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What is an EMS or ISO 14001 system?

ISO 14001 Man Holding Grass Covered CableMany people immediately think of toxic waste and major pollution sites when they hear of an Environmental Management System (EMS) or ISO 14001. While these items would fall under an EMS, the actual scope is much broader and will affect almost everyone who works within a company with an EMS that meets the ISO 14001 requirements.

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 was released in 1996 with the intent that companies manage all of the activities, products and services that can significantly impact the environment. The Standard has three basic objectives of continuous improvement, regulatory compliance and pollution prevention. The standard is broken into 5 main sections: Environmental Policy, Planning, Implementation & Operation, Checking and Corrective Action, and Management Review. To implement an ISO 14001 conforming EMS a company will have to write and implement approximately 6 new procedures and modify approximately 9 existing procedures (Assuming the company is currently ISO 9000 or QS-9000 compliant)

First the company must identify all of the aspects of their activities, products and services that impact the environment. Once this is done the team needs to determine which impacts are actually significant. The team must then manage all of these impacts and therefore the activities that cause them. This means writing new or adding to current work instructions. Next the team must determine which of these significant impacts they want to work to improve. For these they will set overall objectives and targets.

Once the objectives and targets are determined and approved by top management, environmental management programs need to be established to achieve the goals. These terms might sound complicated and daunting, however, a good project management process works just fine. Short, Monthly and quarterly meetings need to be held to track progress and report on results.

This is a formal management program so, similar to ISO 9000 & QS-9000, documents and records must be controlled, Training must be conducted and recorded, Responsibilities must be defined, and Checking and corrective actions must occur.

What does ISO 14001 mean to me?

If the ISO 14001 EMS is properly implemented, the team involved will become a resource center instead of a cost center. They will work on projects that will save the company money at the same time as reducing the company’s impact on the environment.

Some example projects that companies have worked on through this system include. Reducing Compressed air costs, Reduced lighting costs, Reduced heating costs. These projects also reduce the consumption of natural resourses, which the companies negative impact on the environment.

Additional project include adding recycling programs, reducing waste to landfills, and better process control techniques & equipment that reduces scrap and rework.

The most important item to remember regarding an ISO 14001 EMS program is that the company ultimately decides which projects it wants to work on, implement, and invest in. This is a very important point with the current workload most people are under in the typical company.

How should I implement ISO 14001?

  • Determine the team that will work on the implementation project
  • Integrate into current systems (ISO 9000 & QS-9000) where possible
  • Implement in the following order
    1. Identify Aspects & Impacts
    2. Identify Legal and Other requirements
    3. Write Procedure and Policy Manuals
    4. Determine significance
    5. Determine Objectives and Targets
    6. Manage Significant Aspects
    7. Create Environmental Management Programs
    8. Monitor and measure significant Aspects and Objective & Targets
I would also recommend choosing projects based on both adding value / reducing costs and Legal & regulatory items. This will assist in saving the company money and give a baseline to request investment budget for larger future projects.


There are several attributes that make ISO 14001 very effective. The main issue being that it is a true Management System. It requires companies to set Objectives based on the overall policy that they set. They must then set Targets underneath these objectives and create a project plan to meet these targets and goals.

It requires regular reviews (Short meetings) to track progress and modifies process based on changing circumstances. We all are aware that ongoing emphasis is the best way to accomplish larger projects.

The above items are all in the context of a management system similar to ISO 9000 & QS-9000 and the Training, document and Document & Record control requirements needed to effectively implement this in a small to large company.

There are many case studies of companies who have implemented an ISO 14001 EMS system and achieved paybacks, which were many times the implementation costs. Another way to determine the potential benefits is to look at the energy experts who find that most companies can save between 20-40% of their energy costs with some investment. This number is very large especially when you remember that waste & rework savings are not included.

As a team member implementing this program you will learn a lot about the operations of the organization and in the process become more valuable and better prepared to assist in new opportunities and projects. This is also a great training ground for future managers especially since the fundamentals used in this program are true management basics.
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We review your requirements, then give you a menu of options to meet your budget and schedule.  MSG helps you determine:
  • Goals and objectives
  • Which certifications or standards are applicable
  • What individuals should be involved to tailor your training
  • A time schedule
  • Resources necessary to ensure a successful program launch

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