Do I need an EMS certified to ISO 14001:2004?

Paul Downing

An Environmental Management system (EMS) certified to ISO 14001:2004 says something about your organisation;

  • You have various procedures in place to manage the environmental impacts of your business activity
  • Your management consider environmental issues in business management processes
  • You are externally audited by a third party auditor
  • You are committed to meeting legal compliance obligations and continuous environmental improvement

However the certification does not state how well implemented your system is, ( it has to meet the requirements of ISO 14001 as a minimum of course) or if it is working for you as an organisation.

Most companies implement an EMS as good management practice and as a good risk management tool to complement quality and H&S management, however fewer go to the expense of external certification to ISO 14001 unless they are required to by a client or to get onto a tender list.

If you are in a high risk industrial process such as a power plant, steel mill or petrochemical plant then implementing an EMS is almost done by default i.e. you will be doing it (environmental management) anyway as a natural part of your business process. Any petrochemical plant that does not have an emergency response plan is foolish, negligent or both.

However if you are an small IT company and the local authority has said you have to have ISO 14001 to get on their approved supplier list, well….. it can be assumed that your emergency response plans are not as robust (and nor do they need to be..) than the petrochemical plant.

One may seek certification as a natural extension of their risk management process (or permit requirement) whilst the latter needs it to get onto a supplier list. So, what does this mean for most middle of the road manufacturing and industrial businesses in the UK?

Before you embark on the certification process for ISO 14001:2004 (the revised standard is published later in 2015) ask yourself the following.

  • What happens if I don’t get certified?
  • Will I loose a particular client?
  • Will I win a large contract if I do get certified?
  • Do I need it for an environmental permit or other legal requirement?
  • Will it differentiate me from competitors?
  • I am not concerned about ongoing costs?
  • Will my EMS be more efficient or perceived better by external parties?

If most of your responses are neutral or “No” then perhaps you are better off making your EMS more useful to you as an organisation, such as minimising waste, energy or water rather than seeking third party approval to ISO 14001.

In essence a well managed EMS is a risk management tool, whilst certification to ISO 14001 is a commercial decision. Before you embark on the journey, ensure you know why you have made the first step.


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