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Six greatest myths of ISO 14001

If you have spent any time looking into implementing an ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS), you likely have heard a lot of statements and myths about it. If you are like many people, you might have some trouble separating fact from fiction with these accounts. In this article I will look at six of the main myths around ISO 14001, and try to explain what is true about each and what is not.

Myth #1: ISO 14001 is only applicable to manufacturing.

In fact, ISO 14001 is written to be used by any organization in any industry. The basis behind the standard is to understand the environmental legal requirements pertinent to your organization, and how your processes interact with the environment. Using this knowledge, you then monitor and control your process outputs to improve your environmental impacts. This can be applicable to cutting down paper usage in an office or reducing electricity usage in a software firm just as easily as it can apply to reducing the hazardous waste outputs of a chemical process.

Myth #2: ISO 14001 isn’t required if we are legally compliant.

While it is true that implementing an ISO 14001 environmental management system does not guarantee 100% compliance with all environmental legislation, it is a necessary part of the EMS that you know and maintain your knowledge of applicable legal requirements. However, ISO 14001 is more than just knowing that you are legally compliant with environmental laws. The main focus of the EMS is to improve your processes in order to reduce your environmental impact, which goes above and beyond the requirements of applicable laws.

Myth #3: ISO 14001 is only for already “green” organizations.

An environmental management system is for any organization that wants to understand how it interacts with the environment around it, and wants to improve upon this knowledge to reduce the negative impacts that it imposes on the world. By using the Plan-Do-Check-Act method of improvement that is embedded in the ISO 14001 requirements, an organization can work toward incremental improvements that can, over time, become great reductions in any negative environmental effects. Companies can even realize cost savings when the environmental enhancements involve the reduction in the use of energy and materials.

Myth #4: ISO 14001 is about creating a lot of unnecessary documents.

This is absolutely not true. In fact, ISO 14001 has very few required documents, but it requires you to understand how your processes interact with the environment in order to control and improve this situation. It is true that you need to maintain the records necessary to monitor, measure, and control your processes, but these are determined by what you as an organization deem necessary (as well as any legal requirements you may have for records). See also: Checklist of ISO 14001 Mandatory Documentation.

Myth #5: ISO 14001 won’t add value and it will cost too much to implement.

Some people think that implementing ISO 14001, or any management system for that matter, is just a paper exercise that won’t actually improve the processes in the system; in the worst cases, people think that the implementation of a management system will distract from core activities and actually detract from the value of the organization.

If you are implementing an environmental management system only to satisfy a set of requirements, without making the system work for you through process improvements, you will absolutely see no value from it. Organizations like this only go through the motions of using the system processes they have in place, with no desire to use them to improve. In short, if you implement a system that is not designed for your organization to improve, then you will see no improvement and the system will appear to be a failure. However, if you use the EMS as a method to analyze and improve your processes, you can see great gains from the realized progress.

For more on the benefits of ISO 14001 implementation, see ISO 14001: 6 key benefits of implementing EMS requirements.

Myth #6: ISO 14001 will stop us from being flexible and innovative.

The requirements in the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard are designed to be non-prescriptive. This means that the requirements identify the elements of a good EMS, but they do not tell you how you will accomplish this. As an example, the standard has a requirement that you identify the ways that your organization interacts with the environment (called environmental aspects) and determine which ones are significant.

This can be done in any way you determine to suit the needs of your company: brainstorming with a group of employees, assessment of your process documentation by a consultant, or any other method you choose. The idea of this requirement is for you to find a way to know how you interact with the environment so that you can use this information to improve your environmental impact. In fact, because the standard is focused on improvement, you are expected to be flexible in your processes in order to improve them.

Don’t let the myths stop you from implementing

The secret to successfully implementing an ISO 14001 environmental management system is to make sure that you tailor the processes needed to work with the people and philosophy of your organization. In this way, you can make the system work for you, and do what you need it to do, so that you can improve. While it can be beneficial to learn from the fears and mistakes of others, you shouldn’t let these dissuade you from benefiting from the enhancements available from using an environmental management system. Don’t let the myths stop you.

To get familiar with the requirements visit  ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor online 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.