Category Archives: Planning an EMS to ISO 14001

Top Five Tips to Simplify your ISO14001 EMS

I have been dealing with environmental management systems  (EMS) for many years -whether developing them, auditing them or training folks about them, one thing that I have generally noticed is that they are often  more complicated than they need to be.

More does not mean better! I think the following are good reasons as to why it is worth slimming down an EMS:

  • A complex EMS is less likely to be used and understood by staff – for example environmental manuals, procedures are sometimes longer and complex than they need to be.
  • More time is spent maintaining the EMS – a bigger more complex EMS requires more time filling in forms, updating environmental aspects and impacts registers etc
  • Increased cost – more staff time will be needed to maintain and update the system.
  • Paper work – the effectiveness of the EMS at controlling risk can be substantially decreased with most effort being placed on generating paperwork.

Take into account however that when I say less is better, I do not mean that the bare minimum is acceptable, it is just that the complexity of an EMS should represent the organisation activities and therefore its level of risk. For example an EMS for a small office would not need the same depth of EMS as a large chemical plant.

I have always been an advocate of simple and effective EMSs for many years, so here are my thoughts on how an organisation can simplify its EMS:

  • Are the environmental aspects and impacts you identified too detailed ?- for example have you assessed every single chemical in the lab when it may have been just as effective to assess them together in group (for example acids, alkalis etc).
  • Consider ditching the complex scoring system for assessing environmental aspects and impacts for one that uses  simple questions – see my post on environmental aspects and impacts to give you an example.
  • Your environmental manual does not need to have an in depth description of your EMS and should not include actual procedures themselves. Briefly describe procedures and reference them so that the reader can see the actual procedure if they need to later. The manual that I develop for clients tends to be no more than fifteen pages.
  • Try not to generate a form or record within your EMS unless you really need to – some records/forms you must keep as there is a compliance obligation to retain them but for others ask yourself does the record/form add an value to the EMS. Filling in records/forms is a time consuming business.
  • Do not use long complex procedures (unless you need to) – alternatives include flow chart procedures, pictures and even films (or a combination of these). You might understand a procedure but will someone else who reads it?
Well I hope this post gives you some ideas that you can use to simplify your organisations EMS.

Environmental Objectives for ISO 14001

ISO 14001 requires that organisations develop environmental objectives. Objectives and targets tend to be set after the environmental policy is completed. In fact it is very important they are completed at this stage as they must be based on policy commitments.

In practice,  environmental objectives can be at many levels, they can be:

  • High level objectives – these directly link to a policy commitment and are broad goals that usually do not consist of a quantity or a timescale.
  • Low level objectives (sometimes known as targets) – these directly link to an high level objectives and are commonly SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound).

Each policy commitment is generally supported by at least one environmental objective. There is no specific number of objectives and targets required for an organisation to be successfully certified to ISO 14001.

ISO 14001 Objectives Requirements

It is a requirement of ISO 14001 that environmental objectives:

  • Align with the environmental policy
  • Are measurable (if practicable)
  • must be able to be monitored
  • are communicated, and
  • reviewed and updated as necessary.

There must also be plans in place to achieve objectives that cover what needs to be undertaken, resources required, responsibilities, completion dates and evaluation of results.

Although there is no set requirements on the areas with which objectives should be set it, they are commonly developed for:

  • Environmental compliance obligations
  • Significant environmental aspects
  • Technological option
  • Financial operational and business requirements
  • Views of interested parties (stakeholders).

Types of Objectives

Objectives can be broadly classed as one of the following:

Monitoring objective – these are set where the management of a significant environmental impact could be improved and financial resources are limited or where not enough information is known about the impact. Environmental objectives can therefore be set to monitor (so enabling quantification).

Management objective – where a significant environmental impact is being well managed  management objectives will be set so as to continue the effective management, for example ensuring that an environmental training programme is continued.

Improvement objectives – these are associated directly with improvement and will always be required if the organisation is to demonstrate continual improvement.

General Rules

The following can be applied when an organisation is developing objectives and targets:

  • If a significant environmental impact is well managed then it can be linked to a management objective.
  • If a significant environmental impact is poorly controlled then an improvement objective should be set.
  • If an environmental impact could be better controlled then an improvement or monitoring objective should be set depending on resources and ability to control.
  • If an environmental impact results in unnecessary financial cost (e.g. energy use, waste production) then an improvement or monitoring objective would be appropriate.

Action plans

Environmental action plans provides a great deal of detail on how an organisation is going to improve. They are developed to achieve stated high level environmental objectives and as a minimum will usually identify:

  • task to be carried out,
  • who is responsible for carrying out the task and
  • time frame for carrying out the task.

Take a look at the following basic environmental action plan sample to give you an idea.

TaskResponsibilityCompletion Date
Monitor electricity consumption to determine baseline.Facilities ManagerMonthly (on-going)
Change lighting in office to compact fluorescent (energy saving) typesFacilities ManagerJan 2021
Promote switch off programme for computer monitors.Office ManagerMarch 2021
Implement purchasing system that takes into account energy consumption of computer equipment.Human ResourcesSeptember 2021

Action plans are key elements for the successful implementation of an EMS providing specific information on how improvements are to be achieved. It is important that an action plan is:

  • dynamic
  • monitored for progress
  • revised on a regular basis to reflect change.

It should be noted that an environmental action plans can be divided into more detailed programmes if required.