Green Plus and ISO: A Comparison


This is the third post in a series comparing Green Plus to other sustainability certifications and tools. In this post, we’ll be looking at ISO 14001, the Environmental Management process certification. Many Green Plus Certified organizations are also ISO certified (sometimes twice or even three times over).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international standards-setting body. ISO is the world’s largest publisher of International Standards, producing standards for all industry sectors. The organization began in 1926 and utilizes 2700 technical committees, subcommittees and working groups to develop its international standards.

ISO offers both specific industry standards (covering the spectrum from agriculture to shipbuilding) as well as broad management and leadership standards applicable to all industries and sectors. Organizations seeking to formalize environmental planning and practices often pursue the ISO 14001 Environmental Management certification.

To summarize the major differences between Green Plus and ISO 14001, here are the key points:

  • ISO 14001 concentrates exclusively on environmental topics such as air, water and land.  Green Plus covers environmental as well as economic and community practices.
  • ISO 14001 certification focuses on management systems while Green Plus certification requires the implementation of certain management practices.
  • ISO 14001 is applicable to organizations of any size, whereas Green Plus was designed specifically for smaller enterprises (500 employees or fewer).
  • ISO 14001 is an ongoing process intended to encourage continuous environmental improvement. In other words, the process, such as goal setting and measurement, drives the impact.  Green Plus, by contrast, introduces core concepts and principles of triple bottom line sustainability.  In Green Plus, the practices employed, such as waste audits and energy efficient upgrades, drive impact.

Green Plus and ISO are both structured processes for improving sustainability performance.  ISO 14001 entails a five phase process including: 1) Environmental Policy, 2) Planning, 3) Implementation and Operation, 4) Checking and Corrective Action and 5) Management Review. The Green Plus process is more prescriptive and can be summarized as: 1) Assess Current Practices (against the Green Plus standard), 2) Get Feedback, 3) Develop Sustainability Plan, 4) Implement Sustainability Plan and 5) Communicate Efforts.

Who should pursue ISO 14001 certification?  ISO 14001 is helpful for developing ongoing systems of measurement related to the environment and is particularly useful for organizations with measurable and significant environmental impacts, such as global manufacturers.  Examples of well-known companies that have achieved ISO 14001 certification include Ford Motor Company, Sony, Xerox and Lockheed Martin.  Some have estimated the costs of becoming ISO 14001 certified to range from the low tens to about $100K per site when factoring in labor and software costs, however, the idea is that over time, efficiencies gained will make up the costs.

Who should pursue Green Plus Certification?  Green Plus is appropriate for enterprises with 500 or fewer employees seeking a comprehensive view of sustainability that includes the environment as well as people and the community.  It is appropriate for both sustainability newcomers and sophisticates. Past organizations becoming Green Plus Certified have come from services firms, hospitality, construction, automotive, small manufacturing, and the nonprofit sector.  A full list of organizations both certified and moving toward certification can be found in the online directory.  The cost of Green Plus is intentionally kept low (under $1,000) in order to help remove barriers to sustainability for smaller firms.

Overall, Green Plus can be an onramp to ISO 14001 certification for organizations desiring more in-depth environmental management systems.  And ISO 14001 can be an onramp for Green Plus for organizations wanting to gain a broader view of sustainability beyond environmental practices.  As with LEED and GRI, sustainability tools complement one another, ensuring organizations see all sides of the sustainability prism and are positioned to succeed and thrive for the long term.

Photo by fordapa, Available Under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

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