The ISO 14000 standardization is concerned with the efficient management of an organization’s effects to the environment. The standardization is international and applies the same practices throughout the world. Firms are not forced to adopt the standardization control mechanism, but they are compelled by business needs and other external pressures that mainly emanate from the stakeholders.
Registration can either be by self-declaration or by use of an external registrar. Use of external registrars adds more credibility to the organization than self-declaration because it points at the organization’s openness and commitment to adhere to the set standards. International preparations are important because they prepare the staffs for the changes that are intended for implementation.
The registrar carries out an audit of the areas that have been identified as relevant in the scope and measures them against the organization’s environmental management system (EMS). Full compliance is only achieved after the organization meets the specifications in the EMS. The EMS must adhere to the standards set out by the ISO 14000 model.
Firms are often approved with various certifications that aim at acknowledging their efficiency in production and performance of their activities. The efficiency is based on standards of quality that are identified and determined by professional bodies.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental organization with a worldwide outreach that seeks to promote common standards that are meant for use in international trade, manufacturing, and communications. The Geneva based organization has been in existence since its formation in 1947.
The ISO 14000 standards are an example of the principles or values that mainly exist on the area of environmental management. The certification is awarded to firms that employ mechanisms to reduce the impact of their operations to the environment, and endeavor to comply with the set out laws (Morris, 2004).
This paper mainly focuses on the process through which firms are expected to undergo before being accredited with the certificate.
The Registration Process
Internal decision to conform
The first stage in the registration of ISO 14000 certificates involves a firm determining, on its own, whether it needs to implement any of the environmental management systems that are based on the ISO 14000 framework. Compliance to the standards is not forced on firms. It is a decision that is arrived internally after the firms weigh on the outcome of such a move.
Once this decision is discussed through by management and a resolution arrived at, the next move involves seeking registration. There exists two levels of ISO 14000 certification that a firm can use. These include self-declaration and certification or registration (Epstein, 2008).
Levels of certification
Under the self-declaration level, a firm can opt to implement the ISO 14000 specifications and requirements and eventually self-declare to having conformed to the necessary requirements. This method does not include any outside agency and, thus, the name ‘self-declaration’.
It relies on internal audits in as far as its EMS is concerned (CCPS, 2011). However, variations may occur on the scheme, where a firm may opt to hire the services of an external auditing firm or even a customer firm to undertake auditing of the ISO 14000 conformance.
Certification or registration, on the other hand, involves a firm being accredited formally by an ISO 14000 recognized registrar. Most firms prefer using the certification method because of the credibility involved. It is easier for a firm to be stricter on its environmental management practices when it is being monitored by a third party entity than when the firm is self-monitoring internally.
Internal preparation to achieve conformance
The organization should organize all its environment-related aspects, such as the existing policy, plans, as well as procedures and practices. The internal preparations must involve communicating the same to the employees, especially the ones who are directly involved.
As part of the internal preparation procedures, the determined environmental aspects must be analyzed in terms of the potential impacts. The environmental objectives as well as targets also need to be documented in a way that addresses the critical aspects and impacts (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
The control mechanism for the firm’s environmental operations needs to be set up at this stage and clearly documented. Appropriate procedures and facilities must be put in place to enhance maintenance of environmental-related records and to facilitate external environmental communications. These procedures also enumerate emergency preparedness, as well as the response expected.
It is critical that before an organization engages a registrar, it is able to have some preliminary feeling concerning its EMS. The environment roles to be played by employees must be well defined, including their responsibilities, as well as authority. Trainings must be conducted to strengthen these positions prior to the EMS activation.
This stage involves testing out the EMS to find out whether it performs its functions as scheduled. The EMS functioning evaluation is best determined by a thorough internal evaluation, which mainly comprises of employees drawn from the organization. The auditor’s mandate is to ensure that the system, as constituted, conforms to the intended objectives.
Internal audits of the EMS assess the various aspects that are directly involved with the documented ISO 14000 standard that the firm seeks to achieve. They include the EMS manual, all the related policies, the procedures put in place, as well as the environmental plans.
Other areas of greater importance, which are also internally audited include work instructions, continuous improvement, and record and document control. There is need for the internal audit to be as conclusive as possible because its findings are most likely to be the same as the ones that will be determined by the external auditors.
Thus, the assessment should also involve the organization’s charts that define roles, the emergency plans established, together with the improvement plans and the indices that lead to other important documents (CCPS, 2011).
Where the preliminary inspection identifies shortcomings, the process reverts to the internal preparation stage to ensure that the inadequacies are attended to. However, where the internal assessment is satisfied with the EMS functioning thus far, the process is moved to the fourth stage that involves the engagement of registrar.
The engagement of a registrar is another important step for the organization as it seeks to achieve the ISO 14000 certification. The organization must consider several factors as it seeks to select the registrar with whom it shall work with. These factors include the costs involved, the level of recognition by other interested parties, and the level of familiarity in as far as the organization’s industry is concerned (CCPS, 2011).
An organization should seek for registrars who work with registered firms in order to find the right choice for their process. Because a significant amount of resources will be spent on the registrar, the organization should ensure that it acquires the most competent expert with desirable integrity.
A registrar’s integrity will affect the organization’s performance in the end in as far as its environmental management system is concerned.
Disreputable registrars could easily grant the ISO 14000 certificate to the organization, but the bottom line should be the organization’s own intentions concerning its environmental activities. Additionally, poor performance would still see the organization face pressure from the communities, including environmentalists and customers (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
The choice of a registrar must also consider his schedule compared to that of the organization. Professional chemistry is also important because the individual must be able to build up some good working relationship with the organization to enhance the outcome of the exercise.
The registrar’s activity is mainly that of assessing the organization’s conformity to the environmental standards that are identified by ISO 14000. His activities have to be systematic rather than being improvised, and the process has to be documented.
Information will also be sought by the registrar to ascertain whether the environmental activities, conditions, events, and the management systems prove that indeed the organization is making the right efforts aimed at achieving the intended objectives.
The registrar mainly determines the conformity based on the organization’s own established intent. This means that the documented policies, procedures, records, regulatory, and legal requirements determine the extent upon which the registrar’s assessments are confined.
In other words, conformity of the organization’s environmental performance will be based on its own identified criteria. The criteria, however, must be drawn from the ISO 14000 model (Alam, n.d.).
Another important aspect that the organization has to ensure it checks on is the relevant qualification of the registrar. The organization has to ensure that their choice of registrar holds the relevant qualifications, which includes a minimal education qualification of high school certificate, a minimum of five years working experience, which might reduce to four in case the individual is a holder of a college degree.
The specific skills worth looking out for include environmental science and technology, as well as technological and environmental characteristic of facility operations. Others are relevant requirements concerning environmental law, related documents and regulations and the audit procedures, techniques, as well as processes (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
The organization must also ascertain whether the registrar has attained formal training in the above subject points, and whether the individual has acquired on-the-job training skills that span for at least 20 workdays (Goetsch & Davis, 2001). Concerning personal attributes, the firm must ensure that the individual expresses with clarity the concepts and ideas, both in writing and verbally.
The individual needs to be a good listener and have some significant degree of diplomacy. The ability to be objective enough is important as it will ensure the independence of the registrar. Equally important to consider is personal organizational skills, sound judgmental capabilities, and sensitivity to cultural and regional conventions (Alam, n.d.).
The auditors ought to adhere to confidentiality and act carefully with the client organization during their assessment duration. This must as well be extended even beyond the assessment period. For the lead auditors, the firm must ensure that apart from meeting all the above requirements and qualifications, they also demonstrate leadership capability and additional skills.
The environmental audit team
The team to be hired by the organization for purposes of executing auditing will vary in size, depending on the organization being audited. However, it could involve only one person in some instances, although this is a rare occurrence. It is important for the organization to note that the registrar may include other experts in his team in order to enhance overall performance (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
Preparation for the audit
The commencement date for the audit will be agreed upon between the organization and the registrar before the actual process begins. Once the date has been identified, the organization has to ensure that it accomplishes several requirements.
This includes preparing the employees fully for the exercise by informing them of the right conduct to adopt during their encounters with the auditors, and informing them of what to expect in as far as the entire process is concerned. The expectation should include cooperative employees who are open and non-defensive. They also need to shun arguments in order to enable the smooth flow of the process (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
While questions asked to the employees should be answered truthfully, any attempts to answer questions without having any facts should be discouraged. Where employees are not sure of the answer, they can simply put it politely that they do not know the answer. Disclosure of information not requested should also be discouraged. These conducts by the employees should be uniform throughout the auditing process.
The audit scope
The registrar’s auditing will have to be undertaken within the identified areas only and should not extend to other unwarranted areas. ISO 14011, under Clause 5.1.1, identifies the boundaries within which the audit needs to be carried out. These include the physical locations, the relevant activities of the organization that will be audited, and the necessary resources that are required to support the audit process.
This will involve the identification of the audit team and the actual workspace where the audit team will work. Another important audit scope involves the way in which reports concerning the audit will be undertaken (Alam, n.d.).
Registrars’ preliminary assessment
The preliminary assessment involves carrying out an initial inspection of the environmental management system documents. Often, the preliminary assessment is carried out in two stages, which include requesting copies of the relevant documents and prior to even physically visiting the organization.
This will be followed by a visit to the site by the registrar. On-site assessment is preferred by most registrars owing to the complex details involved, such as the numerous documents, seeing, first-hand, and the organization’s operations, and the ease with which questions can be handled by the officials.
Preliminary assessments will seek to inspect the environmental aspects as they are listed by the organization and evaluate on the impacts as well (Alam, n.d.). Legal and regulatory needs that touch on the organization will be ascertained and the internal audit reports also perused. The registrar will also find it critical to check through the records of management appraisal that reflect on the EMS as a whole.
The registrar’s initial report after the preliminary assessment will determine whether the organization can go ahead with its plans. Where the registrar notices discrepancies, he will point out in his initial report to enable the organization address them.
This means that the organization will have to review its plans and measure them against the outcomes in order to ensure that the outcomes are desirable. The registrar will once again conduct an assessment immediately after the organization indicates to him that it has addressed the entire non-conformance that had earlier been noted. Total conformance will lead to the actual registration audit.
This is the final phase of the audit by the registrar and must be conducted at the organization’s site. The registrar will focus on three main areas as he conducts his actual audit. Firstly, he will conduct a conformance audit, which includes audit policies, procedures and practices.
As he performs the conformance audit, the registrar will be keen to hold proof against the ISO 14001 and pay attention to the legal as well as the regulatory requirements. The conformance audit will also evaluate the audit practices and proof against the established EMS elements.
Secondly, the registrar will conduct process audits which involve evaluating the extent at which the firm’s practices conform to the EMS practices and the work instructions. Thirdly, a compliance audit will be carried out to assess the policies, established procedures, and the practices.
This will be done against the critical requirements, which include legal and regulatory. At this juncture, it is still possible for the registrar to discover other instances of non-conformance. This will call for additional follow-up audits, about two or three, just to ascertain that the instances of non-conformance are completely dealt with and eliminated altogether.
As the organization carries on with its activities even after the registrar declares the practice as being fully compliant, there is still need to verify that the EMS adopted fully conforms to the ISO 14000 requirements.
However, the surveillance audit might be conducted after some significant duration, of between six and twelve months. The decision will fully depend on the registrar’s own reasons (Piper, Ryding & Henricson, 2003). The registration is a continuous process and, therefore, the results of the surveillance audit will be critical in determining whether the organization receives the nod.
The registrar’s final findings and report will raise a number of issues to the organization concerning how the EMS will generally be handled. For instance, there will be questions within the organization about how to manage the entire process, what the actual practices entailed involve, and some of the records that might require to be prepared periodically.
The certification assessment by the registrar
Once the registrar approves an organization’s conformance and readiness to be awarded an ISO 14000 certificate, after thorough auditing the next move involves the certification of the EMS.
The registrar assessing the certification mainly focuses on two areas; that is, the major conformance and minor conformance. This normally seeks to polish up the overall performance of the organization relative to its EMS performance (Goetsch & Davis, 2001).
Where major non-conformance is identified, the organization is compelled to make corrective changes in order to ensure that it eliminates the limitations. The registrar’s report at this stage will point out at the specific areas where the organization has failed to meet the desired objectives.
This will in turn see the entire process go back to the fifth stage, where comparisons will have to be carried out once again between the registrar’s formal EMS audit report and the actual performance of the organization (Piper, Ryding & Henricson, 2003).
On the other hand, the certification assessment may fail to show any discrepancies between the EMS system requirements and the actual state of the organization. This will prompt the registrar to assess on the organization’s conformity to minor instances of non-conformity.
Where any such incidences are established, the organization will once again be required to correct on the discrepancies to ensure the whole system is devoid of any limitations. Another certification assessment will once again be conducted immediately after the organization makes corrections on the discrepancies that were noted previously.
Awarding of registration
This forms the final stage in the entire ISO 14000 certification process. The awarding of registration is done after the registrar is assured beyond any doubts that the firm has attained all the requirements needed.
Registration award mainly involves issuance of the ISO 14000 certificate to the firm by the registrar (CCPS, 2011). Once the certificate is awarded, the organization is allowed to advertize it as a way of announcing its compliance to the standard environmental practices.
The ISO 14000 certification is an award given to organizations in recognition of their efforts to ensuring that their activities and operations are friendly to the environment. The ISO 14000 model comprises of standard practices and activities that organizations have to fulfill prior to being acknowledged with the certification.
The process of seeking recognition begins internally, with the organization itself wishing to achieve the standardization. The next step involves carrying out internal preparations, including informing the members of staff, undertaking internal audits, and seeking for the appropriate external registrar. It also involves formulating the organization’s environmental management system.
The third stage engages the registrar, whose main activity is to audit the organization’s EMS basing on the ISO 14000 framework. The auditing also seeks to ascertain whether the organization’s practices conform to its EMS. The registrar next assesses the certification to ensure both major and minor instances of non-conformance are eliminated.
He will issue reports to help the organization note areas where corrections are required and consequently repeat the process to ensure the limitations are addressed. Once this is done and no other limiting factors are noted, the organization is eventually recognized as fully compliant with the standards and is awarded an ISO 14000 certificate as proof.
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Goetsch, D., & Davis, S. (2001). Environmental management. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Morris, A. S. (2004). ISO 14000 environmental management standards: Engineering and financial aspects. West Sussex, England: John Wiley.
Piper, L., Ryding, S., & Henricson, C. (2003). Continual improvement with ISO 14000. Stockholm, Sweden: SINF.