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The ISO 14001 standard was revised in 2015 to make several major improvements. So, what is ISO 14001 and what implications do the revision have for your organisation? This article is the first in a series of four designated to help you understand the ISO 14001 revision and how to develop an environmental management system (EMS) that meets the requirements.

Why context matters

Implementing an EMS is a strategic decision influenced by the context of the organisation. The Context of the Organisation clause of ISO 14001 requires organisations to consider both the internal and external issues that can impact on their strategic objectives and how they plan their QMS.

Your organisation should focus particularly on factors and conditions that can affect your products, services, investments and interested parties. Context becomes an important consideration and helps to ensure that your QMS is designed and adapted for your organisation rather than taking a 'one size fits all' approach.

Determining your context

While there is no prescribed method of determining the context of your organisation in relation to ISO/DIS 9001, you should take this simple and pragmatic five-step approach:

  1. Identify the internal issues that can affect your organisation's products, services, investments and interested parties
  2. Establish any external issues that might impact these areas
  3. Identify who are the interested parties and what their requirements are
  4. Define the scope of your EMS
  5. Establish and maintain your EMS

Step 1: Identifying internal issues

Your organisation's internal context is the environment in which you aim to achieve your objectives. Internal context can include your approach to governance, your contractual relationships with customers, and your interested parties.

Internal issues can include your:

  • regulatory requirements
  • strategies to conform to your policies and achieve your objectives
  • relationship with your staff and stakeholders, including partners and suppliers
  • resources and knowledge (e.g. capital, people, processes and technologies)
  • risk appetite
  • assets
  • product or service
  • standards, guidelines and models adopted by the organisation
  • information systems

Step 2: Identifying external issues

To understand your external context, consider issues that arise from your social, technological, environmental, ethical, political, legal and economic environment.

External issues may include:

  • government regulations and changes in the law
  • economic shifts in your market
  • your competition
  • events that may affect your corporate image
  • changes in technology

Step 3: Identifying interested parties

Your interested parties include customers, partners, employees and suppliers. When developing your EMS, you only need to consider interested parties that can affect your:

    • ability to consistently provide a product or service that meets your customers' needs and any statutory requirements and regulations
    • continual improvement process
    • ability to enhance customer satisfaction through effectively applying your system
    • your process for ensuring you conform to your customers' requirements and any statutes or regulations that apply

Step 4: Defining the scope of your EMS

You must define the scope of your EMS so your compliance obligations are within reasonable operational boundaries. You should also consider your own corporate context, the expectations of your interested parties, and the most significant processes that your EMS applies to.

Once defined, you will need to document the scope, and include all products, services and activities with significant environmental aspects.

Step 5: Establishing and maintaining your EMS

You must regularly review and monitor those internal or external issues you have identified. Once you understand your internal context, you can carry out a 'PEST' (political, economic, social and technological) analysis, for example. By doing this, you can determine which factors will affect how you operate.

While you have no control over external issues, you can adapt to them. PEST factors can be classified as 'risks' and 'opportunities' in a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis or other alternative methods.

How Q-Pulse can help

Q-Pulse’s risk manager module is an effective solution that quickly and efficiently allows you to manage all of your risk, including environmental risk.

The incorporated Risk Assessment feature draws upon data from incidents, audits and reviews to offer both a qualitative and quantative assessment of your operations, supported by clearly defined criteria. Risks are immediately scored and compared based on an agreed formula to allow you to understand your own internal and external risk and manage your EMS effectively.

Once you've undertaken your initial assessment, Q-Pulse allows you to manage any type of audit or inspection activity. It creates and stores checklists of questions for ongoing use and analysis, so you can maintain a thorough understanding of their context over time.

When unanticipated events occur, it then assists to identify those that are likely to happen again so you can eliminate any system-related problems. It automatically generates dashboards and reporting to identify trends and provide instantly available statistics that improve your decision-making and support you in implementing change. In this way, you can effectively incorporate considerations relating to the internal and external issues you've identified.

What you should do now

Build on your knowledge of ‘what is ISO 14001,  by seeing how Q-Pulse assisted JAE Oregon maintain certification to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

Written by

Alexander Pavlović

Alex produces targeted content to help Ideagen’s readers and customers navigate the complex world of quality, governance, risk and compliance.

Alex has worked with brands such as BT, Sodexo and Unilever and is passionate about helping businesses build a cohesive, collaborative culture of quality.