ISO 14001 is the best-known and most successful international standard that formulates requirements for an environmental management system. Its purpose: to provide a management framework for improving a company's environmental performance - and to do so in line with socio-economic requirements. Part of the "Sustainable Development Goals" issued by the United Nations also has the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change on its agenda. Read what contribution the environmental standard can make to this.


ISO 14001 and SDG: Global sustainability goals in view

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) formulated a total of 17 overarching sustainability goals as part of the 2030 Agenda, which are to be achieved by 2030 at the latest. These "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs) represent a call to society to integrate the concept of sustainability into every activity. Directly addressed are above all governments, business and science, and last but not least consumers.

The SDGs focus directly on the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and ecological - just like the internationally recognized environmental standard ISO 14001.

Today, environmental management is an indispensable component of sustainable corporate development. Safeguarding the living space of present and future generations has become a global task. This commitment has found its way into the corporate policies of numerous companies. Accordingly, environmental protection is more than just compliance with regulatory obligations or limiting environmental impacts. Rather, ISO 14001 focuses on the continuous improvement of a company's environmental performance.

ISO 14001 meets core message of SDG 13

A look at ISO 14001 shows: The standard contains a number of requirements, some overarching and some concrete, whose implementation can make a direct contribution to combating climate change, the core message of Sustainable Development Goal 13.

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Sustainable Development Goal 13:

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Sustainable Development Goal 13 contains three sub-goals. The more general wording of the sub-goals reads:

  • "Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries." (SDG 13.1)
  • "Integrate climate action into national policies, strategies and planning." (SDG 13.2)
  • "Enhance education, awareness, and human and institutional capacity in climate change mitigation, adaptation, mitigation, and early warning." (SDG 13.3)

A management system standard with sustainable impact

Users of ISO 14001 should improve their environmental performance, achieve environmental goals as well as fulfill binding obligations. As a management system standard, ISO 14001 also helps companies to achieve their economic goals, i.e. to operate successfully on the market in the long term. However, this is no longer the case at any price. This is because there is a growing understanding that human development and prosperity depend on the conservation and protection of our natural resources.

Thus, modern management system standards such as ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 (Energy) in their current version can be seen as the result of an increasing sustainability development. They contain requirements, the fulfillment of which, depending on the subject area, certainly accommodates the idea of sustainability. They define responsibilities, behaviors, processes and specifications for implementing corporate policy. With the help of transparent structures in defined processes, the defined goals can be systematically achieved. The environmental standard thus certainly has a positive role to play in the fight against climate change and the waste of natural resources.

Our tip: Read also the blog post SDG and ISO 50001: Achieving sustainability goals

Translating SDG formulations into concrete standards language

It is not immediately clear which statements are contained in the general formulations of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and where the environmental standard can make a contribution. However, formulated more closely to ISO 14001, SDG 13 contains well-known standard requirements, such as

  • Consideration of the context of the organization from an environmental point of view
  • Formulate a corporate policy that places environmental considerations at the forefront of the organization's activities
  • Identifying and taking into account the needs and expectations of (relevant) interested parties
  • Focus on environmental issues as early as the strategic planning stage
  • Consideration of those environmental conditions that are influenced by the organization
  • Consideration of the life cycle of products, including their use and disposal
  • Continuous improvement with regard to environmental performance
  • implementation of measures to reduce environmental risks
  • Compliance with legal and other (binding) obligations
  • ...

These requirements are currently implemented consistently by almost 350,000 standard users worldwide (ISO Survey 2020) - and definitely have a positive impact on sustainable development and the achievement of global climate targets.

ISO 14001 also meets SDG 14 and SDG 15

The well-known environmental standard ISO 14001 also meets two other global sustainability goals:

SDG14: Life under water and SDG 15: Life on land


Both Sustainable Development Goals can also be linked to the requirements of ISO 14001. This is because effective environmental management goes far beyond climate protection. The protection of water (oceans, lakes, rivers), flora and fauna, and terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, meadows and moors is also firmly anchored in the environmental standard. Given that oceans and large areas of forest and extensive peatlands are effectiveCO2 sinks , their protection is also an important issue in the fight against climate change.

A strong team: SDG and ISO 14001

To a certain extent, ISO 14001 can support the UN's global sustainability goals. In principle, this also applies to other members of the ISO 14000 series of standards, e.g. ISO 14064 (greenhouse gas emissions, climate management). However, the question remains as to what scope the environmental standard can ultimately be expected to have in the fight against climate change. Ultimately, its contribution depends heavily on the commitment and the concrete circumstances of the applying company.

"ISO 14001 can support the UN's global sustainability goals."

Companies that accept this responsibility focus on systematically improving their own environmental performance in line with socio-economic needs, and thus engage in credible environmental management. ISO 14001 provides the necessary framework for this, regardless of a company's size, type, location or stage of development. With an ISO 14001 certificate, companies demonstrate to their customers, partners and interested parties that they bear responsibility for the environment and align their activities accordingly - thus also contributing to the United Nations SDGs.

ISO 14001 - A management system for the environment

Achieving good environmental performance requires a company's commitment to the systematic implementation and continuous improvement of an environmental management system (EMS). Standard users are expected to use the requirements to improve environmental performance, achieve environmental objectives, and meet legal and other obligations to which the organization is committed. ISO 14001 was first published in 1996.

ISO 14001:2015 - Environmental management systems - Requirements with guidance for use is available from the ISO website

Since the major revision in 2015, the environmental standard, like all other major management system standards, has the High Level Structure (HLS/common basic structure), which greatly simplifies integration into an existing management system. For a better understanding and support of how to establish, implement, maintain and improve an environmental management system, the ISO 14004 guide is provided.

ISO 14004:2016 - Environmental management systems - General guidelines on implementation I ISO website

DQS: Simply leveraging Quality.

Through an effective, certified environmental management system according to ISO 14001, companies improve operational environmental protection independently and continuously. Risk prevention, compliance with laws and regulations, and increased environmental awareness among employees are further aspects that lead to competitive advantages and contribute to securing the future. And: An internationally recognized certificate from DQS is visible proof that you bear responsibility for the environment.

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Certification according to ISO 14001

How much effort do you have to put into having your environmental management system certified according to ISO 14001? Get information free of charge and without obligation.

Trust and expertise

Our texts are written exclusively by our in-house experts for management systems and auditors of many years. If you have any questions for the author, please feel free to contact us.

Altan Dayankac

Global Program Manager and Senior Sustainability Manager of DQS Group and international expert on numerous sustainability, climate, environmental, and occupational safety topics. Altan Dayankac also contributes his expertise as an author and moderator to HSE and sustainability committees and at various professional events.


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