Skip to main content

ISO 14000: International Environmental Management Standards

ISO 14000: International Environmental Management Standards

ISO 14000 refers to a series of environmental management standards that were adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1996 and are beginning to be implemented by businesses across the world. Any person or organization interested in the environment and in the goal of improving environmental performance of businesses should be interested in ISO 14000. Such interested parties include businesses themselves, their legal representatives, environmental organizations and their members, government officials, and others.

What is the ISO and what are ISO standards?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a private (nongovernmental) worldwide organization whose purpose is to promote uniform standards in international trade. Its members are elected representatives from national standards organizations in 111 countries. The ISO covers all fields involving promoting goods, services, or products and where a Member Body suggests that standardization is desirable, with the exception of electrical and electronic engineering, which are covered by a different organization called the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). However, the ISO and the IEC work closely together.

Since the ISO began operations in 1947, its Central Secretariat has been located in Geneva, Switzerland. Between 1951 (when it published its first standard) and 1997, the ISO issued over 8,800 standards. Standards are documents containing technical specifications, rules, guidelines, and definitions to ensure equipment, products, and services perform as specified.

Among the best known standards published by the ISO are those that comprise the ISO 9000 series, which was developed between 19791986, and published in 1987. Because ISO 9000 is a forerunner to ISO 14000, it is important to understand the basic structure and function of ISO 9000. The ISO 9000 series is a set of standards for quality management and quality assurance. The standards apply to processes and systems that produce products; they do not apply to the products themselves. Further, the standards provide a general framework for any industry; they are not industry-specific. A company that has become registered under ISO 9000 has demonstrated that it has a documented system for quality that is in place and consistently applied. ISO 9000 standards apply to all kinds of companies whether large or small, in services or manufacturing.

The latest major set of standards published by the ISO is the ISO 14000 series. The impetus for that series came from the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio De Janeiro in 1992 and attended by representatives of over one hundred nations. One of the documents resulting from that conference was the Global Environmental Initiative, which prompted the ISO to develop its ISO 14000 series of international environmental standards. The ISO's goal is to insure that businesses adopt common internal procedures for environmental controls including, but not limited to, audits. It is important to note that the standards are process standards, not performance standards. The goal is to ensure that businesses are in compliance with their own national and local applicable environmental laws and regulations. The initial standards in the series include numbers 14001, 14004, and 14010-14012; all of them adopted by the ISO in 1996.

Provisions of ISO 14000 Series standards

ISO 14000 sets up criteria pursuant to which a company may become registered or certified as to its environmental management practices.

Central to the process of registration pursuant to ISO 14000 is a company's Environmental Management System (EMS). The EMS is a set of procedures for assessing compliance with environmental laws and company procedures for environmental protection, identifying and resolving with problems, and engaging the company's workforce in a commitment to improved environmental performance by the company.

ISO 14001 series can be divided into two groups: guidance documents and specification documents. The series sets out standards against which a company's EMS will be evaluated. For example, it must include an accurate summary of the legal standards with which the company must comply, such as permit stipulations, and relevant provisions of statutes and regulations, and even provisions of administrative or court-certified consent judgments. To become certified, the EMS must: (1) include an environmental policy ; (2) establish plans to meet environmental goals and comply with legal requirements; (3) provide for implementation of the policy and operation under it including training for personnel, communication, and document control; (4) set up monitoring and measurement devices and an audit procedure to insure continuing improvement; and (5) provide for management review. The EMS must be certified by a registrar who has been qualified under ISO 13012, a standard that predates the ISO 14000 series.

The ISO 14004 series is a guidance document that gives advice that may be followed but is not required. It includes five principles each of which corresponds to one of the five areas of ISO 14001 listed above.

ISO 14010, 14011, and 14012 are auditing standards. For example, 14010 covers general principles of environmental auditing , and 14011 provides guidelines for auditing of an Environmental Management System (EMS). ISO 14012 provides guidelines for establishing qualifications for environmental auditors, whether those auditors are internal or external.

Plans for additional standards within the ISO 14000 Series standards

The ISO is considering proposals for standards on training and certifying independent auditors (called registrars) who will certify that ISO 14000-certified business have established and adhere to stringent internal systems to monitor and improve their own environmental protection actions. Later the ISO may also establish standards for assessing a company's environmental performance. Standards may be adopted to for use of eco-labeling and life cycle assessment of goods involved in international trade.

Benefits and consequences of ISO 14000 Series standards

A company contemplating obtaining ISO 14000 registration must evaluate its potential advantages as well as its costs to the company.

ISO 14000 certification may bring various rewards to companies. For example, many firms are hoping that, in return for obtaining ISO 14000 certification (and the actions required to do so), regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will give them more favorable treatment. For example, leniency might be shown in less stringent filing or monitoring requirements or even less severe sanctions for past or present violations of environmental statutes and regulations.

Further, compliance may be merely for good public relations, leading consumers to view the certified company as a good corporate citizen that works to protect the environment. There is public pressure on companies to demonstrate their environmental stewardship and accountability; obtaining ISO 14000 certification is one way to do so.

The costs to the company will depend on the scope of the Environmental Management System (EMS). For example, the EMS might be international, national, or limited to individual plants operated by the company. That decision will affect the costs of the environmental audit considerably. National and international systems may prove to be costly.

On the other hand, a company may realize cost savings. For example, an insurance company may give reduced rates on insurance to cover accidental pollution releases to a company that has a proven environmental management system in place. Internally, by implementing an EMS, a company may realize cost savings as a result of waste reduction , use of less fewer toxic chemicals , less energy use, and recycling .

A major legal concern raised by lawyers studying the ISO 14000 standards relates to the question of confidentiality. There are serious questions as to whether a governmental regulatory agency can require disclosure of information discovered during a self-audit by a company. The use of a third-party auditor during preparation of the EMS process may weaken a company's argument that information discovered is privileged.

ISO 14000 has potential consequences with respect to international law as well as international trade. ISO 14000 is intended to promote a series of universally accepted EMS practices and lead to consistency in environmental standards between and among trading partners. Some developing countries such as Mexico are reviewing ISO 14000 standards and considering incorporating their provisions within their own environmental laws and regulations. On the other hand, some developing countries have suggested that environmental standards created by ISO 14000 may constitute non-tariff barriers to trade in that costs of ISO 14000 registration may be prohibitively high for small- to medium-size companies.

Companies that have implemented ISO 9000 have learned to view their companies' operations through a "quality of management" lens and implementation of ISO 14000 may lead to use of "environmental quality" lens. ISO 14000 has the potential to lead to two kinds of cultural changes. First, within the corporation, it has the potential to lead to consideration of environmental issues throughout the company and its business decisions ranging from hiring of employees to marketing. Second, ISO 14000 has the potential to become part of a global culture as the public comes to view ISO 14000 certification as a benchmark connoting good environmental stewardship by a company.

[Paulette L. Stenzel ]



Tibor, T., and I. Feldman. ISO 14000: A Guide to the New Environmental Management Standards. Irwin Publishing Company, 1996.

von Zharen, W. M. ISO 14000: Understanding the Environmental Standards. Government Institutes, 1996.


Kass, S. L. "The Lawyer's Role in Implementing ISO 14000." Natural Resources & Environment 3, no. 5 (Spring 1997).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"ISO 14000: International Environmental Management Standards." Environmental Encyclopedia. . 23 Apr. 2019 <>.

"ISO 14000: International Environmental Management Standards." Environmental Encyclopedia. . (April 23, 2019).

"ISO 14000: International Environmental Management Standards." Environmental Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 23, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.