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  • Billy Naisbett

Myths & Legends Buster - ISO 14001


We spend a lot of time researching and listening to our clients and so called 'experts' in the field of ISO Standards and thought, well hoped that we could clarify a few things and help dispel many common miss-conceptions associated with the ISO Standards.


Myth #1;

"My business won't be able to achieve the Environmental Management Standard ISO 14001 because we build houses, and the market won't allow us to build environmentally friendly ones."

Buster #1;

Any organisation can achieve ISO 14001. These include building firms, transportation companies, chemical processing plants, coal power stations, mines, tanneries, etc. The standard does not stipulate that you have to be completely without environmental aspects and impacts. It focuses more on, trying to reduce your normal impacts (such as energy use, waste, discharge etc), and that you have effective controls in place to prevent or effectively deal with incidents that could cause pollution, such as fire and spillage.

Myth #2;

"ISO 14001 is only applicable to manufacturing."

Buster #2;

In fact, ISO 14001 is written to be used by any organization in any industry. The basis behind the standard is to understand the environmental legal requirements pertinent to your organization, and how your processes interact with the environment. Using this knowledge, you then monitor and control your process outputs to improve your environmental impacts. This can be applicable to cutting down paper usage in an office or reducing electricity usage in a software firm just as easily as it can apply to reducing the hazardous waste outputs of a chemical process.

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Myth #3;

"ISO 14001 isn’t required if we are legally compliant."

Buster #3;

While it is true that implementing an ISO 14001 environmental management system does not guarantee 100% compliance with all environmental legislation, it is a necessary part of the EMS that you know and maintain your knowledge and understanding of your compliance status.


However, ISO 14001 is more than just knowing that you are legally compliant with environmental laws. The main focus of the EMS is to improve your processes in order to reduce your environmental impact, which goes above and beyond the requirements of applicable laws.

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Myth #4;

"ISO 14001 is only for already 'green' organizations."

Buster #4;

An environmental management system is for any organisation that wants to understand how it interacts with the environment around it and wants to improve upon this knowledge to reduce the negative impacts that it imposes on the world.

By using the Plan-Do-Check-Act method of improvement that is embedded in the ISO 14001 requirements, an organisation can work toward incremental improvements that can, over time, become great reductions in any negative environmental effects. Companies can even realise cost savings when the environmental enhancements involve the reduction in the use of energy and materials, and of course, the avoidance of excessive waste to landfill.

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Myth #5;

"ISO 14001 is about creating a lot of unnecessary documents."

Buster #5;

This is absolutely not true, for example, there is no requirement for a manual or documented procedures in ISO 14001.


Based on your aspects. impacts and business risks it is up to you to determine what documented information is necessary to have confidence that the process(es) is (are) carried out as planned.


Examples may be, operational control and emergency preparedness and response' procedures' and Obviously, certain records must be retained to demonstrate compliance, say in the event of a visit from a regulatory body, such as the Environment Agency.

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Myth #6;

"ISO 14001 won’t add value and it will cost too much to implement."

Buster #6;

Some people think that implementing ISO 14001, or any management system for that matter, is just a paper exercise that won’t actually improve the processes in the system; in the worst cases, people think that the implementation of a management system will distract from core activities and actually detract from the value of the organisation.


If you are implementing an environmental management system only to obtain 'a certificate on the wall,' without making the system work for you through process improvements, obviously you will gain limited value from it - just like the saying 'you only get out, what you put in.'


Organizations like this only go through the motions of using the system processes they have in place, with no desire to use them to improve. In short, if you implement a system that is not designed for your organisation to improve, then you will see no improvement and the system will appear to be a failure.


However, if you use the EMS as a method to analyse and improve your processes, you can see great gains in cost reduction.


Myth #7;

"ISO 14001 will stop us from being flexible and innovative."


Buster #7;

The requirements in the ISO 14001 EMS are designed to be non-prescriptive. This means that the requirements identify the elements of a good EMS, but they do not tell you how you will accomplish this.


As an example, the standard has a requirement that you identify the ways that your organisation interacts with the environment (called environmental aspects) and determine which ones are significant.


This can be done in any way you determine necessary to suit the needs of your company: for example - brainstorming with a group of employees, assessment of your process documentation by a consultant, or any other method you choose.


The idea of this requirement is for you to find a way to know how you interact with the environment so that you can use this information to improve your environmental impact. In fact, because the standard is focused on improvement, you are expected to be flexible in your processes in order to improve them.


Don't let the myths stop you from implementing!


The secret to successfully implementing an ISO 14001 EMS is to make sure that you tailor the processes needed' to work with the people and philosophy of your organisation.


In this way, you can make the system work for you, and do what you need it to do, so that you can improve. While it can be beneficial to learn from the fears and mistakes of others, you shouldn’t let these dissuade you from benefiting from the enhancements available from using an EMS. Don’t let the myths stop you.




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