS audits are carried out according to the regulation and have determined verification intervals. EMAS also includes a publicly accessible register of all registered companies, which is not available with ISO 14001:2015.

For more information on the ISO 14001:2015 internal audit, see this article: Internal Audits in the EMS: Five Main Steps.

One more thing to note is that in 2017, EMAS made an amendment to the annexes of their requirements to align with the updated requirements of ISO 14001:2015. This means that companies who already have an Environmental Management System that is compliant with ISO 14001:2015 will find it easier to also comply with EMAS.

Which set of requirements is more effective for your company?

As with many questions on management systems, there is no conclusive answer. Every company is different, and the effectiveness of the Environmental Management System really depends on how the company implements the requirements, rather than which requirements are implemented. You could choose either ISO 14001:2015 or EMAS as the requirements for your management system. How effective your system is, really comes down to your company’s commitment to improving your environmental performance.

So, here are some things to consider when deciding between ISO 14001:2015 and EMAS as the requirements you will use to build your Environmental Management System:

  • If you are going to certify your EMS, are there certification bodies available to do so? (EMAS certification may be difficult or impossible outside of the EU.)
  • What are the needs of your interested parties? (If you have a legal or other requirement to use EMAS, then the decision may not be up to you.)
  • Do you require the more formal initial environmental review and published environmental statement as part of your EMS planning? (You could still do this as part of ISO 14001:2015, but EMAS will supply you with what is needed to perform these activities.)
  • Do you need to follow the stricter auditing practices of EMAS?
  • Will you gain more benefits from using the EMAS logo to promote your company, or the ISO 14001:2015 logo to claim certification of your EMS?
  • Do you want to be part of the public register that is required by EMAS? (This could be beneficial for your company, but this decision is up to you.)

Whatever you choose, make your EMS work for you

It has been said many times, but it is worth saying again: your Environmental Management System is there to help your company to improve the environmental performance of your processes. Choose the Environmental Management System requirements that will drive you to the goal you wish to attain, rather than blindly choosing the requirements that look easiest to implement. Choose the requirements that will give you the best benefits towards accomplishing your environmental performance improvement targets. The choice is up to you.

To better understand the requirements of ISO 14001:2015, see this free white paper: Clause-by-clause explanation of ISO 14001:2015.

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.
Tags: #EMAS, #ISO 14001