ISO 14001: Steps in the certification process

Although it is not mandatory, many companies that are using the ISO 14001:2015 standard to create their Environmental Management System (EMS) will consider having the system certified through a certification body audit. As was mentioned in the article List of ISO 14001 implementation steps, the certification audit happens after you have completed your entire implementation. Since understanding the certification process can make the job of preparing much easier, this article will look at how the ISO 14001 certification process works and which steps you need to take.

What is certification, and what are the requirements?

Once your EMS is implemented, certification requires that you have a certification body send auditors to review your processes and determine that the processes meet the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. After they confirm that your company’s EMS meets the requirements, they will issue a certificate stating so – this is certification.

Unless you are a company that only wants a certificate to put on the wall (which is not recommended), without gaining any real benefits from your certification, then finding the right certification body will be an important part of ensuring that your EMS provides real improvements and benefits for your organization. Here are three key steps for your successful ISO 14001 certification process.

Choosing the certification body. With the significance that the certification auditors will have in assessing your EMS, choosing the right certification body can mean the difference between having auditors who are knowledgeable in your industry, and those who are not. It is important to look at the list of other companies also certified by this certification body; this list should be readily available. The best auditors can really help you to find issues and improvements that will make your EMS truly helpful to you.

The certification body demands some requirements before they start audit your management system. You will need to use the EMS process for a certain length of time in order to collect records (they will have a pre-determined time, and should let you know up front). During this time period you will need to also perform a full set of internal audits and at least one management review. If you find the right certification body, their employees can guide you on what is needed during this process so that the certification audit can be most successful. In addition, the certification body should guide you on what is expected as the outputs of the internal audit and management review. They are not able to consult on how to implement, but they can give you helpful tips on what they would expect to see for an organization similar to your own, in your industry.

To help make sure you find a certification body that will be a benefit to your organization, download this free List of questions to ask an ISO 14001 Certification Body.

Stage 1 certification audit. This is sometimes called a documentation audit, and during this audit the certification auditors will review all of the documentation you have created. This check is to ensure your documentation meets the requirements of ISO 14001. They will issue a report at the end of this audit which will identify any nonconformities in the documentation such as inconsistencies between documents which could be problematic, missing required documents or records, and other points where the documentation does not meet the requirements of ISO 14001. With the right certification body, you can use this audit to also get some tips on best practices for documentation and improvements.

To help make sure you are not missing any required documentation, see the article: List of mandatory documents required by ISO 14001:2015.

Stage 2 certification audit. Here the certification auditors will come and audit all of your EMS processes. This will ensure that the activities that are actually occurring in your organization meet the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard, as well as the requirements you have defined within your management system. This audit activity will look at every process, determine what the planned arrangements are for that process, and then assess what is actually happening in the process. To do this they will interview employees, observe activities and review records and documentation to collect data.

Once the auditors have confirmed that everything is occurring as planned and meeting ISO 14001, or any nonconformances that they identify have had corrective action taken, they will issue a certification stating that your EMS meets the requirements of ISO 14001. When using this certificate, the choice of certification body can affect how well this news is received by interested parties. If you have chosen a reputable certification body that is accredited in your area, your certification will be widely received.

It is important to note that the initial certification is only the beginning. The certification process will continue, at least yearly, to ensure that the EMS is maintained and improving over time. This cycle (typically over three years) will consist of surveillance audits and full re-certification audits where they will repeat the audit of the entire management system. The cycle is repeated continuously, making EMS certification an ongoing effort to help make your EMS processes better.

To find out some reasons why you would want to certify your EMS, see the article: Why should you certify your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System?

ISO 14001 certification: How does this process work?

Certify to make your EMS more beneficial

As a second set of eyes on your processes, the certification auditors can provide great benefits for your EMS, but only if you have taken the time to choose the right one for your organization. A good certification body will help you succeed without directly interfering in how you run your ISO 14001 certification processes. The EMS is there to find improvement for your organization, not solely to satisfy the certification auditors, so find a certification body that will work with you towards improvement.

For more information on the certification audit, download this  free white paper: What to expect at the ISO certification audit: What the auditor can and cannot do.

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.