ISO 14001 certification to run an effective environmental management system

ISO 14001 certification is designed to help businesses run an effective environmental management system (EMS), to reduce an entity’s impact on our natural world via operating more sustainably. To date, there are more than 300,000 ISO certifications across 171 countries, a figure that showcases business demand for sustainability guidance.

However, due to the significant amount of investment needed, ISO 14001 prices out companies that simply don’t have the resources to get certified. With this in mind, in this Green Business Bureau article, we explain how GBB certification serves as a stepping stone, to prepare a company for ISO 14001 until the entity builds the resources to make this step.

Once more, we explain how the two certification bodies complement each other. Complementarity is a reason why businesses opt for both certification providers, to obtain comprehensive and holistic guidance toward sustainability.

An introduction to ISO 14001 certification

ISO 14001 certification verifies an environmental management system (EMS) as effective under agreed standards. The standards given in the ISO 14001 framework apply to any organization, large or small, across all industries – service and commercial sectors.

ISO 14001 lays out the requirements for the implementation and certification of an effective EMS. This includes guiding: The establishment of environmental policies and objectives; significant environmental aspects; the prevention of pollution, and the continual improvement of environmental performance.

ISO 14001 was revised in 2015 to give new standards focused on leadership and applicability. These new standards were titled: ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems.

To learn more about ISO 14001 certification, read: ISO 14001 Certification Guide to Set Up A Comprehensive Environmental Management System.

What is an environmental management system?

An environmental management system is a framework designed to help organizations monitor, control, and continuously improve the environmental performance of a business. An EMS provides an organizing framework that helps businesses structure their environmental strategy.

By implementing an EMS under ISO 14001, a business must consider all environmental issues relevant to an entity’s operations. This includes resource use, energy and water consumption, waste generation, carbon emissions, and effective local biodiversity conservation strategies.

An EMS assumes that consistent review and evaluation will identify opportunities to improve a business’s environmental performance. The EMS is tailored to the brand’s objectives and targets, but the basic elements include the following:

  • Reviewing the environmental goals of the business;
  • Analyzing the environmental impact and compliance obligations associated with a business;
  • Setting objectives and targets to reduce the environmental impact of business operations, and to conform with compliance obligations;
  • Establishing a strategy to meet these obligations and targets;
  • Communicating the environmental responsibility of your business to employees to raise awareness and ensure employee competence;
  • Reviewing EMS progress, and determining whether improvement objectives have been achieved.

Under an ISO 14001 environmental management system, the business is encouraged to progress using a 6-step cycle, as follows:

  • Step 1: The organization commits to a given environmental policy or goal;
  • Step 2: This policy or goal is then used to establish a sustainability plan;
  • Step 3: A sustainability plan comes with a set of objectives and targets for improving an entity’s environmental performance;
  • Step 4: The sustainability plan is implemented;
  • Step 5: The organization evaluates its environmental performance to see whether objectives and targets have been met;
  • Step 6: The environmental policy or goal is used to set new targets in a revised plan.

How the Green Business Bureau prepares a company for an ISO 14001 audit

ISO 14001 presents the framework needed to set up an EMS, with regular ISO 14001 audits for EMS maintenance under set standards.

Similarly, the Green Business Bureau acts as an online platform that supports a business’s given EMS. That is, running through the Green Business Bureau’s EcoAssessment allows the organization assesses where they’re currently operating (step 5). A business can then use GBB’s EcoPlanner to set target initiatives based on this assessment (step 6). Set targets and goals are then detailed in a brand’s EcoProfile. This profile is viewable to key stakeholders, which means the brand is held accountable for its goals (step 1).

For each target, a detailed plan is given, documenting how the business can implement a given initiative. This information acts as a sustainability plan (steps 2 and 3). Once the initiative is complete, the business can check it off. Completed initiatives are viewable via a brand’s EcoProfile (step 4).

Here, it’s easy to see how ISO 14001 and the Green Business Bureau complement each other. That is, by continuously setting and completing target initiatives via the GBB platform, an effective EMS is utilized for environmental improvement between ISO 14001 audits.

The limitations of ISO 14001 and the benefits of GBB

The business case for ISO 14001 is compelling. For instance, ISO auditor and certification body BSI reports ISO 14001 improves stakeholder trust (as stated by 60% of surveyed respondents) and regulatory compliance (as stated by 76% of surveyed respondents). As this business case becomes more apparent, ISO 14001 has seen a 5.5% increase in adoption since 2020.

However, despite these advantages, the limitations of ISO 14001 shouldn’t be disregarded.

Completing an ISO 14001 audit is a major undertaking that requires a large chunk of time and investment, as we explain:

  • ISO projects can run for several months. In this period, employees are taken away from their day-to-day jobs.
  • Third-party ISO consultants and auditors are needed to certify a business under ISO, which is an expensive endeavor. In addition, a given ISO project will require the right expertise and knowledge demanding yet more time and money.
  • Fines for non-compliance are significant.

The above limitations act as roadblocks preventing the widespread adoption of green business certification under ISO. Demanding this much time, energy, and resources stalls meaningful action and investment for real change. Plus, smaller businesses are unfairly priced-out meaning the ability of ISO to drive sustainability within a global economy is restricted.

Overcoming these challenges with the Green Business Bureau

The Green Business Bureau was set up to overcome these ISO 14001 limitations. That is, GBB wanted to make it easier for businesses to institute initiatives and create a sustainable business, while also gaining the acknowledgment they deserve. GBB has reduced the resource demand needed to do this with the belief that green business certification should be available for every business, no matter the size.

The Green Business Bureau offers a robust program that guides businesses toward sustainable change. GBB’s online EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner tools include over 500 initiatives that help organizations become not only environmentally responsible, but socially responsible as well. In this sense, GBB certification gives a more holistic approach to sustainability, supporting an entity’s EMS and beyond.

The GBB seal is well-recognized meaning member businesses are revered for their commitment to sustainability and the environment.

Click here to learn more about the Green Business Bureau.

The Green Business Bureau is a stepping stone toward ISO 14001 certification

The Green Business Bureau program is a great stepping stone that puts some of the process, organization, and policy in place for a business to be better prepared for the more stringent EMS certification offered by ISO 14001Bill Zujewski, President at the Green Business Bureau

As explained, the GBB platform supports the implementation of an effective EMS and the progression of your business toward your sustainability goals. With this in mind, startups, smaller businesses, and organizations just setting out on their sustainability journey – who may lack the resources for ISO 14001 – can join GBB confident they have a solid foundation to develop a sustainable business. Should the business decide to add to that foundation with ISO 14001, then it will be well-set to do so.

GBB is a great stepping stone to ISO 14001 in that it addresses general sustainability issues, which (with some independent thinking) can be applied to a company’s business model and operations such as recycling.” – Julia Craighill, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Green Business Bureau and Founder of the Green Office Academy

The Green Business Bureau supports sustainable change for all

Green business certification not only guides your business toward developing more sustainable operations, but you’ll also gain the acknowledgment and credit you deserve for this progression.

ISO 14001 offers an exhaustive set of standards for the development of a comprehensive EMS. However, the verification process for ISO 14001 is an expensive ordeal, requiring third-party consultants and auditors. In addition, ISO 14001 projects are time-consuming, meaning employees are taken away from their day-to-day operations for an extensive period.

Putting these factors together, ISO 14001 certification can price out businesses. To address this issue, the Green Business Bureau supports action and meaningful sustainable change for all by removing the barriers that traditionally prevent a business from getting certified.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Darshil says:

    Your blog is really amazing, and the post above actually explains everything. I would like to see far more of this. Thank you for providing information on the sustainability consultants.

    • Jane Courtnell says:

      Hi Darshil,

      Thanks for your comment. We’re happy you found our blog useful and informative.

      Thanks and kind regards

      Jane Courtnell

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