Preparing for transition to ISO 14001:2015 – Competence

In the fifth of a series of articles SLR's Nigel Leehane has written to help organisations understand the implications of transitioning to ISO 14001:2015, he explores the new requirements for competence, and how organisations can adapt to meet them.

How does ISO 14001:2015 impose new requirements for competence?

The competence clause in the new standard imposes only one additional requirement, to ensure that methods applied to improve competence are effective. However, the many changes throughout ISO 14001 have significant implications for the competences needed across a business, including:

  • Senior managers – need to appreciate the requirements of the standard and understand the benefits of addressing environmental sustainability as an integral part of business management. They also need to be sufficiently aware to be able to support staff with environmental responsibilities.
  • Functional roles – the emphasis on integrating environmental management into business processes, and also to consider life cycle issues, means that staff in a range of functions need to be more aware, and in some cases have a detailed understanding, of environmental issues. Procurement, design and marketing roles are important in addressing environmental sustainability in the value chain, corporate communications and investor relations staff also would benefit from greater awareness.
  • Environmental auditors – some, if not all, of the environmental auditors within a business need to appreciate issues around context, organisational strategy and sustainability, and to have the confidence to audit senior management.
  • Environmental management team – all staff with responsibilities for the EMS need to have sufficient understanding of the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015, and be able to see the potential benefits to the business.
  • All staff – as before, all staff need sufficient awareness of the organisation’s environmental policy and objectives, and to understand the environmental implications of their own roles.  

How to tackle this task?

Most organisations already certified to ISO 14001 will have a competence development process, either stand-alone for the EMS or integrated into the HR function. This process can be applied to determine new competences required as a result of transitioning to the revised standard. Competence needs will be specific to the organisation, so consideration should be given to its context and needs and expectations of interested parties, as well as the output from the evaluation of environmental aspects and associated risks and opportunities. That may result in the setting of new objectives or the recognition that new forms of control or management of aspects are needed, with potential implications for competence. If competence gaps are identified, measures should be put in place to fill them, which ISO 14001:2015 states could include “the provision of training to, the mentoring of, or the reassignment of currently employed persons; or the hiring or contracting of competent persons”. Examples of measures to increase competence include:

  • Senior managers - brief the senior management team, on the overall expectations of ISO 14001, the benefits of an effective and embedded EMS and specific new responsibilities and accountabilities for senior management. This extends beyond the bullet points in clause 5.1 on leadership, and should include an understanding of context, risks and opportunities and the benefits of integration with business strategy and processes. IEMA’s Leading with Sustainability workshop provides an excellent medium for engaging with senior managers in relation to environmental sustainability.
  • Functional roles – depending on the ambition of the organisation, this may involve no more than a briefing on the new requirements of the standard; however, should an organisation be more ambitious, for example by implementing a sustainable supply chain programme, then procurement staff may need specific training or potentially a specialist could be employed.
  • Environmental auditors – depending on existing competences in the business, some or all of the auditors could be trained internally. Alternatively there is an IEMA course – Auditing to ISO 14001:2015 that would equip them to audit to the new standard.
  • Environmental management team – again, training could be delivered internally, or staff could attend an external course such as the IEMA course – Making the Transition to ISO 14001:2015. In some cases, where a business intends to embark on a more robust programme of environmental management, more extensive training may be needed or a specialist in environmental sustainability may need to be brought in.
  • All staff - not everyone in a business needs to be an environmental manager, or to understand the intricacies of ISO 14001. The greater the degree of integration of environmental management into everyday business processes, the less emphasis there needs to be on stand-alone environmental management tools. Generic staff training in environmental management can then be incorporated into operational process training, with emphasis on the environmental policy and the importance of conforming to procedures.

Further information

SLR offers a range of IEMA training courses that support the transition to ISO 14001:2015, including: Making the Transition to ISO 14001:2015, Auditing to ISO 14001:2015 and Leading with Sustainability. Details of these courses are available here.

Nigel will be participating in a BSI ISO 14001 webinar on context 18th October. If you are interested, please email him for details.

equally, f you would like more information on the transition and support available, please get in touch by contacting Nigel at The next article in this series will address the new topic of risks & opportunities in the revised standard.