ISO 14001:2015 – Internal Audits Drive Real Improvements

Confronted with dramatic environmental challenges, plus a slew of regulatory requirements, many organisations have implemented environmental management systems (EMSs). An ISO 14001:2015 based EMS is the most popular, used to meet compliance obligations, monitor environmental policies and procedures, manage resources and control environmental harms.

ISO 14001:2015 is a systems-based management tool centering around the Plan-Do-Check-Act method, which drives continual improvement. The standard outlines in Clause 9.2 that internal audits at set intervals are necessary to support the theme of continual improvement underpinning the management system.

The purpose of internal audits is to ensure that the organisation’s environmental policies, objectives, compliance obligations and performance requirements are met and recorded, and that any corrective action is taken where necessary.


Our FREE Downloadable Guide How To Conduct An Environmental Management Systems Audit explores more about the ISO 14001 Environmental Audit process. You can get hold of it by clicking the button below.

What to expect from an ISO 14001:2015 audit

A key point to emphasise is that the intended outcomes of ISO 14001:2015 have not changed. The EMS must:

  • Protect the environment.
  • Meet compliance obligations.
  • Enhance environmental performance.

ISO 14001:2015 does, however, have a number of new requirements that will change the focus of an audit, which include:

  • Context of the organisation
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Support
  • Documentation
  • Operations
  • Performance evaluation
  • Improvement

ISO 14001:2015 - Clause 9: Performance evaluation

Performance evaluation is about measuring and evaluating an EMS to establish whether it meets the organisation’s planned outcomes. Evaluation provides valuable information for continual improvement by:

  • Evaluating the EMS’s effectiveness.
  • Establishing whether requirements of the standard are being met.
  • Verifying whether compliance obligations have been met.
  • Reviewing the EMs’s suitability, adequacy, effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Demonstrating that planning has been properly implemented.
  • Assessing the performance of processes against outcomes.
  • Determining the need or opportunities for improvement.

Monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation

Monitoring in the sense of ISO 14001 means checking, reviewing, inspecting and observing  planned activities to ensure that they are occurring as intended. So, for example, if an operational control states that water quality will be inspected twice weekly, then this is a monitoring process. Monitoring and measurement :

  • Evaluates environmental performance;
  • Analyses root causes of problems;
  • Assesses compliance with compliance obligations;
  • Identifies areas for corrective action;
  • Improves performance and efficiency.

The Internal audit programme

Unlike an audit schedule or audit plan, an audit programme includes the full life-cycle of auditing. From the very decision to use audit as a tool through planning and initiating the audit, performing, reporting and follow-up, to improvement of the entire programme and its constituent parts.

All parts of the EMS should be audited at minimum yearly, this is typically dealt with in an annual audit schedule. The entire EMS can be audited at once or in parts for more frequent audits. To establish the frequency of EMS audits, consider:

  • The nature of your operations;
  • Risks and opportunities;
  • Statutory and regulatory requirements and compliance obligations;
  • Significant environmental aspects / impacts;
  • Results of your monitoring programme;
  • Results of previous audits.

There are two principle considerations when auditing:

Compliance/conformance audits – ensure that management arrangements, like procedures, are being followed in order to comply with the requirements of ISO 14001.

Performance Audits –  ensure that the outputs of the management arrangements are achieving their intended outcomes. For example, the results of engineering controls applied to mitigate air pollution are achieving the legal limits.

ISO 14001 demands an approach that combines both a compliance/conformance and a performance approach to auditing.

Who should perform an environmental audit?

ISO 19011:2018 – Guidelines for auditing management systems – contains information on how to choose an Environmental Auditor. Environmental Auditors should have personal attributes, such as ethics, open-mindedness, perceptiveness and tact. They should understand audit principles, procedures and techniques, and have gained experience by conducting audits. They should know the subject matter they are auditing against and how this applies to different organisations.

Audit Team Leaders should be able to plan and resource effectively, have good communication and leadership skills. Environmental Auditors should complete training and have attained an appropriate level of education. When seeking an External Auditor consider the skills outlined here.

Auditor qualifications

All auditors need to receive initial and ongoing training. EMS auditors should be trained in auditing techniques and management system concepts, environmental regulations, and facility operations. For performance audits, an auditor needs to have a good understanding of the standard and the EMS, and a broad understanding of environmental issues. Auditors should be reasonably independent of the area or activity that is being audited and can definitely not audit their own work.

An effective audit programme should:

  • Develop audit procedures and protocols.
  • Establish an appropriate audit frequency.
  • Train auditors.  
  • Maintain audit records.
  • Link audit results to the corrective action system.

NEW! ISO 19011:2018: Guidelines for auditing management systems

Auditors are the ears and eyes of top management because they can provide an independent appraisal of an organisation’s operations and activities. In addition, a skillful auditor will add value to a management system by finding opportunities for improvement. It’s important to note that ISO 19011:2018 has significantly raises the bar on what constitutes essential competencies that management-systems auditors need to possess or acquire.

Revisions to ISO 9001:2015 (QMS), ISO 14001:2015 (EMS), and ISO 45001:2018 (OH&S) are all based on Annex SL of ISO Directive 1, the ISO High Level Structure. Consequently, ISO 19011 includes an annex to deal with how to audit organisational context, leadership and commitment, compliance and the supply chain, amongst others. The new standard will help with the effective audit of these management systems and facilitate a uniform approach to the auditing process where multiple systems are in place.


Our FREE Downloadable Guide How To Conduct An Environmental Management Systems Audit explores more about the ISO 14001 Environmental Audit process. You can get hold of it by clicking the button below.

For more information or guidance on which ISO standard(s) and services would best suit the needs of your organisation, please email Risk ZA at or contact us on 0861 Risk ZA / +27 (0) 31 569 5900.

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Zero Waste To Landfill With ISO 14001:2015 – Waste Management

Waste Management
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“People don’t understand waste,” says Chris Whyte, managing director of a Durban-based organisation that reclaims waste materials from landfills. “When people talk about climate change and issues of sustainability, they allocate a tiny sliver of the problem – 2% – to landfill,” he explains. “That’s because the measurements apply only to landfill gas emissions. But put landfill into perspective: we landfill 6 000 tons a day. That is 600 10-ton trucks, and that’s just Durban.”

Rapid urbanisation in South Africa – and globally – has resulted in increased waste production due to new commercial enterprises, accommodation, hotels, and restaurants. The pace of urbanisation is projected to be the fastest in low-income and middle-income countries, which will present challenges to governments to meet the needs of their growing urban populations.

A World Bank report in 2016 noted that worldwide municipal solid waste is growing faster than the rate of urbanisation, and these levels are expected to double by 2025. Alarmingly, the World Bank’s disposal data shows that almost half of global waste sent to landfill is organic material made up of paper, plastic, glass and metal. So, much of this waste could be recycled.

As it stands, almost all of South Africa’s solid waste (88%) is sent to landfill, or taken off-site for disposal by hazardous waste removal specialists. As the 2016 World Bank report highlights, global waste management efforts are far from stellar, but even so South Africa lags behind other countries and even its fellow BRICS countries in waste management.

pollution waste

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, a Senior Director at the World Bank Group comments that: “Without good solid waste management, you can’t build a sustainable and livable city. There are climate, health, and safety impacts, as well as important social considerations, from the inclusion of waste pickers to changing behaviour so people and societies are encouraged to reduce and recycle waste.”

The Future of Waste Management in Africa

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and technological innovations, smart African cities will be able to achieve zero waste and reduce municipalities’ operational costs by using more efficient waste collection systems. The smart waste collection technology industry is still in its infancy, but Navigant Research, a U.S. research company expects this type of technology to grow from $57.6-million in 2016 to over $223-million by 2025.

Nick Manny of Aurecon cautions, though, that it will not be possible for municipalities to go from the current landfill situation to smart technologies quickly because the technical, financial, institutional and social restrictions they face will not be easy to overcome. Waste management is therefore up to industry, waste management suppliers and experts working together to find solutions to the challenges that confront governments and municipalities.

Reaching for Zero Waste to Landfill Using ISO 14001

Waste management is the process of treating wastes, and it offers solutions for recycling and reusing materials and substances that do not belong in landfill or can be used for other purposes. Waste diversion from landfills is an important sustainability effort for organisations to strive towards as it demonstrates environmental stewardship, which a growing number of customers and other stakeholders are coming to expect.

Industry leaders like Walmart and Starbucks are in the process of rolling out waste diversion programmes as a key part of their Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Their sights are set on achieving a zero waste to landfill milestone, starting at a facility-level and aiming globally. Subaru of Indiana Automotive is an indisputable trailblazer in the coveted zero waste to landfill management goal. For the past 13 years, Subaru and two of their manufacturing plants in Japan have sent zero waste to local landfills. Subaru’s coveted zero-waste to landfill achievement is guided by ISO 14001.

The Canon Group is one of the few organisations to achieve consolidated ISO 14001 certification covering all their operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The organisation uses their Environmental Management System to apply environmental considerations to every aspect of the product lifecycle and at the end of their life, products are stripped down and re-used or recycled.​

Closing Thoughts

ISO 14001:2015 provides a framework and a structured approach to handling waste but does not prescribe the steps in waste handling, which means that every organisation can approach the process of waste management according to their own needs.

Training of all employees and contractors that have anything to do with the handling of waste is a necessary first step towards waste management. The ISO 14001:2015 Standard will provide your organisation with an effective waste management strategy to maximise resources and minimise environmental impact. ISO 14001 also has the flexibility to include changes to legislation, materials, prices and customer expectations that will repay your organisation’s investment in training and the time it takes to develop an effective strategy.

Zero Waste To Landfill With ISO 14001:2015 - Waste Management

For more information or guidance on which ISO standard(s) and services would best suit the needs of your organisation, please email Risk ZA at or contact us on 0861 Risk ZA / +27 (0) 31 569 5900.

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