ISO 14001 Certification

Certification refers to the verification that a product, process or other entity complies with, or is consistent with, some standard or set of standards. It usually implies review by an independent third party expert or panel. To identify something as certified implies achieving an established level of quality or consistency. This process of confirming consistency with a standard or set of standards is a major element of ISO 14001, the standard under ISO 14000 that provides a specification for an Environmental Management System (EMS).

Accreditation and Registration

Other terms that are frequently heard in relation to ISO 14000 are accreditation and registration. Accreditation refers to a procedure by which an authoritative body gives formal recognition that a body or person is competent to carry out specific tasks. In terms of ISO 14001, it refers to a body being evaluated and being found competent, in accordance with ISO/IEC* Guide 62, to register companies that have demonstrated compliance with ISO 14001. In ISO terminology, accredited organizations are known as registrars. Registration refers to the procedure of registering an organization that has demonstrated compliance with ISO 14001 on a publicly available list. In the United States, the term "registration" is frequently used to include the procedures defined as "certification" above.


In the United States, registered third-party certifiers are those organizations that have been registered through a process coordinated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accreditation Program and the Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB). The ANSI Accreditation Program and RAB are the U.S.-recognized auditor accreditation bodies. ANSI is also the U.S. representative organization to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). As the U.S. representative, ANSI participates in the development of ISO standards. The RAB was created by the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) as a separate, not-for-profit affiliate specifically for the purpose of registering third party certifiers. The RAB is recognized as the major accreditor of ISO 9000 quality management certifiers in the U.S.

The RAB performs actual assessments of certifiers, makes accreditation decisions, and conducts on-going surveillance of the certifiers to ensure their commitment to quality does not waiver. ANSI provides the due process and public review of program criteria and procedures, and promotes domestic and international recognition of the program. The accrediting process used by ANSI/RAB is used by most of the world's accreditation bodies and is recognized internationally. Contrary to popular a misconception, ISO itself does not carry out audits or issue certificates of conformance. This misconception has lead to organizations mistakenly being referred to as "ISO certified."

Self-Declaration or Third-Party Registration?

The ISO 14001 standard does not necessarily require third-party registration. Under ISO 14001, there are two ways to confirm consistency with the standard: self-declaration of conformance, or third-party certification. Self-declaration refers to an organization's statement that it is compliant with the ISO 14000 standard. It is the result of an internal review or audit of compliance with the standard. If the results of the internal audit reveal that its EMS is consistent with ISO 14001, the organization self-declares its conformance to the standard. Organizations can train existing staff or hire outside consultants to conduct objective internal EMS audits; either way, internal auditing requires familiarity with the ISO 14001 standard. Establishing and maintaining an effective internal audit program (along with feedback and corrective action mechanisms) as part of an ISO 14001 EMS demonstrates a continuing commitment to improvement and validates a self-declaration of conformance.

Third-party certification is performed by a registered external auditing organization. An expert third-party audits the EMS for compliance with all elements of ISO 14001. Third-party certification of an organization's EMS can help to establish credibility and inspire greater confidence in external stakeholders (e.g., the public, regulators, governments, and other organizations) because of the perception that third-party certifiers act independently and audit an organization's EMS in an unbiased manner.

Is Registration Right For You?

It is anticipated that implementing an ISO 14001-compliant EMS will result in multiple internal benefits to an organization, such as increased efficiency, ease of transfer of function between individuals, and reduced risk of non-compliance with environmental legislation by establishing standardized processes. External benefits can be realized through the demonstration of an organization's commitment to environmental protection to external stakeholders. Whether or not there will be even greater benefits with ISO 14001 EMS registration (or certification) as opposed to implementation without registration, varies significantly among organizations. Each organization must consider whether ISO 14001 registration will provide worthwhile benefits. In determining whether or not to pursue registration, an organization should consider such things as: whether its competitors and peer organizations are pursuing registration; whether its "customers" are indicating that they require or desire registration; whether registration will improve the relationship with regulatory agencies; whether insurers will offer preferential treatment because of perceived lower risks; and whether registration will improve public relations with the surrounding community. Organizations can perform a cost/benefit analysis to assist them in determining if the anticipated benefits to registration are worth the registration costs.

Implementing the requirements of ISO 14001 into an organization's existing management system and registration are two separate issues. The ISO 14001 standard requirements can be met through self-declaration rather than third-party registration. If all requirements of ISO 14001 are fully implemented and self-declared, then the organization will reap the same internal benefits as an organization earning third-party registration. The primary difference between the two is the independent, objective credibility provided by the third-party registration. If the third-party objectivity and credibility is irrelevant to the organization, then self-declaration of ISO 14001 conformance is the preferable option.

* International Electrotechnical Commission (in partnership with ISO).