Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for the Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation

Energy management systems: bridge between individual commitment and responsibility of companies?

24.05.2017 | Lisa Beiderwieden

To achieve the climate target, sustainable innovations have to take place not only with individuals but in companies too. Advanced sustainable technology is not enough, information and organisational structures must also become more efficient. These structures can be continuously improved using management systems. For instance, an energy management system implements energy management systematically within the company. As all employees are involved and a continuous improvement process is initiated, it is a sustainable innovation. Can management systems even be a bridge between individual commitment and the responsibility of companies?

Energy management systems have numerous advantages for organisations: reducing costs, protecting the environment, sustainable management, improving the image and taking advantage of legal measures as well as meeting legal requirements (cf. BMU/UBA 2012, p. 18). However, companies need to invest time, costs and work implementing such a system. Therefore, companies should consider their decision individually taking alternatives into account like energy audits and environmental management systems.

Energy management systems are a systematic way of implementing energy management in organisations. This means that they provide a framework that has to be filled with the individual commitment of the company (cf. BMU/UBA 2012, p. 10). They offer methods and structures to make the energy consumption transparent and to identify potential savings. Instead of technology, it is more about the organisational and information structures required for energy management, including the tools required for this (cf. BMU/UBA 2012, p. 16).

DIN EN ISO 50001 is a standard for such an energy management system. It has been developed in accordance to the common quality management standard DIN EN ISO 9001. Energy efficiency should be implemented as a continuous improvement process. For this claim, energy needs to become part of corporate culture and must be taken into account in all decisions and must be communicated to all employees (cf. BMU/UBA 2012, p. 51-55). Furthermore, employees of all departments and positions should be encouraged to save energy and to make suggestions and comments on energy-relevant topics. The continuous improvement process is realized by the method of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle (cf. BMU/UBA 2012, p. 21):

  • Plan: Defining energy targets, strategies and responsibilities, providing necessary resources, setting up an action plan
  • Do: Implementing management structures for establishing a continuous process, performing improvement measures
  • Check: Verifying whether the energy management system fulfils the targets and is effective, collecting new ideas using internal energy audits
  • Act: Optimizing the system strategically using corrective or preventive measures, deriving new targets

An environmental management system offers similar advantages as an energy management system, but it is more comprehensive affecting many aspects of environment beyond the consumption of energy. Common standards are DIN EN 14001 and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). While especially EMAS meets many requirements of ISO 50001, an environmental management system does not completely replace an energy management system (cf. European Commission 2013, p. 3). Due to their similar structure and method of the PDCA cycle, the management systems ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 50001 (energy), ISO 14001 and EMAS (both environment) can be integrated (cf. BMU/UBA, p. 10). Thereby, companies may use synergies and reduce effort and expense (cf. European Commission 2013, p. 1).

In addition to their advantages, such as lowering energy costs and improving the company’s image, legal requirements also make management systems more and more lucrative for companies. In Germany for instance, electricity-intensive companies may reduce the surcharge for renewable energy (cf. BAFA). Article 8 of the directive 2012/27/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 25 October 2012 on energy efficiency has even led to an obligation to carry out energy audits for large companies in all EU member states. A certified energy management system and partly also a certified environmental management system are possibilities for exemption from the audit obligation. Aim of energy audits is to get a representative picture of the energy consumption. In contrast to management systems, an energy audit offers only a selective impulse. Thus, an energy management system is the more sustainable and continuous option. Large companies are faced with the challenge of balancing various compliance options and meeting legal requirements in a manner that is suitable to their organisation.

Summing up, energy management systems are a sustainable strategy for companies. The method of continuous improvement processes and the inclusion of all employees demonstrate that an energy management system according to DIN EN ISO 50001 is a sustainable innovation. The European Union as well as national governments are also trying to diffuse such systems through legislative processes. However, it is striking that the ISO 50001 is more frequently implemented in some EU countries than in others (cf. ISO). As employees are made aware of the topic of energy efficiency, they may transfer this to their private life. For this reason, a management system may have a far greater impact than structuring the energy management of a company. It is hoped that individual and operational commitment can be combined in a systematic and sustainable way.


Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle (BAFA): Besondere Ausgleichsregelung.  [24 Mar. 2017]

Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit (BMU) & Umweltbundesamt (UBA) 2012: Energiemanagementsysteme in der Praxis. ISO 50001: Leitfaden für Unternehmen und Organisationen.

European Commission 2013: EMAS and ENERGY Management.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO): 9. ISO Survey of certifications to management system standards - Full results. [07 Apr. 2017]

Relevant themes: Sustainable innovation, Resource efficiency, Environment, Climate action
Relevant tags: Energy management system, Sustainability, Energy policy, company, continuous improvement process, ISO 50001, legal requirements


  • Lisa Beiderwieden - Technische Universitaet Dortmund/Sozialforschungsstelle (Technical University of Dortmund), (TUDo)

    Lisa Beiderwieden