ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use is an international standard for the development of an effective environmental management system (EMS). It was first published by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) in Geneva in September of 1996.

ISO 14001:2004 is a management tool, intended to enable an organisation of any size or type to:

  • Identify and control the significant environmental aspects of its activities, products or services;
  • Identify and compliance with legal and other applicable requirements
  • Improve its environmental performance continually;
  • Implement a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets;
  • Achieve these objectives and targets and demonstrate that they have been achieved.

The ISO 14001:2004 standard is a management standard that does not specify levels of environmental performance. The intention of ISO 14001:2004 is to provide a framework for an integrated approach to an organisation’s environmental policy, plans, and actions that can be implemented by a wide variety of organisations, whatever their current level of environmental maturity. Only a commitment to compliance with applicable environmental legislation and regulations is required, along with a commitment to continual improvement – for which the EMS provides the framework.

Though the ISO 14001:2004 standard does not specify specific levels of environmental performance, it does give assurance to external parties (customers, the community and regulatory agencies) that the company is in control of the organisational processes and activities as well as significant aspects related to its products and services having an (potential) impact on the environment. It also is a tool to assure employees that they are working for an environmentally responsible organisation.


The ISO is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (ISO member bodies). The work of preparing International Standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. Each member body interested in a subject for which a technical committee has been established has the right to be represented on that committee. International organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, in liaison with ISO, also take part in the work. ISO collaborates closely with the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) on all matters of electro-technical standardisation.


ISO 14001:2004 can be applied across an entire corporation, to selected business units or divisions, even to specific facilities within a business unit. ISO 14001:2004 also can be implemented for a single production process regardless of the number of facilities involved or a business function that cuts across several divisions.

Market Acceptance

According to the ISO Survey of Certifications in 2010, there are nearly 1.5 million ISO certificate users in 178 countries around the world.

The segment acceptances for ISO 14000 include almost all industry sectors, from agriculture, textile and textiles products, paper products, chemicals, water supplies, recycling services, education, health and social work and others.

There are many companies certified by ISO 14001:2004. Websites such as provide a list of companies in the United States.

As of the end of December 2010, at least 250,972 ISO 14001:2004 certificates had been issued in 159 countries and economies.


The ISO 14001:2004 standard obligates a company to commit itself to prevention of pollution and to systematic evaluation of its environmental aspects and related impacts.  Companies must be in control of their significant environmental aspects. This enables target setting, as well as monitoring and periodic reviewing of the data. An environmental management system may thus be a first step towards reduction of energy and water use, harmful emissions, and waste streams, and a more economic use of primary materials.

While ISO 14001:2004 does not establish absolute requirements for environmental performance beyond the organisation’s own commitments in the environmental policy, it does require compliance with applicable legal requirements and with other requirements to which the organisation subscribes, as well as a commitment to prevention of pollution and to continual improvement.

In order for an organisation to achieve environmental objectives, the environmental management system encourages the organisation to consider the implementation of the Best Available Techniques, where appropriate and where economically viable, and fully take into account the cost-effectiveness of such techniques.

The ISO 14001:2004 does not include requirements for quality, occupational health and safety, financial management, or risk management.

ISO 14001:2004 does not stipulate specific environmental aspects and related impacts that should be considered by an organisation when establishing an EMS. However, in annex A.3.1 a generic list is given of the most common environmental aspects.

Water Emissions

With ISO 14001:2004, a company has to collect information on the most important waste streams, which, for a textile factory, is likely to include waste water. The company also has to set targets for its significant emissions, implement operational procedures and review these periodically.

Chemicals (Accepted/Restricted)

For ISO 14001:2004, prohibition of dangerous chemicals depends on the regulations established in local and national law, as ISO only requires that a company abides to all local and national applicable legislation. A certified organisation must therefore identify which legal requirements are applicable to its environmental aspects and what the legislative requirements are for its administration. For example, this means that in European countries, an ISO 14001:2004 certified company has to comply with EU law.

Chemical Management

ISO 14001:2004 does not include specific requirements related to handling and use of chemical substances. In many cases, an organisation will identify the risk of emissions, leakages and accidents related to the use of chemical substances as significant environmental aspects. This will results in implementation of procedures related to e.g. the safe storage and handling of chemicals, and emergency preparedness.

Consumer Safety

This is not covered specifically, however ISO 14001:2004 requires that an organisation not only identifies the environmental aspects that it can control, but also those that it can influence. Examples of environmental aspects that can be influenced include aspects of products during the use phase, such as energy use and any emissions.

Occupational Health and Safety

ISO 14001:2004 does not cover requirements for occupational health and safety.

ISO 14001:2004 does require companies to identify potential emergency situations and potential accidents that can have an impact on the environment and how it will respond to this. Any procedures to respond to emergencies and mitigate adverse environmental impacts shall be tested periodically.

Management System

Of all standards, ISO 14001:2004 has the most elaborate requirements on an environmental management system, since this is the focus of the standard. ISO 14001:2004 requires the development of a management system through several steps, for example:

  • Baseline assessment of current corporate environmental practice,
  • Selection of the largest environmental risks,
  • Identification of legal and other applicable requirements,
  • Establishment of environmental solutions to address the risks and comply with applicable (legal) requirements,
  • Creation of an environmental policy, objectives, targets, and a management programme (while taking into account the views of interested parties),
  • Development of a manual and procedures as the basis of the management system.The manual normally includes a series of chapters (e.g. for environmental audits, environmental procedures and management measures, registration of environmental complaints, communication, training to staff, etc.),
  • Implementation,
  • Internal auditing, monitoring and evaluation,
  • Management review (taking into account internal and external information of the functioning of the EMS and information on changing (external) circumstamnces).

ISO 14001:2004 thus describes all the necessary elements of an environmental management system, with the objective to start a cycle that guarantees continuous improvement based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) procedure. The PDCA has been expanded to include 17 elements, grouped into five phases: Environmental Policy, Planning, Implementation & Operation, Checking & Corrective Action and lastly Management Review.

PDCA can be briefly described as follows:

Plan – Establish the Objectives and Processes
Prior to implementing ISO 14001:2004, an initial review or gap analysis of the organisation’s processes and products is recommended to assist in identifying all elements of the current operation and, if possible, future operations, that may interact with the environment. These are termed “environmental aspects”. Environmental aspects can be direct, such as those used during manufacturing, and indirect, such as those related to winning and distribution of raw materials. Part of the initial review is also the identification of legal and other requirements that the organisation subscribes to. This review assists the organisation in establishing their environmental objectives, goals and targets, which should be measurable whenever practicable; helps with the development of control and management procedures and processes, and serves to highlight any relevant legal requirements, which can then be built into the policy.

Do – Implement the Processes
During this stage the organisation identifies the resources required and identifies those members of the organisation responsible for the EMS’ implementation and control. This includes documentation of all relevant procedures and processes; including operational and documentation control, the establishment of emergency procedures and responses, and the education of employees, to ensure they can competently implement the necessary processes and record results. Communication and participation across all levels of the organisation, especially top management, is a vital part of the implementation phase, with the effectiveness of the EMS being dependant on active involvement from all employees.

Check – Measure and Monitor the Processes and Report Results
During the check stage, performance is monitored and periodically measured to ensure that the organisation’s environmental targets and objectives are being met (Martin 1998). In addition, internal audits are regularly conducted to ascertain whether the EMS itself is being implemented properly and whether the processes and procedures are being adequately maintained and monitored.

Act – Take Action to Improve Performance of EMS Based on Results
After the checking stage, a regular planned management review is conducted to ensure that the objectives of the EMS are being met and the extent to which they are being met, that communications are being appropriately managed, and to evaluate changing circumstances, such as legal requirements, in order to make recommendations for further improvement of the system. These recommendations are then fed back into the planning stage to be implemented into the EMS moving forward.

Record Keeping

According to ISO 14001:2004, the environmental management system documentation shall include

  • The environmental policy, objectives and targets;
  • A description of the scope of the environmental management system;
  • A description of the main elements of the environmental management
    system and their interaction, and references to related documents;
  • Documents, including records, required by this International Standard;
  • Documents, including records, determined by the organisation to be necessary to ensure the effective planning, operation and control of processes that relate to significant environmental aspects; and
  • Records necessary to demonstrate conformity to the requirements of the EMS and ISO 14001:2004.
Management Responsibilities/Roles

ISO 14001:2004 states that the successful implementation of an environmental management system is based on a commitment from all persons working for the organisation or on its behalf. Environmental roles and responsibilities therefore should not be seen as confined to the environmental management function, but can also cover other areas of an organisation, such as operational management or staff functions other than environmental.

This commitment should begin at the highest levels of management. Accordingly, top management should establish the organisation’s environmental policy and ensure that the environmental management system is implemented. As part of this commitment, top management should designate a specific management representative(s) with defined responsibility and authority for implementing the environmental management system.

In large or complex organisations, there may be more than one designated representative. In small or medium-sized enterprises, one individual may undertake these responsibilities.


According to ISO 14001:2004, the organisation should ensure that the staff members responsible for any given task which can cause any major environmental impact receive appropriate education, training or experience related to their duty. The organisation is also responsible for identifying training needs related to its environmental aspects and the environmental management system.

Environmental Policy

ISO 14001:2004 prescribes the top management to outline the organisation’s environmental policy and ensure that, within the defined scope of its environmental management system, it

  • Is appropriate to the nature, scale and environmental impacts of its activities, products and services;
  • Includes a commitment to continual improvement and prevention of pollution;
  • Includes a commitment to comply with applicable legal requirements and with other requirements to which the organisation subscribes which relate to its environmental aspects;
  • Provides the framework for setting and reviewing environmental objectives and targets;
  • Is documented, implemented and maintained;
  • Is communicated to all persons working for or on behalf of the organisation;
  • Is available to the public.
Social Responsibility

Not covered specifically.

However, in the introduction to ISO 14001:2004 it is acknowledged that many organisations implement environmental management because of increased concerns about sustainable development.


ISO 14001:2004 requires sufficient documentation describing the company EMS. The documentation should provide directions on where to obtain more detailed information on the operation of specific parts of the EMS. This documentation may be integrated with documentation of other systems implemented by the organisation.

  • Examples of documents include:
  • Statements of policy, objectives and targets,
  • Information on significant environmental aspects,
  • Information on applicable legal requirements
  • Procedures,
  • Process information,
  • Organisational charts,
  • Internal and external standards,
  • Site emergency plans,
  • Records.

Any decision to document procedure(s) should be based on issues such as:

  • The consequences, including those to the environment, of not doing so,
  • The need to demonstrate compliance with legal and with other requirements to which the organisation subscribes,
  • The need to ensure that the activity is undertaken consistently,
  • The advantages of doing so, which can include easier implementation through communication and training, easier maintenance and revision, less risk of ambiguity and deviations, and demonstrability and visibility,
  • The requirements of this international standard.

Documents originally created for purposes other than the EMS may be used as part of this system and, if so used, need to be referenced in the system.


On Site Audits or Desktop Review

The companies are audited in two stages: Stage I, the document review, which focuses on the paper work and documented management system (including procedures) and Stage II, the implementation audit, focusing on the implementation of the system and how environmental aspects are controlled in practice. Both stages are done on-site.


For ISO 14001:2004, a company that wants to qualify applies to an accredited body for a Stage I audit first. This document review is an on-site assessment on compliance with the criteria, though focusing on the paper work and the system and procedures as documented (not on how environmental aspects are controlled in practice). The company then has a certain period of time to implement any required corrective measures, before the Stage II audit is carried out by an official (usually the same) auditor. Finally the certificate is issued to the company.


The timeline to be certified with ISO 14001:2004 depends on the maturity of the organisation, its size and complexity, and other factors.  In general, a minimum timeframe would be one year.

Audit Team

Any accredited certification body can carry out the certification assessment (stage I and stage II audit) The internal audit is the responsibility of the company and is normally carried out by members of the organisation’s own personnel.


Every 12 months a follow-up audit of the management system takes place to check the continuing conformity with requirements. The certificate will be valid for three years if the results of Stage 2 audit are satisfactory. After three years a recertification has to take place.

Certification and License Fee

There are many variables, such as an organisation’s type and size, the complexity of its activities and the potential impacts it has on the environment.

Certificate Sample

Each accredited body will have its own template; nevertheless, the certification must contain the data that is specified in the ISO 14001:2004 requirements, such as name of the accredited body, company name that is receiving the certification, date, scope of the certification, certification number, valid time, manager/president signature of the accredited, and any other relevant details.


ISO 14001:2004 provides the environmental management systems requirements.

ISO 14001:2004 also offers to their clients the ISO Concept Database (ISO/CDB) which makes the benefits of using standards easier to achieve, provides users with useful tools for achieving benefits, and cuts the time necessary to develop and revise standards. ISO/CDB also provides a platform for search, development and maintenance of concept content throughout the ISO standards portfolio.

The ISO/CDB enables search of concepts in three important categories:

  1. Terms and definitions
  2. Graphical symbols
  3. Codes (country, currency, language and script)

ISO shares on its website a wide range of publications and e-products, handbooks, magazines and databases which can be accessible by paying a fee or free or charges.