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The role of risk management in the ISO 14001:2015 standard

Author: John Nolan

The ISO 14001:2015 standard will be released later this year and amongst several fundamental changes, it stresses the need for increased strategic risk management to replace and improve the current system that relies more on a “reactive” preventive action process. Learn more about the changes in ISO 14001 here: What are the 5 main highlights in the ISO 14001:2015 Draft International Standard (DIS)?

Another fundamental change is the increasing involvement of “top management” in this process. These changes may not sound dramatic, but they will require our organizations to demonstrate evidence of increased and improved strategic risk planning and execution. More importantly, what impact will they have on the environment if executed correctly?

Preventive measures versus strategic risk management

The ISO 14001:2004 standard relies on risk assessment along with corrective and preventive actions to minimize the impact that a business has on the environment; however, the ratios in which the above are expected to be performed are not specified. The 14001:2015 standard will seek to replace the “preventive action” with “increased risk management.”  Therefore, the focus will move from preventive actions, which may be less effective because they may be carried out by only certain individuals within an organization, to risk management, which should be a more thorough process due to input and commitment from multiple stakeholders, with a heightened sense of importance due to the change in the standard.  Also, if you have to provide a corrective action, you are reacting to an event that has already occurred. The new standard aims to prevent these incidents described by the use of risk management and proactive risk assessment.

The aim of “strategic risk management” is to focus the organization’s top management and team to both spend more time assessing, researching, and understanding aspects that may present risk to the environment, and execute these actions before any environmental impact is felt, as opposed to during or after.

Risk Management: The key environmental benefits

It is clear that the changes in the Draft International Standard are designed to ensure that a proactive, measured, and strategic outlook is taken toward environmental concerns. The key benefits to the environment should come from a major bias toward identification and prevention of incidents, rather than reactions to events. This focus will have a hugely positive effect on the environment and the legacy we leave for future generations. With the collective improvements of ISO 14001, accredited and compliant organizations throughout the world will positively impact the planet we live in and the resources we leave for others.

Risk Management: The benefit to your organization

Consider how you run your environmental system at present. Your management review process should direct your path in terms of overall targets and goals, but your team may carry out the vast majority of the “plan, do, check, act” day-to-day work (See also: Plan-Do-Check-Act in the ISO 14001 standard).

The swing toward strategic planning of how you assess environmental aspects, by involvement of your management team, will create a fundamental change in environmental performance. Consider that now it will become normal for your whole management team to think about any aspects that may affect your business and discuss how these risks will be managed, mitigated, and removed. Many environmental “aspects,” which in time become “incidents,” are costly not only to the environment, but also to your business. You should now see a definitive improvement in this area of performance criteria, and your environmental key performance indicators should improve. Constant review, adjustment, and continual improvement will ensure that this cycle continues. Prevention, with the help of forward planning and risk management, is much better than a cure.

In summary, an increased shift toward strategic risk management will result in benefits both to the planet and to the financial performance of your organization. The changes in ISO 2014:2015 will come into effect later this year, but the benefits are evident. Perhaps it’s better to start now…. what are you waiting for?

Why not to learn more by visiting our  ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor online course.

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