Using internal audits to drive real improvement in ISO 14001:2015

Clause 9.2 of ISO 14001:2015 outlines that every organization complying with the standard is required to undertake internal audits at a predetermined time to ensure that both the terms and results of the environmental system’s objectives are met and recorded. Given also that continual improvement is a theme that underpins the 14001 standard, it seems reasonable to assume an internal audit should be used to drive continual improvement, but is this always the case?

Many organizations view internal audit processes in different ways, whether it is simply a “box ticking” exercise or an unpleasant event where an auditor will try and catch an employee out. ISO 14001, like ISO 9001 (as can be viewed in the article 13 Steps for ISO 9001 Internal Auditing using ISO 19011), has a requirement for internal audit as part of the standard. Rather than see it as a mandatory evil, it should be viewed as a real “opportunity to improve” your environmental management system, its performance and the effect your organization has on the environment itself. So, what is the best way to approach this?

Using internal audit effectively

In compliance with the 14001:2015 standard, your Management Team will have identified environmental risks, set targets based on environmental legislation, and set key performance indicators to meet and eventually be improved upon – all designed to ensure that your organization’s environmental impact is as positive as it can be. The internal audit is now your chance to ensure that not only are these targets met, but that they are relevant, and meet all the needs of current legislation and internal needs. Before embarking on an internal audit on your environmental management system, it is advisable to carefully examine the targets and standards you are trying to meet, and whether you have a risk register, aspect register, or whatever way you record your results. So, we’ve found these – what now?

Considering requirements before performance

Part of your internal audit should be assessing the accuracy and relevance of your objectives. Are they current in terms of legislation? Do any newly apparent risks exist that have not been formally identified? Has the management team considered all stakeholders when setting objectives and targets? It’s not uncommon for operators downstream to be able to identify environmental risks on a day-to-day basis that are not always apparent at a higher level. If you can find these, for example, your audit will be effective. You are identifying areas that can be improved, and aspects that may not be considered. Providing constructive suggestions for improvement is at the very core of any effective audit process.

Auditing the Environmental Management System effectively

With opportunities for improvement and constructive suggestions found, you can now continue with auditing the system properly. Seek feedback on the results and process you audit. Are the set targets achievable? Are they still relevant? Are there barriers in the way to achieving them? Remember, if you can find barriers that do exist, you are one step away from finding improvement. Is legislation being met? Is your Legal Register up to date? Work collaboratively with the people who design, use, and depend on your Environmental Management System. See the internal audit process as a chance to use your combined knowledge and ability to improve performance, rather than a one-way channel where an auditor asks questions and the auditee responds defensively. Ensure you follow through on your improvements. Your company and the environment will surely see the benefits.

Use this free ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor Course to help yourself with auditing the Environmental Management System.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.