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ISO 14001 Certification

Many companies use a sustainability framework or environmental management system to aid them in their implementation of environmental programs. If you are looking for a standard that is also certified, the ISO 14001 certification standard is an option you may want to consider, particularly if you are a manufacturing company. The ISO 14001 international standard is the most widely used EMS in the world, with over 360,000 ISO 14001 certificates issued globally.

What is the ISO 14001 Certification Standard

ISO-International Organization for Standardization has developed over 18,500 International Standards on a variety of subjects. Of particular relevance to sustainability is the ISO 14001 (environmental management systems). It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system. The ISO 14000 family of standards are developed by the ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 207 and its various subcommittees. For a full list of published standards in the series, see their standards catalog. Take a look at this 12 step guide to preparing and implementing ISO 14001.

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An ISO 14001 Certification needs to be managed as a corporate enterprise project or program. Executive buy-in is a must as well as employee engagement. A successful certification starts with outstanding organization, discipline and project management.  Here are 12 key steps to follow to improve your results and at the same time drive a green culture at your company.

Step #1 Evaluate Your Organization and Build A Team 

Every organization that chooses to make their company more environmentally friendly must first evaluate why they want to make a change, what actions if any have already been taken towards a positive environmental business, what actions could be taken and which type of certification to work towards.

Once this Information is collected and reviewed, you will understand the context of your organization in relation to your environmental impacts. Through that understanding, a decision to choose the ISO 14001 Certification can help develop a statement of the scope of your EMS which will define the aspects of your business that will be addressed by your management system.

Step #2 Get Executive Leadership Buy-in & Support 

The number one hurdle many organizations face when seriously looking to bring sustainability certifications such as the ISO 14001 into their operations is the same obstacle that slows down many new initiatives – executives have a difficult time defining and communicating a road map. They often do not know how to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable, and even when they do, they fail to champion the cause.  

The ISO 14001 Certification has standards to follow, one of which is the commitment of the leadership team. Making this step crucial to have in place before proceeding. Having buy-in and complete support from the executive leadership team will not only make the process go smoothly but will generate a culture of environmental excellence.

Step #3 Communicate Your Plans, Goals and Vision

Almost all employees care about what their company is doing to protect the environment and be more socially responsible. By committing to being a better steward of the community and planet, a company will attract and retain more employees. Communicating the plan right from the start is vital to success. Your corporate communication plan should include updates around the ISO 14001 Certification. This should be to employees, Board members, customers and any other stakeholders. 

  • For employees, this may be as simple as well-timed emails, a section in the employee newsletter, a quarterly certification/green newsletter with updates and success stories or simply utilizing the corporate intranet to share knowledge. In addition, this is an opportunity to engage employees who want to be a part of this change. Giving them an opportunity to sit on the green/sustainability team and/or give some ideas can make the program even more sustainable.
  • For customers and stakeholders, emails and newsletter updates also work well. Customer sustainability communication can also open up an opportunity  to collaborate with them. Ask them to join you in your cause to create a greener business world. Have them evangelize their partnership with you. Ask them for feedback. Sustainability can become a common bond you share..
  • For the organization, Board members host a yearly presentation that includes progress, ROI, short and long term goals and success stories. In addition, just like with customers, ask them for feedback and thank them for their continued support.

Step #4 Engage Employees

Being a certified green business means that sustainability is at the core of internal operations which requires teamwork and a “can do” spirit. A certification program is a valuable opportunity for employee engagement, learning and team building. By creating a green work culture, every employee can feel like a sustainability champion working towards a higher purpose. 96% of employees report that their company’s sustainability programs improved their relationship with their employer. Not only will your employees feel proud to work for a company committed to planetary and social good, but they will find satisfaction in seeing real results generated from your assessment scores.

Step #5 Prioritize Actions & Set Environmental Goals

Once you determine your company’s sustainability status, you’ll uncover the gaps you have in meeting the ISO 14001 standard. ISO provides a library of standards and initiatives to follow. You can typically use an online project management solution to set goals tailored to your company’s unique needs and capabilities. 

Step #6 Create an ISO 14001 Certification Project Plan

Once an organization has evaluated their green accomplishments, gained perspective on what needs to be done, received company by-in, communicated the project and set goals, the next step is to start planning on how to implement the ISO 14001 Certification. According to The Core Solutions, this step in the process is called  “Plan, Do, Check, Act”. This means to:

  • Evaluate which impacts are actually happening at the organization and which have the potential to be implemented. Actual and potential impacts require different action (reactive vs. proactive planning) and your awareness of prevention is as important as your efforts for affect minimization and environmental damage reversal.
  • In addition, the plan should  identify any and all opportunities for improvement and develop plans to minimize the negative effects of those risks. Make sure to lay out plans that will meet the legal and regulatory compliance requirements faced by the business. Start by setting individual objectives for each aspect, methodically laying out plans to achieve them within the EMS

Step #7 Leverage Online Management Tools

In order for any project to be successful and sustainable the proper tools need to be in place in order to appropriately execute the project. Tools for this project will include your one year and five year plan, resources, training chosen and set up for the employees who will need to be certified, a way to effectively communicate to all stakeholders and most importantly a way to track progress and success.

Once your plans have been established, you will need to ensure you have documentation of all activities. This documentation will help in achieving goals, keep the project on task, support communication and reach the final goal of achieving the ISO 14001 Certification.

Step #8 Track Your ISO 14001 Implementation 

Minimizing negative impacts on the environment is the overarching goal of the entire ISO 14001 standard. This step is all about doing the work and putting the hard work into action. This activity will be the catalyst in achieving the overall goal. As a guide be mindful of three actions:

  • Be meticulous: throughout the process pay attention to the goals created, steps and activities the certification requires, document all work and make changes as needed to keep on track.
  • Checks and balances: put a person in charge of making sure that the plan is moving in a forward direction. Checking each step weekly will ensure that anything that needs attention can be addressed right away. 
  • Emergency Response Plan: if there is not already a plan in place this should be created and implemented. All employees need to be made aware of and trained on this plan.

Step #9 Complete the ISO 14001 Mandatory Internal Audit 

The ISO 14001 Certification requires mandatory internal audits. Though this may seem daunting, it is a process created to monitor, support effort and measure activity and success. 

Once the above steps have been organized and achieved, the positive internal  changes including working in the certification system will allow changes to be analyzed. 

The Environmental Management System/ISO 14001 Certification has a list of mandatory and non mandatory documents and records. Some of the mandatory documents required by this certification below show how meticulous record keeping is vital not only for this step but the overall success of obtaining this certification:

  • Scope of the EMS
  • Environmental Policy 
  • Risk and Opportunities to be Addressed and Processes Needed 
  • Criteria for Evaluation of Significant Environmental Aspects Environmental Aspects with Associated Environmental Impacts 
  • Significant Environmental Aspects 
  • Compliance Obligations Document 
  • Environmental Objectives and Plans for Achieving Them 
  • Operational Control 
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response 

Step #10 Promote Your Certification and Sustainability, You Earned the Recognition

Green certifications are a great way to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability to all stakeholders in a credible way. Several green certifications including ISO 14001Green Business Bureau, and LEED. Each goes above and beyond an internal project and provides an external “Green Business”  badge of achievement to the market. Consider leveraging efforts with customers and stakeholders by making your certification completion public and marketing on your website and marketing materials. Also consider posting a personalized Member Story with your company’s achievements on the website or on the certification company’s site to be shared worldwide. Expand the marketing reach by featuring your certification on social media platforms. Further, become an active player in the green community and network with other green business members.

Step #11 Measure Your Results

Actively participating in the ISO 14001 Certification can yield real results in the form of cost savings, employee retention and customer attraction. 89% of companies have seen a profit increase by making environmentally positive business model changes. While any sustainability certification comes at a cost, the framework ultimately pays for itself in the long-term as it targets the most energy-intensive and waste-generative areas of your company.

Sharing the cost savings/ROI with employees and stakeholders quarterly will help support the initial spend, time and energy that went into the project. In addition it will keep up employee momentum and give deserved recognition to those who put in the work.

Step #12 Continue Your Green Journey and Continue To Improve

Receiving the ISO 14001 audit report and certificate from the committee is a monumental feat and one to be celebrated! Give recognition to the team members and all involved. 

Success and project sustainability is to be celebrated but does not mean that the work ends, rather it simply gets to a point that processes are put into place to keep the program running. The ISO standards and certification provide the tool of the 

Environmental Management System to ensure long-term success with the mindset of continuous improvement.

Being the company that has the process and employees in place to continually review progress and ways to improve environmental impacts, a natural progression will continue to minimize the environmental footprint. 

ISO 14001 Certification Project Challenges

An ISO 14001 certification is well respected and understood in the industry, but it is also a major undertaking. The budget, time and resources required are not trivial and hence ISO certifications are typically only successful for companies who have the right resources. Here are the three main challenges with an ISO certification:

  • Cost – An ISO project can run several months and requires certified ISO consultants and auditors, an expensive endeavor. The potential cost of fines and penalties due to non-compliance is also a significant factor.
  • Time – An ISO project will use up lots of internal employee time and take them away from their vital daily activities. This time can be reduced by having an employee who has completed an ISO 14001 certification in the past.
  • Resources –  ISO Projects require the right expertise and knowledge. There are online resources and external consultants available, but this will obviously lead to more cost and time.

Consider Adding Other Certifications

In many cases, ISO 14001 certification does not make sense yet.  It may be too early, or just not a strategic fit for the type of business you are. In some cases, the certification and its cost and complexity may be overkill for your company and industry. You may want to consider two other sustainable business frameworks and certifications, Green Business Bureau and B-Corp. Both are excellent programs to help companies identify environmental improvements they can make in everything they do. 

Both programs cover corporate offices, warehouses, stores and facilities of all types.  The B-Corp program covers all business processes from manufacturing, purchasing, operations, employee and community engagement and involvement while the GBB program focuses on environmental sustainability in a very in-depth way and provides a more pragmatic approach to implementing very specific green initiatives.  B Corp certification includes some high-level reviews of sustainability achievements but does not go as deep as the GBB certification which considers a much longer list of very specific green initiatives.

Once certified, most companies market and promote their Green Business Bureau or B-Corp certifications. Both seals can be used on websites and marketing materials and are great ways to demonstrate commitment to environmental and social good. Both seals are reputable symbols that people know and trust.

About the Author

Maggie Okponobi

Maggie’s career started in the education sector as a teacher before committing to the Peace Corps and educational development in The Gambia, where she helped establish an Early Childhood Education school that now is serving 265 students in counting. After returning to the U.S., Maggie worked as Funding Coordination Manager at School Specialty, a company that provides necessary educational supplies for schools, and helped transform the company into a successful sustainable organization. Now Maggie runs her own consulting firm to promote “sustainable steps to a better future” and educate organizations on the benefits and savings possible through adoption of green technology. With Maggie’s diverse experience in education, environmental science, and program management, plus exceptional interpersonal skills, she seeks to form lasting relationships with Key Opinion Leaders to make plans into a reality.

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