Companies that look to implement ISO 14001:2015 do so for several different reasons. Some see it as a natural progression as their company grows – perhaps having implemented ISO 9001:2015, some see it as a logical system to adopt to satisfy environmental obligations, and some react to pressure being applied by customers, stakeholders, or pressure groups. Whatever the reason, the first question normally tends to be “How long does it take?” While the standard itself provides no direct advice on timescales, it is clear that there are several key elements that dictate when a company can be ready, and it probably follows that this period will be different for organizations of varied types and sizes. So, given that, what are these factors, and what do we have to bear in mind when planning a project like ISO 14001:20015?
Implementation period, the key elements
The management of an organization will generally want to know how long the a ISO 14001:2015 project will take at the outset, and that is only natural. Considerations of the resources that will be required for an implementation project will need to be assessed, and who is best in your organization to manage the project. The project manager will, therefore, need to have a thorough understanding of not only the standard itself, but also the context within which the organization operates, and the effect that will have on implementation time, for example:
- What industry does your organization operate in? Tasks such as defining the context of your organization and gaining stakeholder engagement will be critical elements of your project, and those will differ greatly between, for example, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer and a small coffee shop.
- Do you have one or multiple sites?
- Do you have knowledgeable and available internal resources to implement, or do you need to hire a consultant?
These “contextual” elements need to be considered carefully before committing to an implementation plan. For the project manager, it is sensible to involve the leadership and top management of the organization to assess this, as it also can be considered a part of the definition of the context of the organization, which is a new and critical part of ISO 14001:2015. We examined the context of the company in detail in the article, determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001. In terms of the implementation period, this is also a critical factor; your ease and time of implementation will be improved significantly if you have top management buy-in, and if your project manager is knowledgeable and efficient. So, we now understand the “contextual” elements we need to pay attention to; presumably, there are elements of the standard we need to ensure we execute in order to understand what the implementation period should be.
How long should it take?
Typically, most organizations should be ready within six months if they have 20 or fewer employees, but some organizations of a larger size may take more time – up to or over a year for organizations of more than 50. As stated above, this will vary depending on the environmental impact of your organization; a consultancy and a manufacturing plant will have hugely differing impacts, for example, though both may have a similar number of employees. However, your organization should remember that despite the changes from the 14001:2004 standard to the 14001:2015 version, your implementation will not be considered complete and ready for audit until you display evidence of at least one example of:
- a management review having taken place
- one round of internal audits
- evidence of corrective action
- examples or evidence of customer feedback
- evidence of risk-based discussions and resulting measures
So, while the 14001:2015 standards may appear less “cycle-based” than its predecessor, it is vital to understand that most auditors will not consider your organization ready for audit unless the above elements exist in your EMS.
What can be done to speed up the process?
It goes without saying that the more expertise, resources, and education you employ within your project, the quicker your implementation can be. Also, when you set up your EMS and decide on the frequency of your audit, feedback, and risk-based functions, as well as meetings, you should remember that this will have an effect on your implementation timescale and, therefore, your readiness for audit. For example, if you plan to have your first internal audit nine months from the establishment of the EMS, then this will mean you will not be ready for external audit until after that time. Many organizations also consider using external help, such as consultants, to implement the EMS; this extra resource, knowledge, and stimulation can increase the employees’ enthusiasm and speed up the process
What ISO 14001 training and certification is available if you’re an individual?
Training in the concepts of ISO 14001 is available, and there are a range of course options for individuals to choose from. Only the first of these can lead to certification for the individual to be able to audit for a certification body, but the others are very useful for those who will be using these skills within their own company:
ISO 14001 Lead Auditor Course – This is a four- to five-day training course focused on understanding the ISO 14001 QMS standard and being able to use it for auditing management systems against these requirements. The course includes a test at the end to verify knowledge and competence, and it is only with an accredited course that an individual can become approved to audit for a certification body.
ISO 14001 Internal Auditor Course – This is commonly a two- or three-day course that is based on the lead auditor course above, but does not include the test for competence, so this is most useful for someone beginning to do internal audits within a company.
ISO 14001 Implementation Course and Awareness – Several courses are offered that provide knowledge of ISO 14001 and how to implement it. These can be one- or two-day courses, and can even include online e-learning sessions as a method of teaching the material. These courses are good for those who need an overview of the ISO 14001 standard, or those who will be involved in the implementation within a company, and many are more economical than investing in the lead auditor course for those involved at this level.
There are a number of accredited training companies around the world where you can gain individual qualifications in ISO 14001.
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