ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

For many manufacturing facilities, such as the automotive industry, it may be a requirement that you have your facility certified to the ISO 14001:2015 standard.  The standard itself is not a very daunting read; approximately 44 pages including all standards, guidance, and references.  The standard provides the very basic framework that your EMS must be built around.


The standard is divided into ten sections with the “meat” being sections 4 through 10.  These sections are:

  1. Context of the Organization;
  2. Leadership;
  3. Planning;
  4. Support;
  5. Operation;
  6. Performance Evaluation; and
  7. Improvement.

In general, the standard is built around the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” model (PDCA).  This provides an iterative process to achieve continuous improvement, which is the ultimate goal of the system.

The real work begins once you decide to move forward with designing and implementing an ISO 14001 EMS with the goal of becoming certified.  There are five basic steps PPM follows to assist facilities in obtaining this goal.

  • Develop an EMS Manual

There is nothing in the standard that requires you to develop a manual for your EMS.  However, this provides concise documentation to demonstrate how your facility complies with the standard.  This is particularly helpful during the “registration audit” which is required to be conducted by a third party registrar to obtain your facilities certification once your program has been created.  Your EMS manual should contain all necessary documentation to show the registrars that each component of the ISO program has been addressed or considered.

Your manual will also include a table outlining the facilities “Environmental Aspects”.  From this table you will determine your Significant Aspects, Risks and Opportunities, and your Environmental Objectives.  In layman terms, this table defines, summarizes, and prioritizes the environmental goals of the facility.


  • Provide Training

All employees are required to receive general awareness training with respect to the EMS.  It is important that everyone understands the basic concepts of ISO 14001, the Environmental Aspects, and how they can contribute to the success of the program.

In addition to the general awareness training, you will have to form an internal audit team that will be required to receive advanced training.


  • Compliance Audit

ISO 14001 extends well beyond the boundaries of just federal/state/local environmental compliance regulations, however, this will be the starting point for receiving your certification.  If during the registration audit you are found to be improperly permitted, out of compliance, improper records, etc. you will most likely fail the registration audit.  It is important to have a thorough review of all compliance media.


  • Internal Audit of the EMS

Once the EMS is implemented and training has been provided, a facility is required to perform an initial internal audit.  This audit should be thorough enough that your team identifies any weakness in the EMS that could lead to a major non-conformance (NC).  A major NC is described as a total breakdown of an ISO element (such as operating an unpermitted / improperly permitted source).  As long as you identify, document, and have a plan in place (with a target date) to correct the non-conformance, your registrar should not hold up your certificate.

The internal audit is also a good time to identify opportunities for improvement (OFI’s) and minor NC’s.  An OFI is found when you are not out of compliance with an element, but you discover an area where you can improve.  A minor NC is when you have addressed an element of ISO 14001, but you have failed to address all considerations.  For example, when determining the environmental aspects related to a baghouse, a facility may identify the electrical usage and emissions to the atmosphere but forget to include the waste dust that drops out.


  • Registration Audit

Once your facility has an EMS, employees are trained, and audits have taken place you are then ready to call a third party registrar to perform your registration audit.  Once you receive your certificate it is good for three years before you have to recertify.


You should expect no less than a three months timespan to implement a new EMS.  The standard requires a minimum of 30 days “run-time” of the system before the registration audit can occur.  This implies your manual is complete and all employees have been trained.

PPM has the experience necessary to audit a mature EMS, update an existing EMS, or implement a new EMS.  We will make sure you have all of the tools necessary to maintain your EMS and provide on-going support if needed.  We can help you through all stages of certification including leading an audit team and provide support during the registration audit.  If you have any questions, or would like to discuss ISO 14001 for your facility, please reach out to Paul Hansen via email or by phone 205-836-5650.


Contributed by:

Paul Hansen

Project Manager, Birmingham, AL Office

(205) 836-5650