ISO in numbers: A look behind the ISO 14001 & ISO 45001 boom

Survey says: ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 certification is surging, and the growing call for sustainability information is right at the root of the upswing. 

Mary Foley

by Mary Foley

ISO, stats, and sustainability

Since they were published, ISO 14001 & ISO 45001 have become more than increasingly relevanttheir prominence is ramping up across global business operations. While the number of certificates continues to boom, the reasons behind the growth continue to evolve.

Supply chain drivers and a spotlight on sustainability have transformed certification from a nice-to-have to an advantage for doing business on a global scale. Below we walk you through the latest statistics in ISO certification and its role in your company’s continued success. 

Blog Infographics ISO Article_6. Featured numbers – 1900×800 (1)
Blog Infographics ISO Article_2. ISO certifications – 1000×563

The Numbers: Surges in ISO 14001 & ISO 45001

The 2020 ISO Survey gives us plenty of numbers to chew on. Across all major ISO standards reported (10 in total) there were 1,772,371 total certifications recorded worldwide. Within this, 417,478 (24%) are for ISO 14001 and 195,341 (11%) are for ISO 45001. 

This is a continuation of already steady growth for the two standards from 2018-2019, where we saw an increase of 2% for ISO 14001 and a much more dramatic surge of 223% for ISO 45001. 

Blog Infographics ISO Article_1. YOY ISO – 1000×563

Spikes in ISO certification

The 2020 numbers show that this trend is only increasing. According to the Survey, ISO 14001 certificates now number 417,478 – an increase of 34% from the 2019 figures. On the occupational health and safety side, ISO 45001 certificates now sit at 195,341, a 405% jump from the year before. Though impressive at first, this increase in 45001 certificates is most certainly a result of the transition from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001. 

Not having an ISO-Certified Management System could prove to be a major barrier to doing business in some sectors.


How did we get here? The history of ISO 14001 & ISO 45001

So why were there more ISO 14001 certificates than ISO 45001? Simple answer: ISO 14001 has been around for longer.  

The same statistic track can be traced back even further. Looking at ISO 9001, (the Quality Management System Standard, QMS), often seen as the grandfather standard, we see that there were 1,072,001 certificates in 2020, or 61% of the overall total. That’s because there’s been more time for businesses to get on board. 

Historically, companies started with ISO 9001 (introduced in 1987), then added ISO 14001 (published in 1996), and then added ISO 45001 (2018). That’s without even mentioning BS5750, BS7750, and OHSAS 18001, their respective “ancestors”!

Location matters: ISO certification more prominent in particular regions.

Looking at the 2020 numbers, there’s a distinct division of certificates by geographical location. Together, China and Japan account for almost 60% of all ISO 14001 Certificates recorded in 2020, with the next highest, Italy (4%) and UK (3%) trailing at a distance. The US ranks even farther behind with only 1% of the total certificates. 

For ISO 45001, China again leads the way with 120,054 certificates – 61% of the total. Runners up are yet again on the other side of a large gap, with Italy at 9,913 certificates (5%), followed by the UK (5,805 – 3%). Again, the US comes in much farther down on the leader board at 936 certificates – only 0.5% of the total. 

Blog Infographics ISO Article_4. Top 3 countries – 1900×800

Our work with clients reflects this same trend by country. We see our Japanese and Chinese clients engaging much more with ISO Certification, most having integrated management systems to multiple ISO Standards, even beyond those related to EHS. We also see that our European clients are increasingly more likely to have certified ISO systems in place.  

On the other side of the spectrum, many of our US multi-national clients aren’t as far along on their certification journey as other regions. That is except for their operations in Asia/Europe.  In line again with the Survey numbers, many US clients ensure ISO certification in place for their Asia/European operations, showing that geography plays an important part in their decisions regarding ISO certification. 

A wider scope of sectors for ISO 14001 & ISO 45001

Contrary to geographical location, it’s more difficult to draw clear conclusions about industry-specific trends for ISO 14001 and ISO 45001. From the range shown by the Survey’s breakdown, most certificates don’t have a specific sector attributed. In the case of ISO 14001, over 20% are recorded under “Unknown sector” or “Other services”. For ISO 45001, it’s almost 80%. However, there are still takeaways regarding ISO certification’s trajectory.  

Among those sectors that are specified in the Survey, we see that the construction sector ranks at the top for both ISO 14001 and ISO 45001. Additionally, manufacturing and production sectors, including metal fabrication, engineering, plastics, and rubber production all fall within in the top 10 for both standards. Certainly, that’s to be expected. EHS culture is well embedded in these sectors. However, certification is now expanding to encompass a wider range of sectors.

Blog Infographics ISO Article_5. Key sectors ALT – 1900×800

Of particular note is the Information Technology sector. This relatively newer industry is embracing Environmental Management Systems certification in a wholehearted manner. So much so that it’s close behind other, more expected sectors for ISO 14001, accounting for 3% of those certificates in 2020. Additionally, we also see a major uptick in the number of traditionally office-based service companies becoming ISO certified. 

The supply chain link to ISO 14001 & ISO 45001

By overlaying Standard, Geography, and Sector, it’s simple to identify what’s important where – and then to extrapolate the various drivers. One of those key catalysts is stakeholder assurance. What started out as a differentiator is now seen as a must have. 

Supply or value chain drivers within particular sectors and geographical locations are largely responsible for growing the number of certifications. Not having an ISO-Certified Management System could prove to be a major barrier to doing business in some sectors. For example, within Asian manufacturing sectors, ISO certification is close to being a “ticket to trade.” (Hence the much larger number of certifications recorded in this region compared to Europe or the US.) 

Evidence and ESG in ISO certification

In “ISO 14001 & ISO 45001: Why voluntary standards are vital to your business,” John Bez explains how ISO 14001 or ISO 45001 bring a lengthy list of benefits to a company. One of which being “Enhanced corporate image and credibility with enhanced protection against non-compliance and its resulting reputation damage”. What was true then is even more so now. With a rapidly intensifying focus on ESG and Sustainability metrics, ISO Certification’s importance is skyrocketing.  

While still mostly voluntary for the moment, Corporate Reporting is becoming more and more a must do for companies. In fact, it’s on the fast track to becoming mandatory. ISO 14001 & ISO 45001 certifications can play a major role in providing a bedrock for ESG and Sustainability metrics.  

At the moment, stakeholders, suppliers, consumers, and investors expect companies to prove their corporate responsibility credentials by all means possible. These certifications show that you have been independently verified and certified for the requirements laid down by the ISO Standard. This involves providing direct evidence of how you manage your EHS obligations and how you embed that program within your business.  

The absence of mandated requirements to show ESG credentials leaves companies to piece together the right proof on their own. However, ISO certification serves as a way to fill that gap in guidance – or at least a portion of it. As such, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 have both become a solid bedrock to build your Corporate Reporting, be it voluntary or mandatory.

Is now the time for your ISO 14001 & 45001?

ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 standards were once seen as shy, unexciting wallflowers of credentials. But now they’re taking their place in the sun. What’s more is that they’re bringing businesses into the spotlight with them, playing a big part in making companies shine to stakeholders. If your company wants to take advantage of this forward movement, make the most of your ISO investment by enhancing how you manage EHS compliance information in the first place. Take the necessary steps to standardize your EHS compliance management to more effectively leverage them in the certification process.  

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