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ISO 14001 History

ISO 14001 is in fact a series of international standards on environmental management. It provides a framework for the development of an environmental management system and the supporting audit programme.

The ISO 14001 series emerged primarily as a result of the Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations and the Rio Summit on the Environment held in 1992. While GATT concentrates on the need to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade, the Rio Summit generated a commitment to protection of the environment across the world.

After the rapid acceptance of ISO 9000 and the increase of environmental standards around the world, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) assessed the need for international environmental management standards. They formed the Strategic Advisory Group on the Environment (SAGE) in 1991, to consider whether such standards could serve to:

  • Promote a common approach to environmental management similar to quality management;
  • Enhance organisations' ability to attain and measure improvements in environmental performance; and
  • Facilitate trade and remove trade barriers.

In 1992, SAGE's recommendations created a new committee, TC 207, for international environmental management standards. This committee and its sub-committees included representatives from industry, standards organisations, government and environmental organisations from many countries. What developed was a series of ISO 14000 standards designed to cover:

  1. Environmental management systems
  2. Environmental auditing
  3. Environmental performance evaluation
  4. Environmental labelling
  5. Life-cycle assessment
  6. Environmental aspects in product standards

ISO 14001 was first published as a standard in 1996 and it specifies the actual requirements for an environmental management system. It applies to those environmental aspects over which an organisation has control and where it can be expected to have an influence.

ISO 14001 is often seen as the cornerstone standard of the ISO 14000 series. It specifies a framework of control for an Environmental Management System (EMS) and is the only ISO 14000 standard against which it is currently possible to be certified by an external certification body. However, it does not in itself state specific environmental performance criteria.

This standard is applicable to any organisation that wishes to:

  1. Implement, maintain and improve an EMS
  2. Assure itself of its conformance with its own stated environmental policy
  3. Demonstrate conformance
  4. Ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations
  5. Seek certification of its EMS by an authorised external certification body
  6. Make a self-determination of conformance

Other standards in the series are actually guidelines, many to help an organisation achieve registration to ISO 14001. These include the following:

  • ISO 14004 provides guidance on development and implementation of an EMS
  • ISO 14010 provides general principles of environmental auditing (now superseded by ISO 19011)
  • ISO 14011 provides specific guidance on auditing an environmental management system (also superseded)
  • ISO 14012 provides guidance on qualification criteria for auditors and lead auditors (also superseded)
  • ISO 14013/5 provides an audit program review and assessment material.
  • ISO 14020+ covers labelling issues
  • ISO 14030+ provides guidance on performance targets & monitoring within an EMS
  • ISO 14040+ covers life cycle issues


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