December 2009

ISO 14001

ISO 14001: What is it?  Should I Care?

By: K&S Enterprise Quality Associates

ISO 14001 was first released in 1996 and is the first global standard for organizations that are seeking to proactively reduce environmental risk and costs to the organization and their customers.  In 2004, ISO 14001 was updated to be complementary with the ISO 9001 quality management system standard, this update was based on inputs from many sources, both regulatory and non-governmental agencies.  The revisions were made to provide valuable insight to areas of the standard that were not adequately addressed in the 1996 revision.

With the increasing amount of scrutiny toward organizations to become environmentally friendly, the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) standard demonstrates a commitment to the environment to shareholders, customers and regulatory agencies.  ISO 14001 compliance and/or certification will provide a competitive advantage by demonstrating that the organizations environmental processes are effectively managed, continually improving, and top management is committed to the EMS processes.

Organizations that have embraced the ISO 14001 standard and have implemented the requirements, it has enabled them to structure their good environmental processes, encourage recycling and pollution prevention programs, and reduce risk to the environment and to the organization through understanding a structure approach to legal compliance.  Organizations have seen improved performance in the organization making it more efficient and productive.

By becoming certified to ISO 14001 your organization demonstrates your commitment to environmental responsibility, fostering improved relationships with the community, shareholders, and governmental and environmental organizations.

According to Lead Auditor Cassie Ridenour (Smithers Quality Assessments, Inc.) “One other value that ISO 14001 standard offers and is not known by most organizations is the role of the system registration in the eyes of regulators such as the US EPA. For example the US EPA, has a policy of deterrence of regulatory noncompliance by making fines high and the possibility of corporate leaders serving jail time to discourage violations.  A sentencing formula is used that considers the implementation of an environmental management system, i.e. ISO 14001, as a mitigating factor, so, if a fine is imposed, it may ultimately be reduced. The environmental management system provides a structure for the management of pollution prevention (P2). Pollution prevention programs provide cost savings, reduced legal liability, improved corporate image, and improved worker safety.  A well made environmental management system will pay for itself. A good environmental management system incites constant attention in the areas of waste reduction, motivates pollution prevention and regulatory compliance, and inspires employees to consider the environmental costs of their activities. As times and circumstances change, energy saving projects that were not previously economically feasible may become so; product and packaging options may also change. Certainly the world market and attitude about landfill waste, led by the European Union, have changed dramatically over the decade since ISO 14001 was released.

The main concern with environmental management is with two things: risk and money. Evidence from EMS certification indicates that when organizations consider the monetary and risk factors of their working environments, the benefits can be tremendous”. The following case studies from Quality Digest’s article “ISO 14001 Case Studies” illustrate this point.

Electrolux (formerly Frigidaire)

Electrolux Home Products (formerly Frigidaire) in Greenville, Michigan, began its quest with ISO 14001 in 1999 initially saving approximately $70,000 in fines for a spill by following the EMS documented procedure.

The spill was caused by a contractor on-site and part of the EMS procedures requires all contractors to be licensed for whatever activity they’re conducting on the company’s site. The licensed contractor spilled raw sewage it was pumping out of an underground tank. In the state’s Dept. of Environmental Quality’s investigation, the DEQ determined that Electrolux had taken the correct precautions to contain the spill resulting in Electrolux not being fined. The DEQ sent a letter to Electrolux stating that if it hadn’t proved it had procedures in place to prevent such an occurrence they would have been fined.

Additionally Electrolux reduced costs through meeting objectives and targets set within its EMS, particularly in the area of solid waste materials. Prior to ISO 14001, scrap materials were transported 45-miles, three times a week—incurred significant labor, vehicle and fuel costs. But by rethinking the process and installing a compactor, the company significantly cut the volume of scrap being transported. Disposal trips are now made once a week, a change that saves fuel and labor costs and reduces equipment wear.


Sony Corp. became certified to ISO 14001 in 2002. The certification includes non-manufacturing operations in North America, including Sony Music Entertainment Inc., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony of Canada Ltd. and Sony Electronics Inc.

Sony pursuit of registration was a companywide commitment to the environment, to improve the controlling of documents and gain further momentum for continuous improvement. Sony’s objective was to preserve and enhance the environment and protect the safety and health of their employees, customers and neighbors,” says Mark Small, vice president for corporate environment, safety and health issues (Sony Electronics).

The environmental efforts of SCA companies include recycling, energy conservation, waste reduction, local outreach programs, and health and safety issues, such as fire and emergency preparedness.  The company has reduced its recycling rate by more than 95 percent at 17 sites, introduced products with lead-free solder and halogen-free printed wiring boards, and reduced and/or replaced its packaging materials.

Since the Pitman, New Jersey site (500,000 square foot manufacturing center for prerecorded digital media) became registered to ISO 14001; the company has established management reviews, objectives, and environmental initiatives and has implemented related improvement programs quickly and efficiently.

For Sony, ISO 14001 has benefited by:

  • Complementing the company’s other quality management programs (ISO9001)
  • Strengthened management commitment to environmental views
  • Increased employee motivation
  • Improved the control of documents
  • Expanded the scope for environmental initiatives
  • Reduced resource use
  • Increased local community involvement

Should my company consider ISO 14001 in their plans?

With any system there are costs associated with implementing an ISO 14001 EMS.  If this investment is made in the EMS, it is important for the organization to derive a benefit and a return on investment.  Four things should be considered for organization considering ISO 14001 certification.

  1. An ISO 14001 compliant or certified system must bring value by identifying and reducing the potential aspects and impact that can result from the company’s activities.  This reduces the possibility of the company creating an environmental impact and minimizes the magnitude of the impact.  Improved processes, and increased productivity, reduced scrap and rework result in increased profits.
  2. From the perspective of sales and marketing, a determination needs to be made on whether certification would make a difference?  Would certification to ISO 14001 help sway customers decision process for supplier selection?  Would certification differentiate you from the competition?
  3. Are any of your major customers requiring you to certify or be compliant to ISO 14001 to continue being a preferred supplier?  These again are questions that need to be asked by Sales on a continual basis.
  4. Are regulatory requirements requiring you to have ISO 14001 certification?  Certification will not absolve the company from complying with federal, state and local environmental requirements.  Some states are offering incentives to companies implementing an EMS or becoming certified to ISO 14001 such as reduced inspections, on-site technical assistance, and even modifications to state or federal regulatory requirements.

Answering these four questions should provide a basis on whether ISO 14001 should be part of the organizations plans.  If the decision is made to put ISO 14001 in the forecast, it is important to take it on at your own pace.  Don’t make the mistake and wait until your primary or best customer, government agency gives you the “or else” ultimatum and you have to be certified in three months.

How Do I Get Started?

For information on getting started with the ISO 14001 certification, contact K&S Enterprise Quality Associates at