List of ISO 14001 implementation steps

If your organization wants to implement ISO 14001, and gain certification for an environmental management system (EMS) based on the standard, you might be overwhelmed with figuring out where to start. To help you with this task, the following is an overview of the 13 steps needed to make sure that nothing is missed during your implementation and preparations for certification:

1) Obtain management support – Management support is critical. Without this support your implementation of ISO 14001 will almost certainly fail. You need to have a good sales pitch to convince your management that ISO 14001 is a good idea, and if you need some help take a look at this ISO 14001:2015 benefits of early transition white paper and this Project proposal for ISO 14001:2015 implementation presentation.

2) Identify legal requirements – Making sure that you have identified the legal and other requirements for your EMS is another crucial step to make sure your implementation succeeds. See also: Demystification of legal requirements in ISO 14001.

3) Define EMS scope – To ensure you know the limits of what needs to be done, you need to define the scope of your EMS. This helps prevent the inclusion of areas of your business that might not have an effect on the environment. The key tools to define the scope are the environmental policy and environmental aspects (the interaction you have with the environment); these are the first documents you will need to create for the EMS.

4) Define EMS procedures and processes – These will include the processes and procedures you will identify as necessary to ensure consistent and adequate results when preventing negative environmental impacts and to respond to emergency situations.

5) Implement EMS procedures and processes – Often, these processes will be linked to the processes that are already in place at your organization, such as the tracking of waste from your facility. Since not all processes need to be documented procedures, it is important to decide which ones must be documented in order to prevent environmental damage. For a good overview, see this Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 14001:2015.

6) Perform training and awareness – Employees should have training on what ISO 14001 is and why you are doing this, in addition to training for any changes to the processes they are involved in. It is important that everyone in your organization knows what you are doing with your EMS and how they fit into the equation. See also: ISO 14001 Competence, Training & Awareness: Why are they important for your EMS?

7) Choose a certification body – The certification body is the company that will ultimately come in to audit your EMS processes for compliance with ISO 14001 requirements, as well as whether the system is effective and improving. It is best to interview several certification bodies to decide which is right for your company, since this can be a very important step in how effective your implementation is.

8) Operate the EMS; measure and keep records – This is when you will collect the records that will be required during an audit to show that your processes meet the requirements set out for them. The records also show that the processes are effective and that improvements are being made in your EMS as needed. Certification bodies will identify a certain length of time for this to happen in order to ensure that the system is mature enough to show compliance. See also: ISO 14001 Control of Records.

9) Perform internal audits – The certification body will want you to audit each process internally before they come in to do the certification audit. This will give you a chance to make sure that the processes are doing what you had planned, and if not, you will have a chance to fix any problems that you find. Why not consider an online ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor Course for more details.

10) Perform management review – Just as important as the support that management gives for the implementation of ISO 14001, is the involvement of management in the continued maintenance of the EMS. In order to ensure that the processes have adequate resources to be effective and improve, management needs to review specified data from the activities of the EMS and react to that data appropriately. See How can your EMS management review be more useful? for more details.

11) Implement corrective actions – In order to fix problems and improve the system, you need to use corrective actions to find the root cause of any problems found and take action to correct that root cause. These problems can be identified during your measurements, internal audits, and management review. See also: Corrective and Preventive Actions to Support Environmental Management.

12-1) Certification audit – Stage 1 – Here the certification body will review your documentation to verify that, on paper, that you have addressed all the necessary requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. The auditors will issue a report outlining where you comply and where there are problems, so that you have a chance to implement any corrective actions to address the problems. Read also: Why should you certify your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System?

12-2) Certification audit – Stage 2 – During this main audit the certification body auditors will perform the on-site audit where they will review the records you have accumulated by operating your EMS processes, including your records of internal audits, management review, and corrective actions. After this audit, done over several days, they will issue a report detailing their findings and whether they have found your EMS to be effective and in compliance with the ISO 14001 requirements. The auditors will also make a recommendation for certification if you meet all requirements; however, if you have any major non-conformances then you will need to resolve the corrective action for these problems before certification can be recommended.

A good plan will help a lot when you work to implement and certify an EMS per ISO 14001, so do take the time to plan and know what resources you need – this will save you time and resources later on.

Download this free Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 14001:2015 to learn which documents are required for the implementation.

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.