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Disadvantages of ISO 14001, and how to overcome them

There are many advantages of implementing an ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management System (EMS), and these are explained in the article 6 Key Benefits of ISO 14001, but what about the disadvantages and challenges of implementation? Do they exist and if so, is there anything you can do about them? In this article, you’ll learn about some ISO 14001 disadvantages, issues and problems that you need to mitigate during implementation in order to gain the benefits, and some ideas of how to address them.

What are some ISO 14001 disadvantages, and how can you deal with them?

Just as the benefits to be gained from an ISO 14001 EMS differ from organization to organization, so do the disadvantages. You may not experience all of the disadvantages listed below, but these are some of the most common issues and problems that come up during ISO 14001 implementation.

Too much of a burden – We already meet the requirements of environmental laws, so why should we do more than that? Meeting environmental laws is one thing, and is an important part of ISO 14001 implementation, but the EMS goes beyond this. There will be processes to implement that the laws don’t require, such as understanding how your processes interact with and impact the environment, but these processes are necessary for working towards improvement. If all you do is meet the minimum legal requirements you can’t work towards the improvements in your EMS that can lead to cost savings. Some examples of cost savings include reduced waste management costs when you reduce the waste to be taken to landfill, or the cost savings by working towards a reduction in energy usage.

Too much cost – We already spend a lot of money on protecting the environment; why spend more on an EMS? It is true that there is a cost to implementation of an EMS, and it is not just money. There are also time, personnel, training, and other resources that will need to be assigned to the task of putting all the environmental processes in place. To overcome this sort of argument you need to look towards the future savings and think of the EMS implementation in terms of return on investment. While it is difficult to put exact numbers on your financial savings, you can ensure that your initial objectives for improvement are directed towards projects that will provide cost savings. Having some examples in hand when this discussed, such as the reduction of waste or electricity described above, can be helpful.

Personnel resistance – Is this just another management fad? Sometimes it is not management who you need to convince, workers can become overwhelmed with the task of considering the environment in their everyday work processes. To help counteract this, it is best to explain to everyone from the beginning why you are doing this. When people know the aims and benefits of the EMS implementation, they can better get on board with the work involved in doing it. Impress on all workers what the EMS means to them so that they can understand the personal advantage they will receive.

Excessive scope – Do we really need to include everything? It can be overwhelming to consider your entire organization in your EMS, especially if you are a multi-plant organization. While it may take longer overall, if the entire scope of your organization is too big you can think of your EMS implementation in a staged approach. Start with a part of your organization and implement the necessary processes there first. After you have success with this, take your lessons learned and expand your scope to other parts of the organization. You may quickly find that the overall scope does not seem so overwhelming.

If, after this, you want more information to convince management of the benefit of implementing ISO 14001, see the article: How to get management buy in for an ISO 14001 project.

ISO 14001 disadvantages: In-depth analysis and solutions

Remember: Certification is not a mandatory part of implementation

One thing to remember when discussing many of the disadvantages above is that certification is not a mandatory part of implementing ISO 14001. The standard is intended to provide a framework for an EMS, and adding the extra cost and complexity of attaining certification may be a step that you want to put off until it is most cost beneficial to you. If you are thinking of this approach, and want some information before you discuss it, see the article: Why should you certify your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System?

Make your EMS useful for you

The key idea to remember about your EMS implementation is that you need to make the processes work to benefit your company. Thinking about your implementation in this way will help you to understand which disadvantages need to be addressed by focusing on certain benefits that can be gained. As not all benefits are equally important to all organizations, you need to focus on those EMS paybacks that will provide the profit you want in your organization. If you know the benefit targets, you can better address the disadvantages and challenges and plan for those goals.

For more information and ideas to help you use advantages of ISO 14001, see this free whitepaper: How can ISO 14001 help your business grow?

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.