Regardless of the industry they serve, most organizations and companies have a highly vested interest in efficiently managing the energy they consume. Effective energy management is essential to helping an organization reduce emissions and conserve resources. It also plays an important role in lowering energy bills and driving greater operational efficiencies throughout the organization.
As important as energy management is, until recently there has not been a standardized process in place to help organizations develop effective energy management systems. This is the goal of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and its ISO 50001 Energy Management standard. The international standard, which was first launched in June 2011, provides a framework of requirements for organizations to develop a policy for more efficient energy usage in their operations, fix objectives and targets to meet the policy, use data to better understand and make decisions about energy use, measure results and review the effectiveness of the policy, and then work to continually improve energy performance.
Encouraging energy management
As with other ISO management systems standards such as ISO 9001 for quality and ISO 14001 for environmental management, certification to ISO 50001 is possible and open to all organizations, regardless of size, activities or geographical location. And, it is not obligatory.
However, a growing number of organizations are deciding to implement the standard based on the tangible benefits it provides. One major benefit is the sustainable and measureable cost savings that energy management offers. By continually evaluating their manufacturing, transportation, supply chain and administrative processes, organizations can keep finding new ways to boost the efficiency of their energy use and consumption, which lowers their energy spending and boosts their bottom-line profits.
The gains realized by this certification are not limited to one industry or one country. This is largely due to the global participation of more than 50 ISO member countries on ISO’s Technical Committee 242 (TC 242). The committee, comprised of experts from national standards bodies from each of the participating countries, developed ISO 50001 to not only drive down energy waste and expenditures, but to also drive up greater trade by giving organizations a competitive advantage on the global stage. A manufacturer in Canada with this certification, for example, would be better able to sell their goods and services to customers in other countries who value environmentally responsible and energy-efficient products. And by saving energy costs in their manufacturing, they can pass some of these savings on to the end customer.
Breaking down adoption barriers
As with most new certifications, widespread acceptance of ISO 50001 is moving slowly and starting with large early adopters such as Google and IBM, who are continuously looking for energy usage improvements, both internally and from their suppliers. These large companies reap greater benefits, i.e., lower costs, if they preferentially work with suppliers who have also set up energy management processes that follow ISO 50001. In this way, the standard gains greater implementation across industries and across the globe.
Another potential reason for the slower acceptance of this standard is the fact that so much numerical data must be collected—energy consumption inputs and outputs of individual pieces of equipment, electricity usage across a manufacturing facility—that it takes a great deal of time and effort to set up processes to routinely collect these data and then trace them back to their source. Getting auditors accustomed to examining so much numerical data, looking at historical trends and tying any energy savings back to a given energy management initiative will require a paradigm shift within the auditing community worldwide.
Many organizations may be reluctant to take up this standard due to “audit fatigue.” A large number of organizations already have multiple certifications—ISO 9001 for quality, ISO 14001 for environmental management, OHSAS 18001 for health & safety—that the thought of yet another audit, and all the documentation and data recording that go with it, is not attractive.
The ISO community understands these concerns and is working to help organizations realize more of the benefits of an ISO certification. First, they are rewriting global management standards within the ISO Technical Committees to ensure that they share a common language. The main body of the standards would comprise a number of major clauses with the same text, and each individual management category would have its own specific piece. In this way, an organization can easily integrate multiple standards into one management system with several specialized sections—a certification section for quality, one for safety, one for energy, and so forth—such that the certification is easier to manage. The first integrated common language document is being developed by the technical committees and is scheduled for release in mid 2015.
Auditors can play a role in encouraging wider adoption of this energy management standard by tying the negative component of an audit—a nonconformance—to a positive outcome—energy savings. Unlike other certifications, in which it is difficult to trace safety or environmental compliance to cost savings, a direct link exists between energy management and operating costs. An effective auditor will be able to clearly demonstrate how much money the organization stands to save by correcting each nonconformance.
Changing this mindset represents a paradigm shift for the certification and auditing community, and it may take several years to take hold. But, the community as a whole is already moving in the right direction. For example, Cummins Inc. recently received ISO 50001 certification for its Columbus Engine plant in the US state of Indiana. The plant achieved this by implementing several energy improvements in recent years, including upgrading light fixtures, improving building insulation and increasing air compressor efficiency, all of which significantly lowered their energy expenses.
Getting the process in place
For companies that are already certified in some aspect of their operation, such as quality or safety, understanding the benefits of energy management certification and how to work with an auditor will be familiar. For organizations that are new to the certification process, they should first evaluate their internal resources to get started—do they have manufacturing engineers or process engineers on their staff that already know something about process efficiency and have an innate understanding of their systems?
To address any system gaps, many companies will bring in consultants to help them get their energy management systems in place, write up processes for the system, set up a measurement and verification plan, and define the scope and boundaries of the energy system. When they are ready for the audit, they then bring in an independent auditor from an organization such as Bureau Veritas, to review all aspects of their energy management system. Based on their understanding of ISO 50001 and their auditing experience around the globe, they can make useful and practical recommendations for the organization to maintain conformance or to make changes to processes that drive further energy savings.
Achieving ISO 50001 certification is not an easy task, nor should it be. But successful organizations with this distinction gain prominence on the global stage by being seen as environmentally sensitive and energy savvy service providers.