ISO 14001 is an internationally recognised standard that provides a framework for a strategic approach to corporate environmental management. This standard gives organisations the means to identify and control their environmental impacts, improve performance and achieve their objectives and targets. The standard is independently audited, giving it great strength and integrity.
Due to its widespread adoption (e.g. Barclays, Credit Suisse and UBS in the financial sector), it now acts as a common reference for communication about environmental issues. ISO 14001 provides assurance to stakeholders on environmental claims and helps organisations meet requirements laid down by clients and investors.
Adoption of ISO 14001 is being driven by stakeholder concerns as well as the significant benefits on offer to adopters. Few companies are now exempt from government, client and investor demands for accountability and improved environmental performance. With brand and reputation on the line, it is a risky strategy to ignore these concerns.
However, choosing how to act is not a straightforward decision. Companies that rushed to announce their green credentials without independent verification and transparency fell foul of greenwash accusations and suffered perhaps more damage to their reputation than had they not acted in the first place. In response to this, many companies are now choosing to implement internationally recognised and independently audited environmental management systems such as ISO 14001.
The benefits of implementing ISO 14001 are extensive:
It immediately enhances corporate reputation and sends a clear signal of commitment to corporate responsibility. Accusations of greenwash are prevented by the transparent and robust approach of the standard.
Proactive environmental management increases attractiveness to investors, especially for Socially Responsible Investment (SRI), an area already accounting for £9 billion investment per year in the UK alone.
ISO 14001 accreditation may also bring financial benefits through increased market share. Firms can differentiate themselves from competitors as responsible companies as well as securing the rewards of first mover advantage in new markets. In addition, many buyers are now implementing sustainable procurement codes and stipulating conditions in Requests for Information (RFIs) where suppliers are required to have environmental credentials. Gaining ISO 14001 accreditation ensures access to environmentally demanding but high reward markets.
Financial benefits are not limited to increased investment and sales. Implementation of an EMS may produce significant cost savings that actually negate the initial outlay. With energy and waste prices rising sharply, environmental responsibility can produce a win:win opportunity.
Perhaps the most significant benefit for many will be the positive effect on attracting and retaining staff. With intense competition for the best staff, corporate responsibility is becoming a key criterion against which employers are judged.
Finally, responsible environmental management is quickly becoming a necessary condition for business, a socially accepted norm of behaviour. Those who fail to follow these norms risk damage to their reputation and the possibility of their social licence to operate being revoked.
A standard as thorough and robust as ISO 14001 has an equally thorough implementation process with extensive requirements for procedures and auditable document trails. Implementation follows the Plan-Do-Check-Review cycle and key required procedures are detailed in the diagram below. Implementation will entail the creation of at least 20 procedures and supporting documents. The procedures are all company-specific and must be tailored to suit individual operations. It is this level of detail that gives the standard such strength and integrity.