Should You Implement ISO 50001?

Dec. 6, 2011
Beyond publishing an official energy policy and committing personnel to implement it, 50001 is mostly about determining which of a company’s processes are the largest contributors to energy consumption, and then documenting a process to optimize those variables.

I recently attended a three-day seminar about ISO 50001 and I am also serving on committees of some organizations that plan to train people/companies on how to apply this new standard.  This article explains the new standard as well as implementation/application barriers that I can see at this time. 

For the record, I do think that it is important for companies to have a written energy management policy, and for the US government to establish a more robust energy/environmental plan.  However, the state of the economy is a big influence on the implementation of any new programs, requiring management commitment, money and a long-term focus.  Unfortunately, many companies are constrained by a very short-term planning horizon, which retards the implementation of long-term strategic policies/programs.

What is ISO 50001?
50001 is a blueprint for an energy management policy within an organization.  Basically, it is a universal process that can be applied to many facilities to ensure that they are following the fundamental principles of an energy management policy.  It is very similar to other standards that ISO has developed regarding Quality (ISO 9001) and Environmental Management Systems (ISO 14001).

Barriers and Concerns about  ISO 50001 Application
Will ISO 50001 be widely adopted?  I am not sure.  50001 is not a results-oriented program, which means that implementing it does not mean that a company has saved any energy although savings would be likely.  There are at least two consequences of not being results-oriented:

1.   Companies that implement 50001 will want a return on their investment (either in savings or marketing advantage via improved image);

2.   Consumers/Clients want simple evidence that a company is “doing the right thing” with respect to the environment/energy/sustainability, etc.

Everyone understands the benefits when a company says that it is “carbon neutral” or “net energy zero” or “contributes zero waste to landfills.”  These benefits can be measured and validated as results toward a sustainability goal (as opposed to “efforts”).  Even the ENERGY STAR program allows companies to earn a label if their buildings achieve performance in the top 25% against a group of similar buildings.

I am not sure consumers will care if a company is following an efforts-based standard, as consumers are already overwhelmed with information.  Consumers/clients know that companies will naturally respond to market forces and (with or without a standard) will attempt to reduce energy costs to remain cost-competitive.  So the question becomes whether the marketing value of being ISO 50001 certified is important to an organization’s clients. 

Additional influence to implement 50001 can come from a variety of sources.  For example, if Wal-Mart or a similar big company demands that all suppliers have ISO 50001, then suppliers will follow.  Alternatively, if a utility offers funding to help companies implement the 50001 standard, then more companies will do it.  Some utilities are considering this approach as it is similar to the investments they make in demand side management programs. Companies that have already implemented ISO 14001 may find it relatively easy to incrementally add the processes needed to satisfy 50001 requirements.  Also, companies that have implemented Six Sigma, Kaizen or other formal quality-improvement processes will find 50001 relatively easy.

Implementing ISO 50001
Beyond publishing an official energy policy and committing personnel to implement it, 50001 is mostly about determining which of a company’s processes are the largest contributors to energy consumption, and then documenting a process to optimize those variables.  Specific implementation steps are summarized below:

1.   Documenting an energy management policy with responsibilities delegated to individuals.

Eric A. Woodroof, Ph.D., is the Chairman of the Board for the Certified Carbon Reduction Manager (CRM) program and he has been a board member of the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) Program since 1999. His clients include government agencies, airports, utilities, cities, universities and foreign governments. Private clients include IBM, Pepsi, GM, Verizon, Hertz, Visteon, JP Morgan-Chase, and Lockheed Martin.

2.   Finding the Significant Energy Users (SEUs) within your company, and what variables (organized by process/product or by equipment) your company wants to manage with respect to energy consumption.

3.   Establishing a baseline of the energy consumption for specific variables as well as how inputs affect the performance.

4.   Developing an optimization plan and put it into action.

5.   Periodically measuring progress on your optimization plan, and document any changes/improvements to the plan.

6.   Validating or certifying the application of ISO 50001 Standard within your facility.  This can be done via self-certification or accreditation via a 3rd party certification.  Obviously, the 3rd party accreditation will be more respected, but will also cost more to achieve.

Cost-Effective Implementation
Implementing ISO 50001 involves far more steps than are mentioned above. However if I were to advise clients on how to achieve the standard, it seems clear that the key is to identify a few SEUs (what contributes most to energy consumption) and then develop an action plan/documentation plan for those specific SEUs.  Many companies may already be doing this due to common sense or because it is already part of another management program/process (14001 for example).

As mentioned previously, I do think that having a written energy policy is a good idea.  ISO 50001 has a great blueprint that requires that specific actions must be measured periodically and reported.  In other words, the company must actually follow through on the plan it develops and walk the talk. I think that principle of the program is good because it means at least the policy is being developed and action is occurring.

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