Understanding the Organisation and its Context

Context and ISO 14001 is in need of clarification. What exactly does context mean and what will the certification auditor require to see as evidence that this has been addressed by the organisation?

The phrase context has been lifted from another ISO standard – ISO 31000 which relates to Risk Management.

Context is defined as “the parts of a statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect”.

“You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context”.

So, with regard to an EMS, the system should be sensitive to internal and any external factors that could affect the ability of the organisation to achieve intended performance or outcomes of the EMS.

The auditor should be looking to see that the organisation has identified issues that lie within the following external areas ;-

  • Social and cultural issues
  • Regulatory factors
  • Economic trends
  • Advances in technology
  • Competitive factors
  • External interested parties and their expectations

Examples of internal factors that may need to be considered when setting the context include;-

  • Governance issues
  • Size of the organisation
  • Policies and strategies set by the organisation
  • Resources
  • Contractual relationships

Example – Context and ISO 14001

The auditor is looking at a summary of information that describes the context of a global resort organisation at “Paradise Island Resort” ;-

Our issues that may or are likely to influence our business are as follows ;-

  • Increase in tourists visiting the island creating pressure on local water supplies
  • Energy issues are becoming a concern
  • Island Council is concerned about airport congestion and traffic
  • Local pollution of the lagoon
  • Trends away from sunbathing due to UV worries – move to local holidays
  • Increasing interest in sports and activity holidays
  • More visibility of our “green credentials”
  • Regulations increasing for tourist industry as a whole due to accidents and environmental pollution of lagoon

So in summary, the auditor would wish to see evidence that the organisation has considered how it fits into the world, what is its place and what issues should it be considering when developing an ISO 14001 management system.

As we auditors in the certification world become more familiar with auditing this element of ISO 14001, a better interpretation may emerge – but for now this is my take on the subject.