ISO 14001 - a global standard bearer

29th September 2017

A quarter of a century after the British Standards Institution launched the world’s first environmental management standard, the now global ISO 14001 remains a bedrock of common-sense guidance. David Fatscher reports

Twenty-five years ago, the momentous 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – popularly known as the Rio Earth Summit – took place. The conference was a watershed moment for global acceptance that an international, strategic approach to environmental governance was needed. Also in 1992, the British Standards Institution (BSI) launched the world’s first environmental management standard.

Known as BS 7750 Specification for Environmental Management Systems, the original standard had a simple but novel aim: to provide a template for organisations of all shapes and sizes to improve their environmental performance. The success of this pioneering British Standard led to the creation of the global standard ISO 14001 in 1996, exporting the principles outlined in the original standard to a global audience.

The journey of standards development is always one of continual adaptation. In 2015, ISO 14001 was thoroughly revised to bring it up to date with current thinking that an environmental management system standard must be incorporated into an organisation’s wider management structure: in other words, environmental leadership and objectives should be at the heart of its overall strategy and objectives.

ISO 14001 continues to help organisations to better identify – and reduce or remove – their environmental impacts and improve their overall environmental performance by looking at processes across the whole operation. A root-and-branch approach enables decision-makers to identify gaps in effectiveness, improving efficiency in day-to-day operations – a win-win for both the environment and the bottom line.

Helping organisations meet regulatory requirements, and assisting with the development and implementation of routine improvements to productivity, continues to form the basis of ISO 14001. When a company benefits from improved environmental policies and efficiencies, improvements are passed onto the customer and the wider public. The international standard acknowledges that no two organisations are identical. An environmental management standard should be relevant and accessible for all.

ISO 14001 also helps register the needs of interested parties and the ‘context’ in which the organisation operates.

Reputational management remains an ever-growing concern, and ISO 14001 provides a template for maximising environmental management – as well as mitigating any risks. The economic and environmental benefits of widespread adoption of an environmental management standard are unequivocal: reduced costs, improved productivity and resilience.

More than 17,000 organisations in the UK and 340,000 worldwide are now certified to ISO 14001 . The key to its enduring success is its suitability for operations of all shapes and sizes, irrespective of sector, and its relevance to both products and services. From small stationery suppliers to international vehicle manufacturers, universities to recycling centres, ISO 14001 is a bedrock of common-sense guidance.

Twenty-five years ago, the UK led the world in developing an environmental management standard and a proven and powerful tool for business improvement. Here’s to the next 25 years of enabling organisations to grow more sustainably.

David Fatscher is head of market development for sustainability at BSI


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