ISO 14001 Explained: The standards that define environmental management

The methodology of an LCA is defined in ISO 14040. But the family of standards defined in ISO 14000 ff sets standards for many more aspects of the environmental impact of a company.
ISO norms - Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
Updated on:
November 16, 2021

The methodology of an LCA is defined in ISO 14040. But the family of standards defined in ISO 14000 ff sets standards for many more aspects of the environmental impact of a company. ISO 14001, for example, defines how an Environmental Management System should be set up.

These standards define how environmental management systems are supposed to work, and they serve 3 goals:

  1. Minimize the impact that company operations have on the environment
  2. Standardize compliance for laws, regulations and public requirements
  3. Continuously improve these aspects

In a nutshell, ISO 14001 & Co. define how environmental audits and reporting is supposed to be undertaken.

In this article, we will provide you with an overview of the different ISO norms that are part of that family and summarize what the implications for your business are.

ISO 14000 Family

ISO 14000 ff norms: Overview

The ISO 14000 norm family is structured into the following norms:

ISO 14000Standards of Environmental Management
ISO 14001Certification of Environmental Management Systems
ISO 14010Audit guidelines
ISO 14011Audit methodology
ISO 14012Qualification of auditors
ISO 14013-14015Audit processes
ISO 14020-14025Environmental labeling
ISO 14031-14032Environmental performance evaluation
ISO 14040 / 14044Life Cycle Assessment – General principles and practices
ISO 14050Terms and Definitions
ISO 19011Guide for management systems auditing

However, in this article, we will dive into the norms that we and our customers work with on a regular basis.

These norms are:

ISO 14001

This norm defines how an Environmental Management System needs to be set up

ISO 14020-14025

Define how environmental information gets published – through labeling, reporting or Environmental Product Declarations

ISO 14040 / 14044

Defines how Life Cycle Assessments are conducted

Let’s start.

ISO 14001: Environmental Management System Standards

ISO 14001 defines a framework for setting up an Environmental Management System.

Above all, this makes it the foundation of creating a standardized system to measure and improve the environmental impact of a company. Eventually, this increases efficiency and reduces costs.

ISO 14001 is, by itself, a voluntary norm. However, certain regulations might require a company to use a system that complies with it.

The ISO 14001 Checklist

According to ISO 14001, the documentation of the Environmental Management System (EMS) has to include:

1. Environmental Policy, objectives and targets
2. Description of the scope of the EMS
3. Description of the main elements of the EMS, how they interact, and where they are documented
4. Records required by the standard
5. Records required by the organization to ensure the effective planning, operation and control of processes with significant environmental effects

ISO 14001 Register

To get an idea how organizations work with ISO 14001, you can take a look at the certified companies in the ISO 14001 register.

These are companies in different industries that comply with the standard.

ISO 14020-14025: Environmental Labels & Declarations

ISO 14000 Family - Labeling

The series of standards around ISO 14020 – ISO 14021 until 14025 – aims to standardize environmental labels and declarations.

Similarly, these standards prevent greenwashing, as all the companies that comply can actually verify their environmental claims.

There are three types of Eco-labels/declarations:

ISO 14020 itself lines out the general principles. After that, the other standards dive into more depth.

ISO 14021 / 14022 / 14023: Self-declared labels (Type II)

ISO 14021 defines standards for self-declared environmental claims regarding products and services. However, these claims are made voluntarily. As such no third-party verification is required. This is known as a type II environmental declaration or label.

It sets out the requirements for these voluntary claims. It is not to be mistaken with defining legally required environmental information.

While 14021 defined terms and definitions, 14022 defines the symbols that can be used.

The goal of ISO 14021 is to create environmental claims and/or eco-labels that are accurate, not misleading, that can be checked and will not be misinterpreted.

ISO 14022 defines the terms and symbols that should be used in environmental claims. This does, for example, include the Mobius Loop Markings, the commonly used recycling symbol.
Vague statements, such as environmentally friendly, should not be used – because they cannot be checked.

ISO 14023 defines how these environmental claims get tested and evaluated.

ISO 14024: Principles & Procedures for Environmental Labeling (Type I)

ISO 14024 provides guiding principles and procedures for environmental labelling programs, known as type I environmental labels. These include product categories, environmental criteria and product function characteristics.

This is important to make the data comparable and ensures that certification procedures for compliance assessment of environmental labels can be set-up.

ISO 14025: Environmental Product Declarations (Type III)

ISO 14025 ensures that the environmental information one business shares with another one is standardized through Environmental Product Declarations (EPD).

An EPD is verified through an independent party and follows the standardized principles of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – defined in ISO 14040.

ISO 14040 / 14044: Standardizing Life Cycle Assessments

ISO 14000 Family - LCA

ISO 14040 defines the principles and frameworks to conduct a correct Life Cycle Assessment.

It shows how the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) is and the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) are conducted. It does, however, not specify the methodology for the individual faces.

That’s what ISO 14044 exists for: ISO 14044 specifies the requirements and guidelines for a correctly conducted Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). To understand how that works, take a look at our Complete Beginner’s Guide to Life Cycle Assessments (LCA).


Luc Hillege

Luc Hillege

Hi! I'm Luc - Product Manager at Ecochain. I ensure the development of our software solutions is aligned with the needs and requirements of our customers. My main objective: to deliver valuable technology that allows our customers to measure their Product's Environmental Footprint (LCA).

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