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What's ISO 50001 and what can it do for me?

If you want to take energy efficiency to the next level, consider looking to this international standard for a framework to follow.

Let’s say you’ve experienced first-hand some of the benefits that energy efficiency can bring to your business. What comes next?

For some organizations, it may be time to start following a comprehensive standard. That’s where ISO 50001 could come in.

“A standardized approach provides an organization with clarity and guidance, so it can organize and systematize energy management practices, make corporate energy initiatives more effective, and make energy performance part of its core culture,” says Bryan Flannigan, an independent consultant who works with organizations to improve their energy efficiency.

“Perhaps you’re experiencing a plateau or feel unable to uncover the less obvious opportunities for energy savings at your facility,” Flannigan says.” Or, you may simply want to distribute responsibility – and accountability – for energy performance more widely in the organization, or more effectively include energy as a core part of your business metrics.”

What is ISO 50001?

ISO 50001 is an international voluntary standard for energy management. It's overseen by the ISO, or International Organization for Standardization, an independent non-profit made up of national standards bodies globally. It gives businesses across industries a framework for implementing energy management techniques holistically.

Canada was one of 31 countries that came together to build the ISO 50001 framework, based on best practices from their home markets. In 2011, the ISO approved the framework, and since then, reviews the standard periodically.

ISO 50001 FrameworkFind the full ISO 50001 framework here.

ISO 50001 provides a checklist for organizations to develop policies for more efficient energy use and fix targets to meet those policies, then implement an action plan and measure results. It’s all about continuous improvement, using a framework called “Plan, Do, Check and Act,” for both the managerial side of energy management, and the technical side.

Specifically, organizations following ISO 50001 have to:

  • Involve management to create a policy for energy management and create specific targets for energy efficiency
  • Conduct an energy review to find areas of significant energy use and opportunities for improvement
  • Establish an energy baseline and objectives that are measurable, with timelines for achieving them
  • Create and implement an action plan for reaching those targets, including technical retrofit projects like upgrades to lighting or other equipment

Overall, ISO 50001 is focused on helping organizations reduce their energy consumption, and therefore their costs, but also their environmental impact.

"Its goal is to ensure that the senior management in an organization is fully engaged and motivated to make energy management a responsibility that everyone in an organization shares, versus leaving that to one person or team," says energy consultant Stephen Dixon. He describes ISO 50001 as not necessarily a starting point for organizations, but rather a way to take their energy management practices and culture to the next level.

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What can it achieve?

The ISO says that within the first 15 months of implementing the standard, some organizations have been able to reduce their energy costs by 12 per cent. Organizations that have implemented energy management systems using ISO 50001 typically save between 10 and
20 per cent of their energy within the first five years, according to Natural Resources Canada.

3M Canada is just one Canadian company that has adopted ISO 50001 as part of a commitment to energy efficiency. It started with its Brockville plant in 2011, and has since adopted the standard at several other Canadian facilities. Within two years, the Brockville plant alone was able to save $350,000 in energy costs.

What’s more, the company says that energy savings at its ISO 50001 plants are 25 per cent greater than at its facilities that have energy management systems, but haven’t yet implemented the standard.

Overall, through ISO 50001, 3M is will reduce its energy use by three per cent per year over the next decade. That’s a total reduction of 30 per cent by 2025.

Do I have to be ISO 50001 certified?

The ISO itself doesn’t offer an official certification program for ISO 50001. However, various external certification bodies can audit how an organization is performing against the ISO 50001 standard, for businesses that want to credibly communicate that they’ve adopted the standard.

Consider other standards, too

ISO 50001 provides a framework specifically for energy management, but there are other international standards that can help your business improve overall, while still taking energy into account.

Kady Cowan, an energy management expert at the IESO, points to the WELL Building Standard as one example. It's based on metrics like air quality, lighting and employee comfort – all areas that energy management can improve.

How do I get started?

If you’re considering implementing the ISO 50001 standard, or want to find out more, Natural Resources Canada has the tools and resources for getting started.