Uptake of Energy Management Standard Likely to be Muted

What is the uptake of ISO 50001, the new international energy management standard, going to be? No one knows yet, though it seems like everyone following it has an opinion. We have some data that suggests that the initial uptake will be more modest than bullish proponents suggest.

When a new business process or technology standard is introduced, it sends a ripple through industry. There may be pressure from customers to adopt the new standard; there is impact analysis, training, consulting, auditing; there may be redesigns of products or processes; there is marketing and messaging touting one’s compliance. And then, of course, there are the intrinsic benefits, if any, of adhering to the standard.

ISO 50001 promises to enable companies to wrap their energy use in a well-managed process that can help them increase their efficiency and lower costs over time. What’s not to like? Largely, the expense of training, modifying processes, auditing and certification. That’s why some companies want to wait until the benefits of certifications are proven or until their customers demand it from them.

Some boosters of the standard point out that two other management standards, ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management) have been widely adopted.  (Globally, over 1.1 million ISO 9001 certifications were granted by 2010; over 250,000 ISO 140001 certs were active in the same year.) Familiarity with those standards paves the way for adoption of the new ISO 50001, proponents say. Skeptics argue, however, that it’s easy enough to add energy management procedures to an existing ISO 14001-compliant system, obviating the need for an entirely new system.

There are similarly two ways of looking at the adoption of European-centric energy management standards such as EN 16001. Some say a company that’s gone through the trouble of obtaining a certification for EN 16001 will have little appetite to do it over again for ISO 50001, unless of course customers demand it. On the other hand, having been certified in EN 16001, it’s little additional work to be recertified in 50001.

It seems likely that energy intensive industries such as smelting, mining, chemicals production, glass and cement making and the like will be early adopters of the standard. Broader adoption will depend in part on demands from customers.

One measure of interest in the standard is the number of copies of it that have been purchased from the ISO in the early months after it was issued.  In response to an e-mail query from me, ISO sent me these figures which are the sales volumes for the standards specifications in the four months following their issuance:

Standard First Four Month Sales
ISO 9001:2008


ISO 14001:2004


ISO 50001:2011


Note that the proportion of sales for 9001 and 14001 is similar to the proportion of certification issued years later. Judging from this data point alone, you might expect adoption of 50001 to be roughly half that of 14001. But that’s not the only data point we have. In a November 2011 Green Research survey of 47 senior sustainability executives, a quarter of respondents said they were unfamiliar with the standard and over a third said their company had no intension of complying with the standard. Just 13 percent said they intended to comply with the standard in the next two years.

Early indicators are that it’s going to take some education and some time before ISO 50001 goes mainstream.

What is your company doing about ISO 50001?



Filed under ISO 50001

4 responses to “Uptake of Energy Management Standard Likely to be Muted

  1. Greg Swan

    Your comparisons of the NEW standard 50001:2011 to two REVISED standards 14001:2004 and 9001:2008 are really not a good predictor of the uptake of 50001 because there are more than a million companies already certified to the existing standards. Companies already certified need the new versions of the standard to remain certified. Wy not compare to the sales in the first 4 months after the original issue of 9001 and 14001?

  2. David Schatsky

    Hi Greg. That’s an excellent point. I will go back to the ISO folks and see if they can provide that data. Thanks.

  3. David,

    Greg makes a valid point, to which I would add, while there a number of core similarities between ISO 14001 and 50001, there are also fundamental differences between the two standards, and while it is true some tenets of ISO 50001 can be folded into an ISO 14001-conforming EMS, some aspects of the energy standard are miles apart from ISO 14001 – take it from a seasoned ISO 14001 practitioner, trainer and all-around ISO 14001 specialist.

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