All about ISO 14001 certification

Last updated 2015.

Certification of an environmental management system to the ISO 14001 standard is optional for organisations. Benefits from certification include recognition, and improvement to the system and environmental performance.

Organisations must be available for the audits, be prepared to spend up to AU$2,000 per day for the external Auditors, and have the time to action non-conformances.

Before ISO 14001 certification

An ISO 14001 environmental management system will need to be fully developed and implemented prior to an ISO 14001 certification audit. For an EMS to be implemented the organisation will need to demonstrate a variety of completed actions including:

  • The development and communication of an environmental policy;
  • Environmental aspects need to be reviewed;
  • Legal requirements need to be assessed and compliance monitored;
  • Objectives and targets need to be set and the programs in which to achieve them developed;
  • Training needs should be identified and a strategy for achieving them implemented;
  • An internal audit completed; and
  • A management review of the EMS and their organisation's environmental performance.

During the implementation phase organisations should seek the services of an Accredited Certification Body which will conduct annual audits and arrange ISO 14001 certification on behalf of the organisation. ISO certification and surveillance audits can be completed with other certified management systems such as ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.

Sourcing an Accredited Certification Body in Australia

To find your local Accredited Certification Bodies refer to the JAS-ANZ website. When identifying or reassessing your Accredited Certification Body consideration could be given to their cost for audit time and their expenses, number of audit days to complete audits, their certification logo which can be used to advertise your certification (as these differ between Accredited Certification Bodies), their location(s), their Auditor's experience and their ability to value add.

Unfortunately, not all Accredited Certification Bodies are equal and some more than others value add to the benefit of the organisations they certify. For more information refer to to the article How to up the EMS ante.

Additionally, it has been increasingly common for companies to be fooled by bogus Accredited Certification Bodies which issue them with meaningless certification. So please always do your research by reviewing the JAS-ANZ website (or equivalent in your country) prior to engagement.

The Client Manager from the Accredited Certification Body should monitor the implementation progress. They should manage the application and set dates for ISO 14001 certification audits. The initial registration involves a two stage process of a document review and a site visit.

Beware of the pre-assessment audit

A pre-assessment audit may be recommended by the Accredited Certification Body prior to the certification (registration) audit to identify any gaps, however, this is not a requirement of certification. From experience, areas for improvement identified by the Auditors can be unclear and they'll only tell you what is wrong but not how to fix it. This additional audit can also be costly and unfortunately may not value add.

Organisations unsure whether they are ready for certification could consider going to an experienced and independent Environmental Auditor. They'll be able to provide advice and solutions (which Accredited Certification Bodies cannot do), and usually they are significantly less expensive than an Auditor from an Accredited Certification Body.

Organisations can also gain credit for this audit as part of their internal auditing program (element 9.2) when undertaken by an independent Environmental Auditor but not when undertaken by the Accredited Certification Body.

The certification audit

The Accredited Certification Body will assess the system to both the requirements of ISO 14001 and the organisation’s environmental policy. Where successful the Accredited Certification Body will issue a certificate of registration.

Organisations not yet achieving the requirements of standard will have the opportunity to meet these requirements. Typically further review or audits will be arranged by the Certification Body.

ISO 14001 certificates are valid for three years.

The surveillance audits

Ongoing annual ISO 14001 surveillance audits may focus on specific elements of the ISO 14001 EMS. Where an organisation has multiple sites that are certified, a sample of these sites may be selected for surveillance audits. ISO 14001 certification audits occur every three years and are more comprehensive than ISO 14001 surveillance audits.

Whereby an organisation is underachieving or the organisation is very large, surveillance audits can occur more frequently. When organisations are concerned over the frequency of their audits they should discuss their concerns with their Certification Body.

An alternative to certification

ISO 14001 certification is a voluntary scheme however there is increasing pressure by customers for their suppliers to be ISO 14001 certified. As an alternative to ISO 14001 certification organisations could consider developing and implementing an ISO 14001 EMS but only having it internally audited or audited externally by an independent and experienced Environmental Auditor. This may reduce the financial burden where ISO 14001 certification isn't specifically required but whereby organisations still require a robust ISO 14001 environmental management system.

ISO 14001 certification