In April 2023, ISO published its results of the second User Survey on ISO 14001. The survey was organized in 2021 by ISO/TC 207 SC 1, the committee responsible for the environmental standard. The intention behind it: To gain insights into a possible need for revision of ISO 14001:2015 and how to ensure continuous improvement of environmental management in the future for the benefit of all stakeholders. With regard to the user survey report, the participants were clearly against a revision of the standard, but in favor of more support.

However, things turned out differently: after completing the user survey, but before the results were published, the committee decided to revise the standard. This means that the standard, which was last comprehensively revised in the fall of 2015, will be reviewed. According to the users' wishes, however, no new requirements will be introduced. Find out more in the following blog post. 

ISO 14001 revision planned

Almost nine years have now passed since the last revision of ISO 14001 - that's a long time in which a lot has happened in the major topic area of "environment". According to the responsible committee ISO/TC 207 SC 1 itself, ISO 14001 is currently being revised and subjected to a "light revision". The user request for more support has also been taken up in part, in the form that the changes are to be largely limited to the informative Annex A of the standard.

The many, sometimes dramatic changes that have occurred in the environmental sector in recent years were cited as the decisive factor in the decision to revise the standard. These include climate change, the obvious scarcity of resources, the use of renewable energies and, last but not least, the requirements resulting from the shift towards a functioning circular economy.

Currently, ISO 14001:2015 is restricted to considering the life cycle of products and services. Other important topics to be included in the environmental standard are the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the EU's Green Deal.
 

What changes are expected?

There are no reliable details on possible changes as yet, as a binding draft (ISO DIS) is not expected before summer 2024 at the earliest. However, a rough overview of the planned changes is possible: 

  • Adaptation to the new Harmonized Structure (HS) of ISO
  • Greater emphasis on the importance of environmental aspects for climate change
  • Emphasizing the importance of reporting
  • Emphasis on an opportunity-based approach
  • Clarifications to some notes

In view of the current status of the ISO 14001 revision, it is generally assumed that the final publication will be in fall 2025. No decision has yet been made regarding any deadlines that organizations may have to meet in the course of the transition to the new version. However, it can be assumed that the usual three-year period from the publication of the standard will apply. 
 

OUR READING TIPThe International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have also committed to actively supporting the global climate goals in accordance with the "ISO London Declaration of Climate Change". As a result, an addition was made to Clause 4 "Context of the organization" for 31 existing management system standards in February 2024.

Our newsroom post "New ISO requirements on climate change" has more information. 

User Survey Report ISO 14001

Summary of the main results

The second user survey on the current environmental standard ISO 14001:2015 started in September 2021. The first survey took place in 2013 in the run-up to the "major revision" of 2015.

The current survey involved around 3,000 participants from 91 countries worldwide. Among them were users of an implemented (6%) or accredited certified (94%) environmental management system, but also an equal number of interested companies and other interested parties, such as consultants and certification bodies.

The survey addressed key issues and future challenges for environmental management. The first part related to the 2015 revision of ISO 14001, which reconfirmed what has been evident in practice since its publication: Most difficulties occur with the following standard requirements:

- Consideration of the product life cycle (52%)
- Risks and opportunities related to environmental aspects and impacts (32%)
- Control of outsourced processes (28%)

 

The benefits of ISO 14001

Here it became clear that users attribute considerable benefits to the environmental standard. Particularly with regard to
- Meeting legal requirements and other binding obligations,
- Improving environmental performance, and
- Top management commitment to environmental management.

Other benefits cited were
- Meeting the expectations of interested parties,
- Improving public image,
- Achieving strategic goals, and
- Integrating with business processes.

According to users, both Annex A of the environmental standard and the ISO 14004 guidelines for establishing, implementing, maintaining and improving an environmental management system were particularly helpful. This supports the assumption that comprehensive support is an essential aspect for the effective implementation of the standard requirements and is in corresponding demand.

Support for specific environmental issues

The question about interest in advice on the introduction of an environmental management system revealed a need for practical reports and supplementary guides for implementation among just under half of the respondents.

Particular emphasis was placed on specific environmental topics such as
- Climate protection
- Materials and waste management
- Recycling management
- Management of chemicals
- Environmental law
- Water protection
- Air quality
- Biodiversity.

Slightly less than one third of the participants indicated an interest in further support. In particular, in the form of a separate standard
- On dealing with climate change
- On waste management
- On circular economy(this is already in progress as part of the ISO 14002 series).

In view of the survey results, there currently appears to be no further need for the development of additional ecologically oriented standards.

Consideration of the detailed results

Looking at some results in detail, a number of reasons can be identified for the tendency of ISO 14001 certified organizations participating in the survey: "no" to a comprehensive revision and "yes" to more support. Thus, the main argument for an ISO 14001 certificate is the (secure) fulfillment of legal obligations (75%, hereafter "very" or "highly significant").

This corresponds with the answers to the question about the value of an environmental management system, where legal certainty also takes the top spot with 75%. Also at the top of the list is reducing the (financial) risk associated with environmental impacts (76%) and meeting customer requirements (77%). These are all arguments that do not necessarily point to the introduction of Future Challenge Concepts.

Conversely, only 14% of respondents say they are requiring one or more of their suppliers to implement an environmental management system with a view to lifecycle considerations in the supply chain. In contrast, ~40% of respondents each say they identify environmental aspects of some of their suppliers' operations, products, or services and communicate their own environmental requirements to their suppliers.

Here, the introduction of the Future Challenge Concept would be an additional task or even hurdle. To go with this: Only 35% of the companies surveyed say that improving the environmental performance of their suppliers is of high or very high value.

Future tasks of environmental management systems

When asked to what extent and with what intensity the ISO/TC 207* Technical Committee should address the five new environmental management concepts (Future Challenge Concepts) published in the committee's 2020 Report during the next revision, there was a narrow majority among non-users of the standard. They wanted more stringent requirements in relation to the two topics:
- Identifying environmental aspects in the supply chain or product life cycle
- Promoting environmental responsibility in organizations and employee engagement.

For standard users, on the other hand, the main focus was on further information and more clarity regarding existing requirements, as well as additional support.

* The ISO/TC 207 Technical Committee meets annually to further develop the ISO 14000ff series of environmental standards. The members discuss and update future requirements of various standards. Key action areas in the Future Challenges Report 2020 include identifying environmental aspects in the supply chain, promoting a culture of environmental responsibility, employee engagement in environmental management, integration of the environmental management system, and external reporting of environmental objectives.

 

ISO 14001 revision - Conclusion of the current survey

The majority of respondents (elicited mainly by standard users) would like to see more support in meeting existing standard requirements, but would rather not see any far-reaching changes from a possible revision (source: User Survey Report 2021).

It may play a role in this attitude that significantly more than half of the responding users are represented by environmental management officers who have to put new requirements into practice. According to their own statements, more than two thirds of the standard users needed more than six years to implement their environmental management system, which suggests an enormous amount of work.

These statements also refer to the so-called Future Challenge Concepts of ISO/TC 207, which would provide sufficient material for a revision of the environmental standard. However, the noticeable rejection of these concepts among standard users could also be due to the fact that they have been little known up to now.

Nevertheless, ISO/TC 207 has now initiated a revision of ISO 14001. However, in line with the wishes of the users of the standard, this "minor revision" will not contain any changes relevant to the requirements. The revised ISO 14001 standard is expected in fall 2025.

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ISO 14001 Certification

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Figures, data, facts about the User Survey

Around 3,000 participants from 91 countries took part in the current ISO survey. Among them were users of a certified environmental management system as well as non-users, such as consultants and certification bodies.

Standard users accounted for 48% of the participants, of which 59% of the respondents held the role of an environmental management representative. Companies without an environmental management system accounted for 28% of the participants, non-users as individuals (23%) and others (1%).

At 58%, the majority of participants were based in Europe. South and Central America accounted for 16%, North America for 12%, Asia for 9%, and Africa and the Middle East for 4%. Of the participating organizations, 44% had more than 500 employees, 35% from 101 to 500, and 21% under 100.

DQS - What we can do for you

For more than 35 years, we have stood for the advancement of management systems and processes with impartial audits and certifications. We audit according to about 100 recognized standards and regulations, according to industry-specific standards or tailored to your individual specifications - regionally, nationally and internationally.

Impartiality and objectivity are essential elements for us when conducting audits and certifications. DQS received accreditation in the environmental field as early as 1996, the year of its first publication, which means more than 25 years of experience in ISO 14001 certification from which you should benefit.

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Author
Kai-Uwe Kaiser

DQS product manager, auditor and expert for environmental, energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability topics, as well as auditor for quality and automotive. Mr. Kaiser has many years of experience as product manager, production manager, quality manager for i.a. environmental, energy, occupational safety management,and as plant manager in the automotive sector. He also contributes his expertise to various training courses.

 

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