06 Jan 2023

Focus on portions of the environmental management system (EMS) that assist an organisation to meet its compliance obligations

There are many stakeholders (Interested Parties) – most importantly – the regulators – that care about compliance performance. They care because having compliance issues can be viewed as an indicator of lack of commitment and control as well as ineffective risk management. Stakeholders don’t want to be perceived that way by association. This is a significant part of what ISO 14001 is designed to address. Let’s look at how ISO 14001 does this and how it might look for your organisation.

ISO 14001 is a series of high-level requirements that when fully implemented in an organisation through leadership, planning, support, controls, monitoring and improvement, create an environmental management system (EMS) that is designed to achieve the above-mentioned intended outcomes. This blog focusses on the portions of this EMS that assist an organisation to meet its compliance obligations.

A critical feature of ISO 14001 is that many of its requirements are connected. It's this flow that makes it an effective management system and not just a series of requirements. There are many ways to look at the flows, so be creative yourself in creating some.

Example of a comprehensive flow that connects most of the requirements related to compliance performance:

ISO 14001 diagram

It starts with the Interested Parties. These are other entities that have an interest in what your organisation does and expects certain things of it. These expectations may take the form of regulations, if the interested party is a governmental agency, or specific levels of performance if the interested party is the owner or a customer. The expectations that your organization commits or must adhere to become Compliance Obligations. As a result of listening to your Interested Parties, your organization might also identify some Risk or Opportunities that should be addressed. Storage of waste drums outside might be an identified risk. The Compliance Obligations and Risks and Opportunities are acted on through Planning Action. That’s when your organization will decide what resources, training, controls, and monitoring are called for.

The outcome of the monitoring and subsequent analysis and evaluation will be an understanding of your organization’s degree of both conformance and compliance.

This information might be shared internally with employees or upper management, will be shared through periodic reporting to the relevant environmental agencies and possibly through voluntary reporting such as a sustainability report. Finally, the degree to which this whole process is working will be assessed by a Compliance Evaluation, which usually takes the form of an audit.

Let’s look at a real-world example – one of your major customers is very active in sustainability and has a new supply chain programme They are assessing their suppliers, including your organisation, on their EMS performance. This assessment includes questionnaires, audits, and annual reporting. One of the EMS requirements relates to your organisation’s compliance. Is ISO 14001 capable of assisting with this challenge? Certainly. This is probably how it would unfold:

  • You’ve recognised your major customer as an Interested Party that expects its suppliers to be in compliance with current legislation.
  • You’ve had a history of hazardous waste fines and breaches in legislation that have not been effectively resolved. This risk has now escalated because it's no longer strictly between you and the regulator. Management commitment now exists to support actions to improve the program.
  • You create an action plan to refresh the hazardous waste program to ensure proper management including disposal of the drums, labels are available and completed properly, storage locations are well maintained and that the waste does not accumulate prior to being picked up by a licenced waste management company.
  • You then roll out these updated controls and make sure everyone is trained, there is ownership and accountability.
  • You will monitor the programme through inspections, an annual compliance audit, and tracking spreadsheets and report on your performance to management.
  • You are confident that when you communicate your new reports to the customer they will be satisfied with the improvements you have made.

Certification of your ISO 14001 environmental management system can assist with implementing, maintaining, and improving your compliance obligations as well as enhancing your environmental performance.

You may be interested in...