Differences between ISO 14001 and ISO 50001

ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use), helps organizations to manage aspects of their operations that can impact the environment. Examples include water and materials use, waste disposal, air emissions and energy use.

Energy use often has significant environmental impacts, including depletion of natural resources (gas, oil, fossil fuels), greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. See also the article Catalogue of environmental aspects to find out which aspect ISO 14001 considers.

ISO 50001 (Energy Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use), in contrast, helps organizations to optimize their energy performance. Some users have wondered why ISO 50001 was necessary when energy use, as an environmental aspect, is already covered in ISO 14001.

So, how does ISO 50001 differ from ISO 14001?

The scope of the standards

Both standards provide a systematic approach to protect the environment through policy, objectives and action plans to achieve intended outcomes. However, the two standards have different scopes: ISO 14001 has a broader scope covering all environmental aspects. ISO 50001 narrows in on energy use, covering design and procurement practices for equipment, systems, processes and personnel that impact energy performance. ISO 14001 covers these too, but only in general terms, and to the extent that they impact overall environmental performance.

How they differ in the structure?

Both standards are based on the familiar Plan-Do-Check-Act model. However, the structures are currently very different because ISO 50001 was modeled on the nearly obsolete ISO 14001:2004, which has since been revised to ISO 14001:2015. For more about that transition, you can find in the article 12 steps to make the transition from ISO 14001:2004 to 2015 revision. The current ISO 50001:2011 is under revision to align with this new structure.

Planning, operation and checking

For an auto garage with mechanics conducting vehicle repairs, ISO 14001 would require them to identify that such work may result in oil spillages which could cause land degradation. The employees must know how to prevent or minimize harm to the environment by implementing controls, such as the installation of an oil interceptor and an effluent treatment process to treat the contaminated water before release. The effluent treatment plant itself would need associated aspects and impacts (such as ground water pollution from leakages during storage and transportation, air pollution from emissions due to chemical reactions and sludge and waste oil disposal) to be identified and controlled. Controls might include bunded storage tanks, and the treated effluent quality would need to be checked before release.

An organization using a lot of energy might choose ISO 50001. If using electroplating baths to coat metal objects, they may set a goal to improve their energy efficiency. An Energy performance indicator (EnPI) (required by Clause 4.4.5) would be the amount of energy needed to produce a unit (energy intensity). They would first measure the energy consumption per unit over a specific time period to establish an energy baseline (Clause 4.4.4). This would be used to measure the effectiveness of their interventions, taking into account factors that drive consumption, such as production volume. They might then install technology to increase output per unit of energy, and monitor the EnPI over time.

Although ISO 14001 does not require, or refer to an equivalent “Environmental Review”, it is necessary to conduct a similar process (discussed in Annex A to ISO 14001:2015, clause A6.1.2, Environmental aspects) in order to establish a ‘baseline’ or starting point.

Difference in perception

Since ISO 50001 focuses on optimizing energy consumption, it’s directly linked to reducing energy costs. Thus, it’s easy for decision-makers to see the benefits of ISO 50001. In its introduction, ISO 14001:2015 mentions that one potential aim is “achieving financial benefits.” Still, many organizations perceive ISO 14001 as an obligation, either imposed by interested parties, or a self-imposed encumbrance useful as a marketing tool. Thus for ISO 50001, the half-hearted approach applied to ISO 14001 is often replaced by more commitment and involvement from top management because the effect on their bottom line is clear.


ISO 50001 has a more demanding list of mandatory documented information than ISO 14001, including an energy planning process, energy review including methodology and criteria, baseline, EnPIs and energy purchasing specifications. To learn more about this topic, check the article List of mandatory documents required by ISO 14001:2015.

ISO 14001 vs. ISO 50001 – Which one to go for and how to decide?

Which standard you want to use depends on the organization’s intended outcomes. Each standard can exist without the other, or both can co-exist and be integrated together. The organization implementing ISO 50001 probably has an existing ISO 14001 system managing a broad spectrum of environmental issues, but they want to zero in on optimisation of energy consumption and cost savings.

As of the end of 2016, the industry sector with the highest number of ISO 50001 certifications was basic metal & fabricated metal products (12.1%), followed by food products, beverages and tobacco (9.3%), with rubber and plastic products almost tied in 3rd place with chemicals, chemical products and fibers. (8.8%).

If you want to learn more about ISO 14001 requirements, check this free Clause-by-clause explanation of ISO 14001:2015.

Advisera Theodora Rondozai
Theodora Rondozai
Theodora Rondozai is an analytical chemist by training (although she was last inside a lab many years ago), with work experience in England and Southern Africa. For 15 years she has been providing consultancy and training services to organizations or individuals who need to acquire the skills to implement or audit ISO standards-based management systems, including ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001. She is fascinated by people and runs workshops in order to “people-watch.” She is a contributor in the recently published book “Township Girls.”