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Climate leadership Article | 8-minute read

ISO 14001: Certify that your company is environmentally responsible

Learn how ISO 14001 can answer some of the most pressing questions in your business
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One of the most well-known environmental standards is ISO 14001, an international standard demonstrating that a business has met global criteria when it comes to their environmental management system. This includes whether an organization has management oversight of environmental issues, an environmental policy, implementation strategies, monitoring and corrective action, etc.

There are more than 300,000 companies around the word that are ISO 14001 certified. Yet, many Canadian entrepreneurs aren’t fully convinced of the benefits and are reluctant to the idea of getting certified.

“Obtaining the ISO 14001 certification is a voluntary process,” says Rowda Mohamud, Specialist, Solutions Development, BDC. She says it nevertheless helps SMEs optimize management systems and identify areas to reduce its environmental impact.

ISO 14001 is the quickest way to answer all the questions about environmental management and responsibility.

Mohamud has been working with hundreds of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses, helping them get certified. She estimates that fewer than 20% of Canadian companies hold ISO 14001, thus missing out on important benefits that the certification could bring for their business.

What is ISO 14001?

As an internationally recognized standard, ISO 14001 provides a framework for companies that want to implement an effective environmental management system (EMS) that considers all environmental impacts of a business, including:

  • Emissions and processes for identifying, monitoring and controlling them
  • Water and sewage issues
  • Waste management
  • Soil contamination
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Resource use and efficiency

ISO 14001 is used by businesses of all sizes that are seeking to understand and manage their environmental impacts, risks and opportunities in a systematic manner. It is particularly valuable as it helps a company achieve its environmental objectives on its journey toward broader sustainability. It also creates more robust reporting that meets the needs of major Canadian organizations and SMEs supplying other larger organizations.

Why should my business implement ISO 14001?

1. Ensure long-term sustainabilityISO 14001 shows that your business is taking decisive measures to reduce its environmental footprint. It also shows you are serious and transparent about your efforts toward effective environmental issue management.

“These are very practical and pragmatic standards, and they cover pretty well every aspect of a company’s operations, and how you’re going to manage important environmental issues such as climate change, emissions, and waste, in a proactive way,” explains Mohamud.

Meeting ISO 14001 standards shows that you have an active commitment to environmental performance.

2. Innovate, cut costs and be more productiveISO 14001 encourages business owners to explore sustainable practices in order to identify opportunities that drive innovation and efficiency. It can also help you determine the right metrics and measurements that allow your business to mitigate potentially negative environmental impacts that cause liabilities, whether they’re wastewater, hazardous material storage and handling, or air emissions.

As a result, there are immediate short-term benefits for businesses that align with ISO 14001 and achieve the certification.

3. Help you land larger contracts—Many calls for tenders often require bidders to hold a specific certification. Mohamud says many of the entrepreneurs she’s been working with find the ISO 14001 designation essential to landing government contracts or entering the supply chain of large companies.

“When companies are bidding on tenders, especially with government agencies, there are often requirements to meet ISO 14001. The designation sets a company apart from the competition,” she says.

The ISO 14001 designation gives you a competitive edge.

4. Open new markets and expand internationallyISO 14001 opens doors to markets that prioritize environmental management and performance. It is also a powerful passport to help your company do business with international customers.

When a client is exporting beyond the U.S. or Mexico, buyers want to be assured of that international environmental standards are respected. “I would say about 90% of the companies that we’ve helped at BDC with any of the ISO standards are internationally minded,” says Mohamud. “These are companies that are looking at going into the European Union, Australia or Japan. Global markets place much more emphasis on standards such as ISO 14001 as a way of evaluating a company’s management and ability to mitigate risk and maximize efficiency,” she adds.

Mohamud says that not having ISO 14001 “can be a significant obstacle to growth in international markets.”

5. Meet client demand—One of the greatest motivating factors in a firm’s decision to meet ISO 14001 certification is a client who wants to deal with an environmentally responsible company.

Sometimes a company may not be asked if they are ISO 14001 compliant, but they’ll be asked for things that can only be put in place by meeting ISO 14001 standards.

“We had a client reach out to us and say, ‘We have been asked about our environmental performance, so we would like to do what’s necessary to be ISO 14001 compliant.’ We helped them look at things like the environmental impact of their products, where their materials are sourced, how efficient the plant operates, and even how their plant is laid out,” Mohamud recalls.

While there are clear benefits for getting ISO 14001 certified, on its own, the standard is no magic bullet, and it won’t make your company carbon neutral, for example.

What ISO 14001 will do is help you identify the environmental issues in your business, monitor and manage them as part of a continuous improvement exercise. It is a valuable tool in your environmental toolbox, but it definitely shouldn’t be the only one.

Debunking the most common ISO 14001 myths

“It’s too expensive.”

Mohamud says that while many entrepreneurs are worried about the costs associated with implementing ISO 14001, the right way to think about it is that certification such as this are an investment in your business’s future.

While there are initial costs, you should consider the savings available by way of identifying the environmental issues that have risks and opportunities for your business, reduce waste, wastewater and emissions for example, and just improving your business’ mindset altogether.

“I don’t have time”.

While gathering all the documentation and getting through the process of getting certified might get a bit complex, Mohamud says that the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone.

BDC and other consulting businesses can work with your existing staff to minimize disruption. Implementing ISO 14001 can address some of your existing pain points, such as cost savings and regulatory compliance. It can be integrated into your ongoing operations to deliver benefits across the board and optimize resource use and efficiency.

“We’re too small.”

ISO 14001 is suitable for organizations of all types and sizes, be they private, not-for-profit or governmental and can be scaled to fit your operations and your objectives. It's about improving efficiency, reducing risk, and enhancing your reputation, regardless of scale.

“It’ll take too long.”

After having worked with hundreds of Canadian companies in helping them get certified, Mohamud says that clients typically get certified in a timeframe of

around 6 to 8 months, including gathering the 3 months of evidence that the environmental management system works before certification. And the long-term benefits are likely to outweigh the short-term time and resource investment.

Business case: How ISO 14001 helped this B2B company

Mohamad gives the example of this fast-growing B2B company specializing in commercial tower cleaning. To solidify their growth and client-base, the company’s leadership put together a strategy to bid (and win) on larger contracts. One key component of this exercise was getting ISO 14001.

Company’s key objectives:

  • Stand out from the crowd when bidding on larger contracts.
  • Identify environmental impacts, risks and opportunities.
  • Establish quick-wins and determine longer-term investment for carbon emissions reduction.
  • Demonstrate progress on environmental objectives to current and prospective customers.


  • Lack of understanding of the environmental impact of their operations.
  • Limited resources and lack of subject matter expertise in environmental issues.
  • Incorrect assumption about path to carbon emissions reduction.

Impact after getting ISO 14001:

  • Identified key action areas for improved environmental performance (short-term results):
    • Reduced carbon emissions by optimizing cleaners’ route to clients.
    • Reduced use of chemicals and replaced them witch organic cleaning products.
  • Identified key strategic environmental actions (long-term potential results):
    • Put together a strategic plan to invest in electrifying its fleet
  • Established clear Environmental Management System (EMS) policy, objectives and KPIs.
  • Closed bidding on three potential large contracts with positive feedback.

There are clear, measurable benefits for companies looking to get ISO 14001 and they easily outweigh the initial investment.

Think ISO 14001 could be right for you?

As Canadian businesses are facing increasing pressure to minimize their environmental impact, Mohamud says it’s likely there will be more demand in the future for companies to demonstrate with credible certifications that they are environmentally responsible.

BDC can accompany you in getting ISO 14001 certified and also in quantifying the potential benefits for your business. Reach out to our experts for help and guidance.

Want to know more about other sustainability certifications? Check out our comprehensive guide on the most relevant environmental certifications and which one is right for your business.

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