There is no doubt that small businesses often find it difficult to implement an effective environmental management system for their operations. The ISO’s new handbook was designed to help these SMEs improve their environmental performance with the aid of the ISO 14001 standard.

Truth is, the benefits of addressing environmental issues are not limited to the protection of the environment alone; it can also help companies to improve performance and increase profitability. The handbook (ISO 14001:2015), Environmental management systems – A practical guide for SMEs was updated to include the latest edition of the standard, which was published in 2015.

The ISO 14001:2015 in figures

  • Implemented in over 180 countries
  • Over 300 000 certificates issued worldwide at end 2015
  • About 8 % increase in certifications when compared with 2014

According to Susan L. K. Briggs, the handbook’s author and leader of the ISO/TC 207/SC 1/WG 5 (the group that led the revision of this standard), the update to the revised version can be summarized thus: “With the revised standard being issued, several new requirements were incorporated such as a focus on the organizational context, risks and opportunities, and leadership requirements. To facilitate expanded uptake of this standard, it was important to demystify these concepts for small and medium-sized enterprises that are by far the most numerous organizations in most economies, particularly as many companies increasingly insist that ISO 14001 requirements are respected within the supply chain.”

The implementation of an environmental management system can be a real challenge for SMEs due to limited technical and financial resources, as well as limitations in terms of staff hours. Briggs, therefore, adds “I hope this handbook, which contains technical expertise, tools, templates and lessons learned from implementing these systems myself, will support SMEs in conforming to the requirements. The hope is to reduce the financial burden of hiring technical experts… but SMEs will still need to invest time.

She continues, “The key for SME success is to leverage their informal management structures and decision-making processes, not replace them with overly complex and bureaucratic methods.” Briggs concludes by saying: “The standard provides the ‘what’, while the handbook provides the ‘how’. ISO 14001 is a set of environmental management requirements that an organization must satisfy. The handbook provides practical help, examples and guidance on how to meet those requirements.”