Chapter 4.3 - what exactly does the internationally recognized environmental management standard mean by scope? What is its significance and what should be taken into account? Learn more in this article about how your company, regardless of size and industry, can improve its own environmental performance and resource efficiency in line with socio-economic requirements.


Environmental management system according to an international standard

Whether a large corporation or a medium-sized company, more and more companies today see themselves as having a responsibility to protect the environment. In the internationally recognized standard ISO 14001 these companies find a systematic framework for the continuous improvement of their own environmental performance. Implementing an environmental management system enables organizations to contribute to the environmental pillar of sustainability and meet societal expectations.

The well-known environmental standard requires controllable processes with which to

  • Record and evaluate environmental aspects
  • Reduce adverse environmental impacts
  • Continuously improve resource efficiency

The consideration of risks and opportunities, compliance with laws and other binding obligations, and increased environmental awareness among employees are further aspects that lead to competitive advantages and contribute to securing the future of companies.

Scope in ISO 14001 - What you need to know

Focus on the holistic approach: This is one of the goals of ISO 14001. In its area of application, or scope, the aim is not only to prevent environmental pollution, but also to actively protect the environment, taking into account the life cycle approach and the expectations of relevant interested parties.

In this context, the scope of application is of particular importance. This is because the life cycle concept forces companies to think beyond their own boundaries: responsibility for their own products and services does not stop at the company's premises.

According to the ISO 14001 standard, environmental management also includes a look at upstream and downstream processes, such as raw material procurement, development, warehousing and transport, right through to the use and disposal of products and by-products.

"The scope under ISO 14001 is unique to each organization."

Most companies, however, face the uncertainty of properly understanding the scope of their environmental management system. Where do the physical and organizational boundaries and meaningful applicability of the environmental management system begin and end?


This is particularly challenging in the case of complex corporate entities. Especially since top management has the freedom and flexibility to define the organizational, functional and spatial boundaries themselves. Lack of clarity in the delineation impairs the coverage of significant environmental aspects.

Capturing the scope - What does ISO 14001 require?

Chapter 4.3 of the environmental standard clearly requires the definition of spatial, functional and organizational company boundaries. Accordingly, the scope must be factual, representative, and include all relevant activities with significant environmental aspects and impacts so that interested parties are not misled. The scope must be defined by the organization, documented and made available to interested parties, for example by means of a site map.

What must be considered?

  • Activities, products or services with significant environmental aspects
  • Relevant internal and external issues that significantly influence intended outcomes (contextual consideration) - external issues include environmental conditions that affect or are affected by the organization
  • Legal and other obligations derived from the expectations of interested parties
  • Organizational unit(s), function(s), and physical boundaries.

If the scope has been defined, all activities, products, and/or services of the organization that are within that scope must be included in environmental management to ensure credibility. Exclusions of adverse environmental aspects (including indirect environmental aspects), or to avoid binding obligations, are not provided. In the event of changes, for example due to expansions of operational activities, the scope must be reconsidered.

Environmental management

Continuously improving the protection of the environment in one's own company - this is precisely what environmental management systems are designed to do.

The benefits of environmental management

ISO 14001 is the best known and most successful international standard that sets requirements for an environmental management system. Its purpose is to provide a framework for the organization to systematically protect the environment and respond to changing environmental conditions.

A key success factor is the commitment of top management to environmental corporate governance. This is evident through, among other things, a clear environmental policy, long-term environmental goals, and appropriate environmental technologies.

The environmental standard is applicable to all organizations, regardless of size or industry. The basis of continuous improvement, as in other management system standards, is the PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act).

Scope in ISO 14001 - Conclusion

Once the scope of a company has been defined in accordance with the environmental standard, it provides the basis for the following, taking into account the life cycle approach

  • Identifying environmentally relevant aspects and their impacts,
  • Determination of legal and other obligations
  • Introduction of criteria for the evaluation of risk

Thus, effective environmental management provides the following benefits, among others:

  • Continuous improvement of environmental performance
  • Mitigation or reduction of adverse environmental impacts
  • Reduction of environmental risks
  • Obtaining legal certainty through systematic identification and evaluation of laws and regulations
  • Saving costs through systematic and forward-looking thinking and action
  • Increasing employee identification and motivation
  • Strengthening the confidence of the public, customers, authorities, banks and insurance companies
  • Promoting image and competitiveness nationally and internationally
  • Fulfillment of customer requirements

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

DQS - Simply leveraging Quality.

Since its foundation as the first German certifier of management systems, DQS has been committed to the sustainable success of its customers. With value-adding audits and customer-oriented concepts, we accompany organizations all the way to business excellence.

Our audits provide you with clarity. The holistic, neutral view of our experienced auditors on people, processes, systems and results shows how effective your environmental management system is, how it is implemented and mastered. It is important to us that you perceive certification according to the ISO standard not as a test, but as an enrichment for your management system. Our standards always begin where audit checklists end.

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We will gladly answer your questions

What effort do you have to expect for certification according to ISO 14001 ? We will be happy to inform you. Without obligation and free of charge.

In the audit, we specifically ask "why", because we want to understand the motives that led you to choose a certain way of implementation. We focus on potential for improvement and encourage a change of perspective. In this way, you can identify options for action with which you can continuously improve your management system. Take us at our word.

Please note: Our articles are written exclusively by our standards experts for management systems and long-standing auditors. If you have any questions for the author, please contact us. We look forward to talking with you.

Eric Werner-Korall

Compliance and risk management expert with over 20 years of international experience as a DQS auditor for integrated management systems. With a doctorate in engineering, he also contributes his expertise as a trainer and lecturer, presenter and author of numerous technical papers.


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