ISO 14001 certification is on the rise, growing 12 percent in 2020 according to the most recent ISO Survey. Last updated in 2015, ISO 14001 for Environmental Management Systems provides a systematic yet open-ended approach to preventing and mitigating a company’s impact on the environment.
ISO 14001 is organized around the Plan-Do-Check-Act process and uses it as a flexible framework for helping organizations pursue their sustainability goals. But while the standard lays out the requirements that must be met for certification, it does not specify how companies must do it. ISO 14001 software can help bridge the gap, providing a centralized, automated system for managing compliance obligations.
In this article, we look at essential ISO 14001 software tools to ensure compliance, as well as specific functions that can help streamline certification and ensure audit readiness.
Clauses 4 (Context of the Organization), 5 (Leadership), and 6 (Planning) of ISO 14001 focus on preliminary steps to establishing an environmental management system. For these clauses, there are two key ISO 14001 software tools that should be considered.
The first is compliance and regulatory tracking tools. Compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements related to the organization’s environmental aspects is a foundational requirement of ISO 14001 certification (Clause 6.1.2). Environmental aspects are defined in the standard as an “element of an organization’s activities or products or services that interacts or can interact with the environment.”
In the context of ISO 14001 software, companies should look for:
A regulatory library that provides plain-language explanations of requirements and automatic notifications of upcoming changes to the Federal Register
Applicability analysis tools to clarify which requirements your organization must meet
Facility-specific compliance profiles that make it easy to identify and track each site’s compliance obligations
The ability to link compliance tasks to individual regulatory requirements to ensure each one is controlled
Compliance calendars to help teams see what’s coming up and what’s due
In addition, companies need a repository for centralizing and tracking important documents required for ISO 14001 compliance, including:
Scope statement for the environmental management system (Clause 4.3)
The organization’s environmental policy (Clause 5.2)
Environmental aspects (Clause 6.1.2) and objectives (Clause 6.2.1)
Process documents (Clause 6.1.1)
Emergency response plan (Clause 6.1.1)
Action plans (Clause 6.1.4)
Clauses 7 and 8 of ISO 14001 focus on Support and Operation, respectively. Here, several ISO 14001 software tools come into play:
Employee training tracking and management to ensure compliance with competence (Clause 7.2) and awareness (Clause 7.3) requirements
Compliance tracking tools that allow users to document process controls (Clause 8.1) and link them back to individual requirements
Companies also need to ensure their environmental, health and safety (EHS) software includes capabilities for centralizing documented information required for compliance with:
Clause 7.5 (Documented information)
Clause 8.1 (Operational planning and control)
Clause 8.2 (Emergency preparedness and response)
It’s important to note here that Clause 7.5 on Documented information includes requirements for controlling documentation. With that in mind, your EHS software should provide protected access to records via the organization’s hierarchy and role-based permissions. For example, you should be able to give an environmental specialist access to a site permit folder for a specific facility, and that person will only be able to see the documents in that folder.
Clause 9 of ISO 14001 centers on performance evaluation, aligning with the Check step of the Plan-Do-Check-Act process. Within the context of ISO 14001 software tools, companies will want to look for two specific capabilities.
First, metrics and reporting are key to compliance with Clause 9.1. This clause requires organizations to monitor, measure, analyze, and evaluate performance relative to their environmental aspects and objectives. A robust EHS software solution will streamline reporting by allowing companies to:
Set environmental objectives, measure progress, and track other KPIs
Create emissions inventories based on emissions factors from sources such as the GHG Protocol and U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA)
Roll up or drill down into data to identify trends and continuous improvement opportunities
Communicate results across the organization, including for management review (Clause 9.3)
Compile environmental performance data and charts to simplify sustainability reporting
Clause 9.2 establishes requirements for internal audit programs, making audit management another essential tool for compliance with this clause. EHS software makes it simple to retain and manage documentation of internal audits, but companies should be sure the software includes specific functionality such as:
Plain-language questions that help sites determine applicability of individual requirements
The ability to add custom checklist questions based on previous ISO 14001 external audit findings or known issues
Site-specific profiles based on applicability of individual ISO requirements
A mechanism to flag issues for review and priority action
The final clause in ISO 14001 deals with continuous improvement, which is woven throughout many ISO standards. This section of the standard outlines requirements for addressing nonconformity with corrective action, highlighting the need for robust action tracking within the EHS management system.
ISO 14001 software capabilities to evaluate here are:
Completion tracking via scorecards and compliance calendars that show you when action items are incomplete or overdue
Linking of action items back to individual compliance requirements and audit findings
Email notifications and documentation of changes to ensure accountability and create a complete record of compliance
Organizations using spreadsheets to track ISO 14001 compliance will likely find the process burdensome compared with EHS software—all while increasing the likelihood of external audit findings and environmental incidents.
Dakota Software’s ProActivity suite provides a full range of tools to support ISO 14001 certification and minimize compliance issues. The platform incorporates several key capabilities that tie directly into ISO 14001 requirements:
Profiler: The Profiler module allows you to centralize ISO 14001 compliance plans, monitor compliance requirements and changes to regulations, and easily determine applicability.
Tracer: ProActivity’s Tracer module helps manage action items and compliance calendars to improve accountability and prevent compliance gaps.
Auditor: The Auditor module makes it simple to evaluate compliance with standard requirements, including linking audit findings to action items.
Metrics: Dakota Metrics allows you to establish and monitor progress towards environmental objectives and KPIs, as well as communicate the results of your sustainability efforts.
ISO 14001’s flexible framework gives companies a lot of leeway in terms of how they design their environmental management systems. Organizations should look for software tools that align with the Plan-Do-Check-Act process to make compliance simpler while helping achieve the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.