Basic requirements of ISO 14001

Learn QHSE / Environmental Management / Basic requirements of ISO 14001

Basic requirements of ISO 14001

The standard promotes the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle:

  • Plan – Identify/define the processes required and set appropriate scope and objectives
  • Do – Implement the processes, including responsibilities, resources, controls etc.
  • Check – Monitor, measure and evaluate performance in regards to environmental objectives, compliance obligations, controls and significant environmental aspects
  • Act – Take action based on the findings. Deal with any non-conformities, make adjustments to the EMS where needed and identify possible improvements

Within the standard itself there are a number of clauses, which set out the basic components required to meet ISO 14001.

These are:


This is where your organisation establishes the scope of the EMS and identifies any parties that have an interest on what their needs are and any compliance obligations, risks or opportunities that arise from this.


Top Management (defined by the standard as ‘person or people who direct and control the organisation) are required to classify the roles, responsibilities and authorities within the organisation as they relate to the EMS.

They also need to establish the Environmental Policy, this is the foundation which ultimately sets the goals or intentions of the organisation as they relate to environmental practices (incl. legal and environmental responsibilities, continual improvement and objectives)


This clause has a lot of parts - In general it requires,

  • A plan to be made that addresses how the organisation will deal with any risks or opportunities that have been identified (as per clause 4)
  • A strategy for environmental aspects (i.e. how to control these where possible, associated environmental impacts from activities and product (refer to a life cycle perspective))
  • A plan for how the organisation will meet and continue to meet any compliance obligations
  • The setting of objectives (using the information established from the above steps) and a plan as to how these will be achieved via the EMS.

This is the largest section within this standard.

In broad terms it covers the organisations resources (whether these be human, documentation or information) and associated requirements, including but not limited to:

  • Competence – what competency is needed for the various tasks, competency assessment, training and awareness in regards to the EMS
  • Communication – when, what, who, how (internal and external)
  • Documented Information – creation of, control of, updating of documentation as required by the standard and the organisation (Documentation may vary depending on a number of factors such as the size of the organisation, complexity of products and/or services, compliance obligations etc.)

Now the organisation needs to implement and maintain the processes necessary to meet the needs of the EMS, as well as the plans that were put in place back in clause 6.

Controls need to be established for the organisation’s operations (these should again be in line with a life cycle perspective) these are to be communicated appropriately and sufficient documentation available to show that the all of the above has been done in accordance with the organisations plans.

Additionally, within this section there must be processes created and implemented for how emergency situations will be dealt with (actions taken – proactive and reactive, testing of and training for emergency preparedness)


How will the EMS processes be monitored, measured, analysed and evaluated?

Determine the methodology and criteria to be used, analyse and evaluate the results/findings, communicate these as appropriate and document all workings as evidence. Then do much the same but this time with the organisation’s compliance obligations.

Clause 9 also deals with Internal Audits and Internal Audit Programmes.

Audits must be conducted at frequencies set by the organisation, and the need to determine that the system complies with not only the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard, but also any other requirements that the organisation has identified and now form part of the EMS.

As part of the internal audit programme each audit will have a clear scope and criteria, appropriate (as per the standard) auditors will be chosen and audit findings will be reported to management.

The last part of this clause is Management Reviews.

These are to be undertaken within a predefined time frame by Top Management, whereby they review the EMS to confirm that it is still suitable, adequate and effective.

Consideration will also need to be given to any non-conformances, the results of any monitoring, continuous improvement opportunities etc.


Improvement, improvement, improvement – it’s reiterated throughout the standard and forms an integral part in the creation and development on any EMS.

The organisation needs to identify any opportunities for improvement and put in place any actions necessary to achieve what has been defined by the EMS.

When a nonconformity arises or a corrective action is raised then this needs to be acted on and corrected and/or any negative impacts on the environment dealt with. As with any good system, once the issue is in hand it’s important to review how and why it occurred and ensure that it cannot happen again. This may result in the EMS requiring updates which is all part of the ever-evolving management system, that is not static but instead reactive and proactive to the organisations environmental impacts


Note: It’s really important that you consult the standard, there are specific attributes required for these clauses such as documented information and minimum standards for an environmental policy, objectives, management reviews, audit programmes etc. The standard also includes Annex A which follows in the same order as the clauses, and gives more detailed guidance that can make implementing this standard a lot easier. It doesn’t tell you how to directly achieve the requirements, but it does provide some context with regards to interpreting the standard.


Learn More: