ISO 50001:2018 - An Assessment

John Mulholland

1. Introduction

The Energy Management System Standard, ISO 50001:2011, was published in June 2011 and the rapid take up since then has resulted in more than 90 countries with over 22,800 certifications by December 2017. In August 2018, a revised version was published: ISO 50001:2018. This new version adopts the High Level Structure (HLS) common to other management standards. It removes some requirements and adds others. It also makes some requirements less prescriptive.

2. A Tale of Two Companies

It takes some effort and cost to build an Energy Management System (EnMS), to get everyone involved and then go through a certification process. So it is worth the effort? Does the application of ISO 50001 make a difference? An answer to that can be found in two case studies on 3M and Schneider Electric. Both organisation have sites across the world and are pro-active in energy management. For both companies some sites are certified to ISO 50001:2011 and some are not. Figure 1 shows savings in the sites that do have ISO 50001 certification compared to sites that do not. All sites achieved savings but those with ISO 50001 saved 62 to 65% more energy than those that didn’t.

Figure 1 - Comparison of savings at sites with and without ISO 50001

For further details see: Electric_Mexico_Canada_USA.pdf

3. Where are we now?

ISO publish certification numbers globally against each standard in September of each year. Below is summary of the number of global certifications for ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment) and ISO 50001 (energy). Between 2015 and 2017 the growth rate for ISO 50001 was 90.8% but the number of global certifications is only 22,870 (to December 2017) compared to 362,610 certifications for ISO 14001 which has been running since 1996. In the future there will be companies who will hold ISO 50001 but not ISO 14001 and vice versa. However, there will be many who will hold both these standards. So by 2030, the number of global certifications for ISO 50001 has the potential to grow from the current 22,870 to more than 300,000. So the journey has just begun. See Figure 2.

Figure 2 - Global ISO Certification Comparison 2015/17 (Source:

Many people new to ISO 50001 are surprised to learn that there is no central register of organisations certified to ISO 50001. While ISO publish the numbers of certifications they do not publish the names or organisations holding current certifications. So an organisation can claim to hold accredited certification to ISO 50001:2011 but there is no way of checking if this is true. If ISO knows the names of organisations then why is there no accessible list? Clearly a request can be made to an organisation to see a copy of their certificate. But the organisation is not obliged to show it unless there is a pressing reason, such as evidence of a route to compliance with ESOS.

4. What can stimulate uptake of ISO 50001:2018?

There is evidence in Europe that there was a sharp increase in certification in 2015/16 which may have been stimulated by Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS). Article 8 of the EU Directive on Energy efficiency mandates ‘large undertakings’ to conduct mandatory energy audits across every four years across all 28 EU Member countries. However, an available route to compliance in most countries is by holding ISO 50001 certification on the compliance date. Another sharp increase in ISO 50001 certification is expected in 2019 in the run up to Phase 2 of ESOS compliance date of 5 December 2019.

However, there is evidence that Government tax breaks can also encourage take up.. Examining the countries with the greatest number of ISO 500001 certifications supports this. See Figure 3.

Figure 3 - Top 9 countries for ISO 50001 Certification (up to December 2017) (Source:

At one point Germany held over 50% of global certifications to ISO 50001:2011. It is now 36.3%. So why is Germany top of the country leader board? The answer is that the enlightened Germany government gives green tax breaks to Germany companies holding certification to ISO 50001. Furthermore Germany companies only have access to grants for renewable projects if they are certified to ISO 50001. There is some logic to this thinking. Why install relatively expensive renewable energy generation if the organisation is ‘leaking’ energy by poor energy management practices and from the lack of investment in energy efficiency? In other words, sort out the demand side (by applying ISO 50001) before applying high cost renewable generation. Who can argue with that?

If every country in the world followed Germany’s fiscal incentive example, the number of global certifications would increase at least three fold. It could mean a million certifications worldwide by 2030 instead of the likely 300,000. We know from 3M and Schneider this is likely to result in up to 65% more savings compared to business as usual. This could have a substantial impact in reducing energy consumption, costs and carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions. However, a little known fact about ISO 50001:2011 is that the words “carbon” or “carbon dioxide” are never mentioned in the entire Standard, it is all about reducing kWh consumption. However reducing kWh naturally leads to reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as well as costs.

Could ISO 50001:2018 make a significant difference to reduce carbon emissions? The answer is ‘yes’ for three reasons. The first is that most of the direct controllable carbon emissions by organisations are from their energy use. Secondly, ISO 50001 is a global Standard and already is being applied in 95 countries. Thirdly, evidence from the case studies by 3M and Schneider, show that up to 65% more energy is saved at sites operating to ISO 50001 compared to sites which don’t. And unlike various company initiatives where energy performance waxes and wanes certification to a standard ensures consistency and continuity in energy management and thus benefits the company and the wider environment.