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02 Aug 2020

ISO 14001 Management System Certification – Cost versus Value

The most popular type of management systems used today often depends on the type of organization, and how they run their operations.  ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems is the most popular for companies selling products to the military, along with AS9000:2016 Rev D for aviation, space, and defense organizations.  Food processors lean toward ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and ISO 45001:2018 Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S).  The size of the organization can have a significant bearing on whether they get certified or claim to conform.  It cost less to state you conform than to conduct the number of audits needed to become, and stay, certified.

Agricultural oriented small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will often opt for EMS.  Vineyards, vegetable farms, and livestock farms like ISO 14001.  Therefore, it depends a lot on the percentage of SMEs that are in those businesses.  In many cases, the percentage of organizations conforming to ISO 14001 depends on the amount of local or government pressure to conform.  In Europe and China, ISO 14001 is much higher than in the USA, in part due to government and environmentalist pressure.

Agricultural businesses and those that are getting pressure from socially responsible groups are the types of organizations that become ISO 14001 certified.  Meat packaging companies like Smithfield Ham in Virginia (now owned by a Chinese company), is ISO 14001 certified.  Only four major Ports in the USA are ISO 14001 certified (Port of Virginia is one) but many countries require the certification.  Partly due to all of the food coming into the Ports, but also due to the amount of pollution generated by boats, trains, and trucks that service the Ports. Ports are also now looking at ISO 50001 Energy Management Systems in conjunction with ISO 14001 certification.

One of the key drivers is the desire to meet ISO 14001 Standard requirements in the markets that they want to operate in or sell to.  It is difficult to open facilities in most of Europe, the Middle East, and China without having an ISO 14001 certification.  Environmental impact, energy efficiency, pollution reduction, and sustainability are considered by government permitting organizations.  This is more important for large organizations, but many SMEs also want to sell internationally.

Like other ISO Standards, it takes about a year of internal audits to be ready to claim conformity or get certified to ISO 14001.  SMEs, due to their smaller size, could take less time.  Medium-size businesses, with multiple locations, may elect to just have their headquarters certified, and state conformity for branches and suppliers.  An organization may elect to get its headquarters operation certified and use second-party audits to confirm that its other facilities and suppliers conform to the Standard.

The major cost of becoming certified involves training and multiple audits to get ready for certification.  Once ready, a third-party audit is required.  Most SMEs could be ready within a year.  The actual cost would vary depending on the number of employees trained, and the number of audits conducted before certification.

With good training and responsible staff, most SMEs can become certified.  All processes need to be in line with the goal of using environmental best practices.  In some cases, the cost of changing current processes can become a barrier.  Organizations can consider out-sourcing some processes in order to become more environmentally friendly.  Internal and second party audits can help an organization determine what, if any, processes need to be modified or out-sourced.

There are many reasons why organizations decide to become certified, but over time, reasons have changed for both small and large organizations.  With the new high-level-structure (HLS), EMS is now more similar to other standards.  Organizations that use to be ISO 18001 are now considering ISO 45001, which has OSHA embedded in it.  SMEs, like larger organizations, appreciate the value of being certified to popular standards and promote their conformity in their promotional material.  Many companies that are certified to ISO 9001 have to get the certification to sell to government agencies.  Many of the companies that get ISO 14001 certification, feel their end-users appreciate the company for having it.

To be sustainable, an organization needs to consider many factors.  These factors typically fall into one of the three pillars of Sustainability – Social, environmental and economic categories.  All organizations want to be socially responsible and do minimal damage to the environment, but they have to address the economics of operation.  The key is to strike a balance and establish a management system with processes that can be defended in the light of internal and external audits.

– by Peter Burke