C2.8 Certification


What is the difference between the terms “accreditation” and “certification”?


The definition of these terms is given in EN ISO/IEC 17000:2004:


Para 5.6 Accreditation:

 Third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks.


Para 5.5 Certification:

 Third-party attestation related to products, processes, systems or persons.


Source: http://www.ukas.com/tools/faq.asp

Not all Environmental Management Systems are certified to a standard. Some organisations choose to implement their own Environmental Management System, which does not strictly follow any standard, but aims to improve their environmental performance.

Some organisations choose to implement an Environmental Management Systems that conforms to the requirements of a standard (e.g. ISO 14001) but do not actually go through the certification process.

This is more common in smaller companies, where the cost of third-party certification is prohibitive. However, there are issues to consider when deciding whether to obtain external verification of your Environmental Management System (EMS).

It can be argued that meeting the requirements of a standard is not essential to implementing and maintaining a robust EMS. Providing that the EMS considers all environmental impacts and takes steps to mitigate these, environmental performance can still be improved. It may also be true to say that conforming to a standard does not guarantee continual improvement. Unfortunately some organisations see obtaining a certificate as the goal, rather than the start of a journey to continual improvement. It is not simply a case of ticking off the requirements of a standard, receiving a shiny certificate and then washing your hands of it. Many environmental practitioners will agree that the maintenance of an EMS is more demanding than the initial implementation.

It may not be straightforward to decide which standard to follow. EMAS is European and ISO 14001 is Global. However each is held with different regard in different countries. For smaller organisations that operate in different countries, it may not be possible to obtain both, but one alone does not meet the needs of all Clients.

However, without certification, it can be hard to demonstrate that your organisation really does consider environmental issues and management its impacts. External certification does demonstrate a strong commitment to environmental performance and can help to create a positive corporate image.

One problem here is the difference in certification bodies. Although they are themselves accredited to conduct the external verification audits, there will always be some difference in approach and consequently, it will not always be a level playing field. Different certification bodies may interpret sections of a standard differently to another. There is also the issue of auditor competence.

It is increasingly common for organisations to insist that their suppliers operate an EMS. In these circumstances, the supply chain pressure can force the decision making. In reality, this was the reason for many organisations implementing certified EMSs.

It is important to note however that the existence of an EMS, whether certified or not, does not automatically ensure an organisation is in complete legal compliance. It is quite interesting to look at the Environment Agency’s website, which details environmental prosecutions. You will find that many organisations which are certified to an EMS standard, still have legal mishaps.

However, the uptake of such standards is a significant development. Organisations realise the benefits of not only having an EMS, but having an EMS that is complaint with a recognised standard.