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What is the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 14001 Standard: Principles, Definitions and Certifications

As the business world moves forward taking steps to becoming more environmentally friendly, there are many choices to be made in terms of certifications. One particular option for the operations side of an organization is choosing the ISO 14001 certification as the primary choice. There are many things to consider when taking this step such as time, effort, cost and value. Together let us compare this certification with another  type of certification like Green Business Bureau that encompasses the full organization. Both options will bring tremendous value to an organization along with a strong return on investment.

The ISO 14001 Certification Standards

ISO-International Organization for Standardization has developed over 18,500 International Standards on a variety of subjects. Of particular relevance is the ISO 14001 (environmental management systems). It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system. The ISO 14000 family of standards are developed by ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 207 and its various subcommittees. For a full list of published standards in the series see their standards catalogue.

The certification can be relevant to all organizations, regardless of their size, location, or industry and can help these businesses save money by reducing their water and energy consumption and by limiting what waste is sent to local landfills. Do note that the  ISO 14001 is most popular with Manufacturers who have to manage waste and energy efficiently. In some cases, these manufacturers have to comply with local environmental regulations and ISO can help with that.

ISO 14001 Certification Challenges

An ISO 14001 certification is well respected and understood in the industry, but it is a major commitment and undertaking. If you are a small business, ISO will no be appropriate for your company. The budget, time and resources required are significant and hence ISO certifications are typically only taken on by large, mature, well-funded organizations. Here are the three main challenges with an ISO certification:

  • Cost – An ISO project can run several months and requires certified ISO consultants and auditors, an expensive endeavor. The potential cost of fines and penalties due to non-compliance is also a significant factor.
  • Time – An ISO project will use up lots of internal employee time and take them away from their vital daily activities. This time can be reduced by having an employee who has completed an ISO 14001 certification in the past.
  • Resources –  ISO Projects require the right expertise and knowledge. There are online resources and external consultants available, but this will obviously lead to more cost and time.

The Green Business Certification

The Green Business Bureau program is a program for small and medium-sized businesses and is a more holistic program covering all functions and departments of a company. It is often ideal for consumer services, business services, retail, software, and other non-manufacturing organizations. It includes an online EcoAssessment to quickly determine how green your business is.  It also includes an online EcoPlanner tool which includes a library of over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to choose from.

The GBB certification is automated, online and guided. GBB’s certification process is entirely initiative based, so a company will receive points for each and every activity it has completed. Initiatives are very granular and well-defined and the library is designed to capture your completed initiatives and give you full credit for all your accomplishments. This even includes initiatives completed before joining the program. As more initiatives are fulfilled over time, your EcoScore increases, granting an opportunity to reach Gold and Platinum certification levels.

Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as building, cafeteria, bathrooms, manufacturing, operations, transportation or office materials, and further marked by the effort, cost and greening impact of the initiative. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.

The GBB seal is well-recognized so member businesses get the positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike. A ‘clickable’ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s certification level, total points, sustainability mission and accomplishments.

Comparing Green Business Bureau Certification with ISO 14001

In a recent Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 99% of large company CEOs agreed that “sustainability issues are important to the future success of their businesses.” Being a sustainable company elevates your brand and appeals to a larger audience including a new audience of buyers who prefer to buy from “good” companies. 

Both the ISO 14001 and the Green Business Bureau are third party sustainability certifications that provide credibility to companies that implement them. Certifications from respected third parties reinforce and amplify a company’s sustainability efforts and are clearly viewed as the most trustworthy source of green credibility for business. In fact, most customers researching a solution, product or service will often seek out companies with well regarded seals and certifications.

Starting the certification process early in your sustainable business journey often leads to implementing green business practices that drive innovation and profitability. There are many tangible business benefits that certification programs uncover. The tremendous upside of greening often offsets the cost of investing in green initiatives. The most important piece is to make sure that the correct certification is chosen. Being sure to align time, cost, resources, type of organization and benefits.

Certification Definitions

The ISO 14001 Certification supports an organization in developing and integrating its environmental management practices to protect the environment by, for example, preventing pollution, minimizing waste, and reducing energy and materials consumption. Based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology, it provides a systematic framework for the organization to establish environmental objectives and processes in accordance with the environmental policy, to implement the processes, to monitor and measure these processes against defined criteria and to take actions to continually improve.

The Green Business Bureau was created and exists as a certification for businesses across the world from small brick and mortar to large multinational companies. Working to change the world for the better through software that helps businesses become more sustainable. As a trusted authority in green business, they provide online solutions to help purpose-driven businesses of all sizes learn, prioritize, manage and certify green initiatives. Customers use the sustainability framework and solutions to engage employees, manage sustainability programs and become greener.

ISO 14001 Certification

ISO 14001 supports an organization in developing and integrating its environmental management practices.

Based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology, it provides a systematic framework for the organization to establish environmental objectives and processes in accordance with the environmental policy:

  • To implement the processes
  • Monitor and measure these processes against defined criteria Take actions to continually improve

Green Business Bureau Certification

The EcoAssessment™ and EcoPlanner™ online tools enable businesses to:

  • Understand
  • Prioritize
  • Implement
  • Certify green initiatives and sustainable business practices 
  • As a trusted 3rd party, we provide businesses with an official online seal and EcoProfile™ to validate and promote their green commitments and accomplishments

Certification Benefits

As consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental and ecological issues, certification helps your brand stand out as a responsible provider. Comparing the two options we see that both certifications have benefits to consider.

ISO 14001 Certification: companies that implement the environmental management system of ISO 14001 aim to minimize wastage, from materials to energy consumption, throughout the supply chain and can thereby reduce cost. Beyond demonstrating that your organization is committed to sustainability, certification may also reduce the risk of regulatory and environmental liabilities.

The Green Business Bureau Certification comes with a seal that is well-recognized giving member businesses the positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike. A ‘clickable’ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s certification level, total points, sustainability mission and accomplishments.

ISO 1400 Certification 

According to the International Organization for Standardization this certification will bring these benefits:

  • Demonstrate compliance with current and future statutory and regulatory requirements
  • Increase Leadership involvement and engagement of employees
  • Improve Company Reputation And the confidence of stakeholders through strategic communication
  • Achieve Strategic Business Aims By incorporating environmental issues into business management
  • Provide Competitive And Financial advantage through improved efficiencies and reduce costs
  • Encourage Better Environmental performance of suppliers

Green Business Bureau Certification 

According to the Green Business Bureau Certification brings the benefits of: 

  • Certification well recognized across the world 
  • 4 levels of certification to encourage growth
  • Increased leadership involvement and engagement of employees
  • Improve company reputation and the confidence of stakeholders through strategic communication
  • Partners have access to a multitude of tools 
  • Clickable web seal 
  • Marketing support that includes blogs, personal sustainability webpage, showcasing organizations mission, vision and accomplishments
  • Individual support from hands off to complete hands on process 
  • Provides competitive and financial advantage through improved efficiencies and reduce costs
  • Encourage better environmental performance of suppliers by integrating them into the organization’s business systems
  • Hosts a wide variety of eco partners that can be used by organizations on larger projects such as solar installation, zero waste implementation and even food waste reduction.

Certification Requirements

Tacking action on making an organization “green” either throughout the entire company or in one location will need to follow a set of requirements in order to be valid and transparent. These requirements may be done through the leadership of one employee or an entire team depending on the size of the organization.Consider the two certification requirements to evaluate best overall fit.

ISO 14001 Certification 

TUV SUD states these certification requirements:

  • Leadership demonstrates commitment to environmental management
  • Plans must consider the organization’s context and interested parties
  • Environmental impact of the product life cycle must be considered
  • Organization must be committed to continual EMS improvement 
  • Communications strategy allows idea sharing for EMS improvement 
  • Organization must control or influence outsourced processes

Green Business Bureau Certification 

Green Business Bureau states these certification requirements:

  • Asses
  • Prioritize and Choose initiatives
  • Implement green initiatives
  • Share achievements
  • Repeat and improve

Area of Focus

All organizations large or small no matter the size (corporate, government or non-profit) can implement the ISO 14001 Certification to make sure their environmental activities are in line with the standards. The certification requires that an organization considers all environmental issues relevant to its operations, such as air pollution, water and sewage issues, waste management, soil contamination, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and resource use and efficiency.

Green Business Bureau Certification is recognized world wide and like ISO can be used by all types of organizations. The initiatives are organized by business areas that include the impact, cost and amount of work to implement. The areas include the buildings themselves, cafeteria, transportation or office materials and more. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s overall environmental needs and opportunities.

ISO 14001 Certification 

The ISO 14001 Operations:

  • Supporting environmental protection
  • Pollution prevention
  • Water and Sewage 
  • Soil contamination
  • Waste minimization
  • Energy and materials consumption reduction 

Green Business Bureau Certification 

The GBB certification initiatives are organized by the business area they impact. A few examples:

  • Buildings
  • Cafeteria
  • Transportation
  • Employee travel
  • Waste minimization
  • Pollution prevention
  • Energy and material consumption
  • Employee efforts

This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.

Timeline and Costs

Time and cost can be a large factor when looking at the type of certification to implement in an organization. 

When considering ISO 14001 Certification the average amount of time it takes to design, implement and certify can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years (certainly longer depending on the time of employee running the program, how many employees need to take the training and available resources) depending on the size and complexity of the organization.

The ISO 14001 Certification can be extremely costly, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Costs can run from $50,000 to a million depending on the size of an organization, how many people would be certified, the projects to tackle and more. A few top of mind costs will be:

  • Purchase the ISO Standards Catalog.  According to ISO you can purchase an electronic copy for $137.00
  • Employee training courses on the ISO 14001. The cost of the courses vary depending on which third party training organization chooses to use. Taking into consideration which and how many employees need the courses.
  • The certification mandates documentation of the initiatives. If the correct software is not available at an organization this will be another purchase.
  • ISO 14001 Registration cost. Every three years this program requires a full recertification.
  • Each year there are Surveillance audits. 
  • An employee or team of employees will be needed to run this program. This salary(s) are an additional cost.

The Green Business Bureau Certification is an efficient and quick process that includes a small handful of simple baseline activities for your business to complete, after which your business will be recognized as ‘Green Aware’. This is the base level of GBB Certification and is most often achieved very quickly for committed Members. 

Green Business Bureau’s pricing structure is designed to ensure companies of all sizes can cost-effectively and profitably take advantage of the benefits and opportunities of becoming a Certified Green Business. All Memberships come with full access to GBB’s Certification Portal and Benefits. This certification costs as little as a few hundred dollars to a few thousand a year depending on how many locations there are to be certified. Unlike the ISO 14001 Certification the GBB Certification saves additional funds as it does not require:

  • A full time paid position: it has been proven that this certification and its implementation can be done within an employees day to day schedule. A volunteer team can support.
  • The certification does not need a yearly recertification
  • The certification does not require full yearly audits 
  • The software is included in the cost

ISO 14001 Certification 

Timeline: there are multiple steps that include:

  • Preparation for the certificate and certification process.
  • Depending on how quickly an organization works and the company that is chosen to take the courses through will determine the timeline. This can be as little as 4 months to as long as a few years.
  • The 14001 certification is not a “one and done” effort.  According to The Core Solutions it’s about creating an Environmental Management System that provides an avenue for long-term, continuous improvement.

Cost considerations:

Obtaining ISO 14001 certification can be extremely costly, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Taking into account costs of:

  • Obtaining the standard
  • Employee trainings (number of employees will determine cost)
  • Technology investments
  • Registration
  • Surveillance audits
  • Ongoing management

Green Business Bureau Certification 

Timeline: organizations can implement this green certification almost immediately by evaluating efforts already completed and documenting in the provided database. 

When an organization hits the highest level of certification it is important to maintain initiatives and even consider continuing to add more as the company grows.

However this is not mandatory to keep the certification active.

Cost:

  • Designed to ensure companies of all sizes can cost-effectively and profitably take advantage of the benefits and opportunities of becoming a Certified Green Business. 
  • Starts at $250 for companies under 10 employees.  Pricing is based on number of employees and locations.  For example, a company with 500 employees would pay $1500/year.
  • All Memberships come with full access to GBB’s Certification Portal, Online Tools and Service Benefits

Conclusion

The ISO 14001 and Green Business Bureau programs are similar in that they both establish environmental sustainability as a priority for your company. They are different in scope and focus and understanding the differences will help you select the right program to pursue.

As discussed, ISO 14001 is very specific in scope and GBB is very broad in scope. They are comparable in that both programs will provide you with a blueprint and solid foundation to track and manage your environmental performance. That said, a detailed review of the programs makes it clear that the ISO 14001 program is designed for companies that are putting the focus on the manufacturing side of things and includes getting some or all  employees certified, not just the company as part of the process. Green Business Bureau certification is designed for companies with less than 1,000 employees in non-manufacturing industries.

Whichever certification chosen should take careful consideration to make sure it will be the organization goals and abilities to implement. Both will demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and put a strong measurement framework in place. Both will require a long term commitment as there are always ways to improve and grow.

About the Author

Maggie Okponobi

Maggie’s career started in the education sector as a teacher before committing to the Peace Corps and educational development in The Gambia, where she helped establish an Early Childhood Education school that now is serving 265 students in counting. After returning to the U.S., Maggie worked as Funding Coordination Manager at School Specialty, a company that provides necessary educational supplies for schools, and helped transform the company into a successful sustainable organization. Now Maggie runs her own consulting firm to promote “sustainable steps to a better future” and educate organizations on the benefits and savings possible through adoption of green technology. With Maggie’s diverse experience in education, environmental science, and program management, plus exceptional interpersonal skills, she seeks to form lasting relationships with Key Opinion Leaders to make plans into a reality.

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