Why should you certify your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System?

It comes as a bit of a surprise to many people to find out that there is not a requirement in ISO 14001 to have a third party certification body audit your environmental management system (EMS) and certify that it is conforming to the requirements of the standard. But, if it is not a requirement, then why do companies do so? There are many good reasons to have a third-party auditor look at your system, but there are also some compelling arguments that this is not always needed. Here are a few of the pros and cons of certifying your ISO 14001 environmental management system.

Why it is a good idea to certify

Let’s face it – there are many companies that have implemented an EMS using ISO 14001 and then decided that it would be a good idea to have a certification body come and check out the system. This has many advantages. First and foremost, many customers in some industries are starting to think more about the environmental impact of their own processes, and those of their suppliers. Some are even starting to include the requirement for ISO 14001 registration into the contract requirements, much like has been done with ISO 9001 since it first came out. For them, it is an easy way to show due diligence in this matter. If you have, or think it is possible that you will have, customers that will include this in a contract then it is an easy decision to have your EMS certified.

Even if you do not have customer requirements for an environmental management system, but have chosen to implement one for your own sake, it is often beneficial for improvement purposes to have an outside auditor with a greater breadth of experience to look at your processes and make comments in the form of findings and opportunities for improvement (OFIs). This can help you to further improve your system past what you might have been able to do yourself. Many companies think that in the overall cost of maintaining an EMS, the price paid for certification is the smallest part of the overall expense.

A third reason that certifying your environmental management system can help with your implementation is the deadline that is imposed when a certification audit is scheduled. When there is a hard end date, such as the third-party certification body auditors coming to the company, it can provide motivation to some employees to finish their tasks that will complete their part of the ISO 14001 implementation. Managing the implementation to avoid delays is important, and this can help with some employees.

When might you think about not certifying?

So, if you have decided that it is beneficial to implement an EMS, but do not have a customer requirement to certify, and are watching carefully every dollar expended in your company, then you might want to consider claiming compliance to the ISO 14001 EMS requirements rather than certification by a third-party certification body. Even if you do not have an external audit, the ISO 14001 standard is still a world-class standard for what is needed in an environmental management system, so using it makes sense. It is the best place to find the requirements needed to set up a system for environmental management, and the standard itself is not costly.

There are a few other reasons that a company might choose to implement ISO 14001, but not proceed with certification. These include the following:

Corporate Policy: If the company is part of a larger corporation that has a requirement to implement an environmental management system against ISO 14001, but due to the nature of the corporation there has been a decision that certification will not be done

Second-Party Audits: If you have a customer requirement to implement an environmental management system, but the customer intends to audit your facility against the requirements of ISO 14001, then you might gain the benefits of having an external auditor reviewing your system without using a certification body for this. In this case, certification may not be necessary.

Legal Requirements: Some jurisdictions have laws that require implementation of an environmental management system in compliance with ISO 14001, but there is not usually a requirement in these laws to become certified against the standard. If this is your main reason for implementing an EMS, then certification may not be useful to you.

The choice is up to you, so do what is best for your company

Implementing the processes for any management system, although beneficial to your company, still incurs a cost. If you have decided that it is a good thing for your company to implement an environmental management system to better control your environmental impacts, then you have already decided that the expense is worth it. If the benefits are there, then find the best certification body for your company and use it to improve your system.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.