Earlier I blogged about how connecting and leveraging the Environmental Management System (EMS) framework can promote broader sustainability objectives. Since then, the third Working Group draft of ISO 14001:2015 was issued to the more than 130 National Committees representing each ISO member country.

This process will be repeated several times as we move toward new text, tone and content for the standard affecting more than 250,000 organizations worldwide. A public draft is expected by the end of this year, with a final draft in mid-2014 and a final standard published in 2015.

While the specifics will continue to take shape through this process, it is clear that we can expect revisions impacting structure as well as content, both of which will elevate the EMS as a core component of an integrated systems approach to sustainability.

Structural changes will follow the new ISO Guide 83 – which is intended to provide a single high-level structure and common text that will apply to all ISO management system standards. The look and feel of ISO 14001 will therefore be different, but the common format, structure and core requirements will promote a true management system approach with alignment and integration with other standards such as ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 50001 (energy). This will enable better integration into an organization’s overall strategy, rather than management of a series of “bolt on” systems.

While the focus of the revised EMS standard will remain on the continual improvement of environmental performance, content changes at this stage of the draft expand the EMS role through a couple of key concepts:

Organizational Context

By considering the context of the organization, the EMS purview will expand to include evaluation and understanding of both the external and internal context of the organization vis-à-vis the environment.   This means that organizations will not only consider the impact of their activities on the environment, but also the impact of the environment on their activities (e.g., including anticipated impacts from climate change, raw material scarcities, energy management, etc.).  Organizations will also need to consider the needs and expectations of interested parties, including their supply chain and end users (i.e., stakeholder engagement).

Leadership

The new emphasis on leadership is intended to ensure that environmental management is embedded at the strategic level with a clearer link to management of the overall business. Top management must ensure that objectives and targets are consistent with the organization’s strategic direction and that the EMS requirements are incorporated into business processes.

There are also proposed changes associated with the environmental policy requiring enhanced leadership commitment, including expanding the pollution prevention commitment to also include sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and protection of the environment, biodiversity and restoration of natural habitat.

Performance

Proposed changes address the value chain perspective more clearly through the identification and evaluation of environmental aspects related to the design and procurement process. The emphasis on supply chain and stakeholder engagement will provide expanded opportunities for reducing environmental impacts from the organization’s broader footprint. Additionally the expectation for performance indicators for all targets and objectives and a heavier emphasis on understanding compliance status will shift the standard’s focus to outcomes rather than the current process orientation.

Communication/Transparency

Expanded expectations for transparency, in line with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and ISO 26000, include the requirement to develop a communication strategy procedure for external reporting of environmental performance.

The draft revisions will continue to evolve as the Working Group moves toward a true “consensus standard” which, once finalized in 2015, is expected to be in place until 2025. The Quality Management System Standard (ISO 9001) is also undergoing revision with final publication slated for end of 2015; and there is again movement afoot to publish a new management system standard for occupational health and safety within the ISO framework (rather than the current OHSAS and ANSI standards).

Thinking ahead now and strategically aligning key management systems standards will help organizations to capitalize on efficiencies and the market advantage of “first out of the gate” but most importantly, to further embed sustainability into their business systems and culture.

The following post is provided by our guest author, Graham Crockford from TRC Environmental Corporation.