Published: 27 Feb 2019

Danièle Huet-Kouo talks about companies’ environment and social responsibility and how the ISO 14001:2015 certification process can help them achieve their environmental goals

The world’s environment has changed a great deal since the publication of the second version of ISO 14001 Environmental management systems in 2004. Businesses’ activities have caused even greater damage on our planet since then.

It is good news that more organisations have adopted an environmental route towards certification. Nonetheless, each organisation has to be the one to make that choice. As a result, the efforts demanded for the organisation’s environmental performance are left at the organisation’s goodwill and the resources it wants to allocate for that aim.

So, it was welcome that the update of ISO 14001 in 2015 significantly consolidated the third pillar on sustainable development – promoting greater social responsibility.

Now organisations are required to take proactive measures to go beyond prevention – to actively protect our environment and help protect our planet. These steps might include pollution prevention or the use of renewable resources, to “reduce and adapt to climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems’ protection, as well as its rehabilitation,” according to the A.5.2 Annex of ISO 14001’s Environmental Policy.

It is possible that this version of ISO 14001 might bring even more important changes for many organisations than ISO 9001. ISO 14001:2015 was an evolution of the standard, but for some companies it is a revolution.

By requiring that the entire ‘life cycle’ of a product is included in the company’s environmental system management, the new standard forces the organisation to consider all the stages of the product’s life, from its creation to the end of its life. Until now, only ISO 26000 Social responsibility required this. Now, all of an organisation’s activities are considered together for the certification process.

In fact, the creation of a product is the stage that most affects a product’s overall environmental performance and is the most likely to have environmental repercussions. It is then that the preservation of resources used in the product’s manufacturing (such as water, paper, and others) must be considered, and the organisation must decide on ethical and responsible supply choices (for instance, a process that requires less amount of water). However, this is exactly the phase of business activity that is often not included in the certification process.

Each organisation now has the opportunity to manage the environmental performance of each phase of its processes, including areas of risk and their associated environmental impacts.

As all those involved in the supply chain become more aware of the environmental impact of their activities – and of their power to reduce their impact – this will be sure to lead to improved environmental performance.

The path to ISO 14001:2015 certification requires more significant commitment from organisations to harvest all the economic opportunities that arise from ‘green business’. They need to recognise that environmental performance is not simply a cost, but an opportunity.

About the author: Danièle Huet-Kouo CEO at DHK-SIP, a company that helps organisations with their quality management processes