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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Timothy Wan

Assessment of ISO14000 families effect on the progress of sustainable development in engineering

Timothy Wan

Assessment of ISO14000 families effect on the progress of sustainable development in engineering

Today, 70 000 organizations worldwide are certified to the ISO 14001 standards for environmental management systems (EMSs), which is rapidly becoming a market condition for product quality assurance. Since they were developed in response to the Rio Earth Summit, the standards have a profound relationship with sustainable development, claiming that they help organizations enhance environmental management, economic benefits and sustainability. This paper aims to verify these claims by assessing 14001’s ability to improve environmental performance management of engineering organizations.


The first part of the assessment was to identify the advantages and shortcomings of the 14001 EMS standards through a literature survey. Initial observations suggest that 14001 is highly flexible, it can be effectively implemented in organizations of different sizes, structures and location. However, it is criticized that the standards are not stringent enough to enforce compliance and that the policy setting and review processes are rather opaque.
The second part, which is the core of the assessment, consists of practical reviews of engineering organizations. Research and questionnaires were performed on 16 large, certified and uncertified companies in the UK and China; as well as approximately 200 small-medium enterprises (SMEs) from around the world. The main objective is to compare the improvements in environmental performance management after 14001- certification. The research is also interested in observing any trends and differences in management between certified and uncertified organizations.
Findings from the practical analysis are then combined to verify the accuracy of the theoretical observations.
This paper found that environmental performance management improved and continues to improve in certified organizations. The extent of improvement is significantly greater than that of uncertified companies, especially in terms of policy setting, review and measurement of environmental performance. However, the given evidence is insufficient to show any direct relationship between reduction of environmental impacts and certification. Certified organizations experience significant economic benefits as well as improvements in general day-to-day management of the firm. It seems that 14001 is equally effective for SMEs if not more than larger corporations; a strong corporate culture also increases this effectiveness.


14001 pushes sustainable development by being genuinely generic and able to improve environmental and financial performance simultaneously, which no other standards have done. The existence of constitutional differences between different countries is, however, the biggest barrier for it to become an international benchmark.