ISO 14001

What Is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 is a set of standards put forward by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Its purpose is to clarify the best practices for organizations that wish to reduce their environmental footprint by adopting an effective environmental management system (EMS).

EMS systems are designed to monitor and report upon the environmental sustainability of a firm, for both internal and external stakeholders. They are used by firms both for compliance purposes—allowing them to avoid fines or public relations (PR) scandals—and to increase business efficiency, such as by reducing waste through the manufacturing or distribution cycle.

Key Takeaways

  • ISO 14001 is a set of standards designed to help organizations increase their environmental sustainability.
  • It is put forward by ISO, a leading international standard-setting organization.
  • Since its introduction in 1996, ISO 14001 has been adopted by over 300,000 organizations, ranging from small businesses to some of the world’s largest firms.

How ISO 14001 Works

ISO 14001 is just one of the over 23,000 standards that have been put forward by the ISO since its formation in 1947. They are part of a family of standards designed for organizations that wish to decrease pollution and waste by introducing an environmental management system. As with all ISO standards, the ISO 14001 is not a specific set of instructions to be narrowly executed by the participating firm. Rather, it is a set of guidelines and standards that must be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the organization in question.

Of course, not all applications of ISO 14001 are equally robust. In order to maintain the integrity of the standards, companies can obtain certification by third-party organizations that will assess their specific implementation of the ISO 14001 standards and determine whether that application meets the international best practices set out in the standard. Companies that obtain certification in this manner will often display this fact as a way to substantiate and advertise their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Real World Example of ISO 14001

Originally launched in September 1996, ISO 14001 has since been adopted by over 300,000 organizations worldwide. The core concept of ISO 14001 is that organizations must develop a clear set of environmental policies, use a set of best practices to proactively monitor whether those policies are being adhered to, and continuously improve the system based on ongoing feedback and results.

By design, the standards are intended to be flexible and applicable to organizations ranging from small businesses to multinational corporations. By way of example, the famous Hilton hotel chain gained certification in ISO 14001 and was featured by ISO for the impressive environmental improvements that it achieved through this process. According to the company’s spokesman, the company achieved over $1 billion in energy savings between 2008 and 2018, due to changes implemented as part of the ISO 14001 process.

In addition to cost savings, there are many other reasons why companies might wish to adopt the ISO 14001 standards. These include benefits to their brand awareness, reduced risk of transgressing environmental regulations, improvements to employee relations and morale, and increased operational efficiencies, among others.

Article Sources

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  1. International Organization for Standardization. "ISO 14000 Family Environmental Management." Accessed Feb. 6, 2021.

  2. Better Buildings, U.S. Department of Energy. "Hilton." Accessed Mar. 8, 2021.