ISO 14001 audit vs 50001: A guide to environmental management systems.

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The path to net zero

Would you believe us if we said that 2022 was the sixth warmest year since global records began in 1880? Don’t take our word for it; this was according to the 2022 Global Climate Report from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. There's no denying it: The climate crisis is a global emergency requiring a serious response from governments, corporations, and citizens.

However, organisations can reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through established standards and environmental management systems (EMS). Introducing ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 – the most common standards businesses can use to become greener. 

ISO 14001 and 50001 are international standards that outline requirements and provide a framework for management systems that aim to make business operations more environmentally friendly. While the broader purpose of these standards may be the same, they differ regarding requirements and coverage. 

In this article, we’ll discuss and compare ISO 14001 and 50001 standards so you can determine which one can provide a more impactful pathway for your business to go green. Let’s begin with the basics. 

What is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001:2015 is part of the 14000 family of standards. It provides the requirements for businesses to manage and control their environmental impact regardless of type, size, or industry. On completing the requirements, the organisation can obtain ISO 14001 certification (audited by the International Organization for Standardization – hence, ISO). Think of it like a stamp of approval that you can proudly display to everyone to show you’re doing your part to go green.  

An EMS covers the framework for policies and practices for reducing the overall impact of an organisation on the environment, for example, through waste reduction or efficient energy consumption. Over 420,000 ISO 14001 certificates in 171 countries worldwide have been attained by successfully implementing an EMS framework. 

What is ISO 50001?

ISO 50001:2018 is an international standard that provides guidelines for organisations to improve their energy usage through an Energy Management System (EnMS). It extends from the ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 standards. 

Companies that develop an EnMS and follow the guidelines of the ISO 50001 standard can choose to get certification. However, ISO does not perform the certification. The guidelines focus on measures such as energy conservation and efficient energy use. It helps reduce carbon emissions through managed energy consumption. 

ISO 14001 vs. ISO 50001: Similarities

Although ISO 50001 and 14001 are separate standards, there are some overlaps between the requirements and recommendations for each. The glaring similarity is that both standards focus on sustainability and help reduce GHG emissions. 

While an EMS and EnMS have different frameworks, the outcome is similar, as companies can use these systems to take measures that ultimately reduce their carbon footprint. Furthermore, these management systems call for identifying, monitoring, and resolving issues directly contributing to GHG emissions. Similarly, both standards adopt the principle of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).

Quick side note: The PDCA principle is a continuous loop providing a simple and effective approach to solving problems and managing change. Find out more about PDCA.

EMS and EnMS strongly focus on training to ensure all stakeholders, including management, participate and play their part. The overarching similarities of ISO 14001 and 50001 make it easier for companies to implement both standards simultaneously.

Did we mention that both certifications require a ton of documentation and rigorous audits to remain compliant? No? Well, prepare yourself because that is what you’re in for if you decide to take on the challenge. Sorry.

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ISO 14001 vs. ISO 50001: Differences

It’s easy to assume that implementing the guidelines of ISO 14001 should suffice, and there aren’t any significant differences between ISO 14001 and 50001. However, a key difference distinguishes ISO 50001 from 14001. 

Firstly, ISO 50001 focuses solely on energy consumption, whereas ISO 14001 examines the overall environmental impact. Secondly, even though the requirements for ISO 14001 certification cover energy, they are not as granular as those mandated by the ISO 50001 standard.

ISO 14001’s scope is much larger, covering various operations and activities of a company that may contribute to its carbon footprint. On the other hand, ISO 50001 simply concerns an organisation’s energy consumption. In that regard, its requirements for adopting energy efficiency are comparatively more comprehensive and stringent. Therefore, ISO 50001 requires more documentation for measures organisations take.

Notably, the ISO 14001 standard does not have specific environmental performance criteria. However, the ISO 50001 standard uses energy performance indicators (ENPIs) to measure the outcome of efforts. 

An EMS can provide tools and policies for reducing waste, including energy waste. On the other hand, an EnMS can go into a much more detailed analysis of a company’s energy usage and implement policies and practices that reduce energy use and cost. 

What is a 14001 audit?

The ISO 14001:2015 standard is among the many ISO standards that can be certified. This means that the EMS you’ve implemented following the ISO 14001 guidelines can earn your organisation a certificate. This certification can showcase your commitment to climate action to your stakeholders. 

There are two types of 14001 audits: internal and external. An internal audit is conducted by the organisation itself to monitor compliance with its own documented EMS. This audit is required by the ISO before you can proceed with an external audit. The internal audit will help identify areas of improvement before you apply for an external audit. 

The external audit is conducted by a third party that inspects whether your EMS aligns with the guidelines provided in the ISO 14001 standard. A successful external audit, also sometimes called, certification audit, will lead to official certification. 

Once your organisation is certified for the ISO 14001 standard, you’ll need a surveillance audit from an accredited body annually. 

Implementing ISO 14001

Enterprises interested in implementing ISO 14001 standard can take the following steps, but keep in mind that you may want to hire an ISO expert to help you draft the documentation to ensure you pass the audit the first time with no findings:

  • Study the ISO 14001:2015 documentation
  • Complete an initial environmental review and gap analysis to identify areas of improvement
  • Create a project plan that includes measures, timelines, and resources
  • Train employees to run the EMS
  • Document policies and procedures for implementing environmental measures
  • Monitor and internally audit the EMS performance
  • Apply for registration/certification from a relevant accredited certification body in the country or region

Implementing ISO 50001

Establishing an EnMS and implementing ISO 50001 guidelines is a multi-step process that requires planning, action, and audits. Here’s a general path to achieving the ISO 50001 standard:

  • Study the ISO 50001:2018 documentation
  • Analyse current energy consumption and associated GHG emissions
  • Define the scope and boundaries of the EnMS
  • Set an energy policy and determine EnPIs
  • Identify applicable legal and compliance requirements and incorporate them into your EnMS objectives
  • Prepare an energy management action plan
  • Manage and control documentation for the EnMS
  • Conduct training and raise awareness throughout the organisation
  • Conduct internal audits and management reviews

Which standard to go for?

Ideally, your organisation should aim to attain both ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 standards to reap both benefits. That said, achieving these standards requires careful planning, management, and audits, which can be time and resource-consuming. Some businesses may find it easier to attain one of these standards. 

If you must choose between ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, consider the impact each of these would have on your business. For instance, a real estate investment firm may benefit significantly from implementing ISO 50001, which can help make portfolio properties more energy-efficient. 


What is an ISO 14001 stage 1 audit?

The ISO 14001 stage 1 audit is the first stage of ISO 14001 audit for certification. It’s also called a document audit or readiness audit. This stage determines whether the organisation is ready for the main audit (Stage 2 audit). During this stage, the auditor will review documentation such as internal audit reports or management review reports. 

What is an ISO 14001 stage 2 audit?

The ISO 14001 stage 2 audit is the final step of the ISO certification audit. It’s conducted on-site by the accredited auditor body and involves an in-depth review of the systems and policies in place for environmental management. It can take anywhere from several days to weeks. 

At the end of this stage, the auditor will communicate whether your organisation will be recommended for certification. They will also provide an audit report with their findings and suggestions. 

Is ISO 50001 certifiable?

The ISO 50001 standard is certifiable, but it’s not obligatory. Companies can use the standard to create an EnMS and benefit from reducing their energy footprint. They can also choose to get certified. The certification process requires first an internal audit, followed by an external audit by an accredited third party. 

How often do you need an ISO 14001 certification audit?

The ISO 14001 standard is revised periodically, usually every five to ten years. Certified organisations must achieve any changes in the certification requirements. That’s why certified organisations must undergo a recertification audit every three years.

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Ryan Stevens

Technical content creator
Ryan is a senior technical content creator, helping tech businesses plan, launch, and run a successful content strategy. After an extensive academic career in engineering, he worked with dozens of tech startups and established brands to reach new clients through proven content creation strategies.
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