Business and environmental impact of ISO 14001

Lead author: Henk de Vries       Year: 2012       Methodology: Literature review

ISO R&I Team Summary

This paper is a literature review of existing empirical studies on the business and environmental impacts of ISO 14001, with the aim to understand the contribution of this standard towards sustainability and whether it can be a source of business and monetary benefits. The article finds that most reviewed studies show evidence of environmental and/or business improvements (30 out of 34 studies), and conclude that ISO 14001 implementation can lead to environmental improvements, and the business benefits of implementing the system also largely outweigh the costs in terms of improved operations and competitive advantage on the market. They do however highlight limitations in the study of environmental impacts in terms of the high risk of result bias. In particular, some firms may only seek certification for reputational purposes, which might prevent any changes in performance after certification, as the standard is not meaningfully implemented. In addition, most studies are based on perception data from managers, which risks a positive response bias as satisfied managers are more likely to engage with the survey.


Publication Abstract

Purpose – The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed the ISO 14000 series of standards for environmental management as a response to the concerns about sustainable development expressed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. The most important standard is ISO 14001, published in 1996 and slightly modified in 2004, which specifies requirements for environmental management systems. Worldwide, 188,815 organisations have obtained a certificate for their environmental management system based on this standard (figures December 2008). This paper aims to address the extent to which implementation of this standard has contributed to sustainability and also whether implementation is not only an expenditure, but also a source of business benefits. Design/methodology/approach – In order to answer these questions, the existing literature on the impact of ISO 14001 has been reviewed. Findings – Literature shows evidence for environmental and/or business improvements of organisations that have implemented the standard, however, the opposite can also be found. The performance indicators have been identified from which this evidence could be found. Also the literature shows some moderating variables for the impact of ISO 14001. Originality/value – This paper contributes to the insights in the effects of ISO14001.


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  • Publication type:

    • Journal article
  • Other authors:

    • Henk de Vries
    • Deniz Bayramoglu
    • Ton van der Wiele