EHS Management

Can You Afford ISO 14001 Certification?

When it comes to internationally recognized environmental management systems (EMSs), you can’t get much higher-profile than the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 standard. In 2015, nearly 320,000 businesses worldwide held valid certifications in ISO 14001. But obtaining ISO 14001 certification can be extremely costly, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Cost/Finance analysis

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You can get a better idea of what it might cost you to obtain ISO 14001 certification by collecting quotes for specific costs that you would incur and weighing them against the expected benefits of certification.

Planning for the Cost of Certification

The cost of certification can be difficult to estimate; however, you can predict some of the costs you will incur. You’ll need to research the costs associated with:

  • Obtaining the standard. An electronic copy of the ISO 14001 standard currently costs about $137 if you purchase it directly from the ISO.
  • Employee training. Your workers will need training in ISO 14001. Costs will vary depending on the course(s) you decide to use (e.g., are they in person? Or online? Does everyone need a course in implementation or just key personnel?). There are a number of third-party training providers that can help you develop estimates for training costs.
  • Technology investments. Will you need to buy new software for documentation and recordkeeping? Will you need to buy a subscription to a legislative update service?
  • Registration cost. You’ll need to estimate the cost of an accredited registrar to certify your program against the ISO. Full recertification is required every third year.
  • Surveillance audits. You’ll need to budget for annual surveillance audits.
  • Ongoing management. Someone must have the time and budget to oversee the continuing requirements of the management system implemented under ISO 14001.

Funding and Anticipated ROI

When you finally have a solid estimate of what it will cost you to obtain ISO 14001 certification, you may want to stop and take a deep breath. It probably won’t be cheap. However, ISO 14001 certification doesn’t just have costs; it offers benefits. You may find it easier to persuade top management to fund your certification aspirations if you can make a case for the expected return on investment (ROI).

Case studies from the ISO have shown that achieving ISO 14001 certification provides economic benefit to a company of between 0.5% and 4% of their annual sales revenue. Companies also report savings in:

  • Energy costs for fuel and general utilities as a result of increased plant reliability and process efficiency;
  • Materials use, through the reduction of off-specification product; and
  • Legal compliance costs.

If you could improve performance in each of those areas by 5%, how long would it take to recoup your expected investment? What you if you could improve in each of those areas by 10%? Solid estimates of ROI can help you to justify the investment in ISO 14001 certification.


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