What’s the Difference Between ISO 14001 and ISO 50001?

Tim Peatfield, Environmental, Technical & Benchmarking Manager, Alcumus ISOQAR

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Written by: alcumus
25th February

One of the questions we’re most frequently asked at Alcumus ISOQAR is: What’s the point of getting ISO 50001 if we already have ISO 14001?

It’s a good question. If you want the short answer: ISO 50001 is about saving energy whereas ISO 14001 is about your environmental performance, which doesn’t necessarily involve saving energy. Strange, but true. This is explained later.

Both the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System and ISO 50001 Energy Management System are rising in popularity. It’s not difficult to understand why, given the drive to net zero and surging fuel prices. But many people make the mistake of thinking that ISO 14001, being an ‘environmental management system’, must, by definition, incorporate energy management. It would seem logical, but things aren’t that simple. So let’s take a quick look at the two standards, then consider the differences and why you might want both.

ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS)

ISO 14001 helps you minimise your impact on the environment and manage your compliance with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

In essence it’s about implementing techniques to help you measure your environmental performance, then establishing ways to improve that performance by reducing your environmental ‘impact’. This notably includes how you manage use of resources, waste management and reduction of pollution.

ISO 50001 Energy Management System (EnMS)

ISO 50001 focuses solely on energy. Its purpose is to help you achieve continual improvement in energy ‘performance’ which includes efficiency, consumption and security.

Although it's not designed with the stated intention of improving environmental performance, the background to the development of ISO 50001 did involve consideration of environmental and climate protection. It’s self-evident that a system that helps you reduce energy consumption can also aid in reduction of CO2 emissions.

Common ground and possible conflicts

Where the systems overlap and diverge is where the confusion arises. So let’s try to clear things up.

ISO 50001 has a narrow scope. Its only concern is how to improve energy performance. It does not consider, for example, carbon emissions. It simply looks at how much you use, and how to reduce it, and how secure the supply is.

ISO 14001 has a much wider scope but it makes very few references to energy and where it does, it’s essentially about choosing energy to improve environmental performance. In essence, its purpose is to reduce pollution through reduction of waste and adoption of cleaner methods of operating. It is not designed to reduce your energy usage or manage costs - indeed, your energy consumption and costs could possibly rise as a consequence.

You may think that these two aims are joined at the hip; surely an improvement in energy performance must lead to an improvement in environmental performance?

Well, consider this example. Maybe you decide to change your modern diesel vehicles to first generation electric vehicles. It sounds like the right thing to do, no? Well, you’d score brownie points under ISO 14001 for reducing emissions. But it could well be a negative under ISO 50001 because your energy use in kilowatt hours may actually go up.

The next obvious question is, if you have both ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, how do you solve this conundrum? Well, remember - ISO standards don’t set targets for you - you set your own. As long as you set your objectives and you’re able to justify your decisions, you’ll satisfy the Auditor.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to the actual aims of the two standards, there is significant overlap of the two standards in regard to how they are built and maintained, as there is with all modern ISO management systems built on the Annex SL structure. That’s to say, both standards are built around the same ten major components, with significant overlap allowing you to combine facets to create an integrated management system. This significantly reduces workload for you and the Auditor.

So, is it worth getting ISO 50001 if we don’t have ISO 14001?

Yes. As we’ve seen, there’s clear blue water between the two standards,

If you’re not going for both, whether you get ISO 50001 over ISO 14001 is all about the ‘context’ of your organisation. If your organisation has very little environmental impact, maybe you’re simply a professional service, office-based organisation, with very little environmental impact apart from heating and lighting your building and powering your IT, then it may be a better decision to just go for ISO 50001. This can both reduce your environmental impact better than ISO 14001 would and deliver better business results in terms of cost controls. (There may of course be other drivers behind your decision whether to go for ISO 50001 and/or ISO 14001, such as the requirement to be certified by your clients.)

If you’re still unsure as to which direction to take, call the Alcumus ISOQAR Technical Sales Team who’ll happily talk you through your options and provide you with free resources to help you make your decision.

Learn more about ISO 50001 with our ISO 50001 FAQ.

Learn more about ISO 14001 with our free Guide to the Requirements of ISO 14001 and ISO 14001 Gap Analysis.