What can Environmental Managers learn from Six Sigma and ISO 18404?

ISO 18404 Launch Event
ISO 18404 Launch Event

Recently (2 February 2016), I attended the British Standards Institution (BSI) launch event of ISO 18404:2015 Quantitative methods in process improvement – Six Sigma – competencies for key personnel and their organizations in relation to Six Sigma and Lean implementation.

With the publication of this standard, ISO creates the first global view on requirements for organizations deploying Six Sigma and Lean approaches.

It has become evident that this is a hotly debated topic, it is hoped that ISO 18404 will provide clarity on the nature of Six Sigma and Lean. Therefore, this international standard allows organizations to follow the set required competencies to gain an organization’s certificate or individual certification. I will cover the specific issues in a later post.

However, what took my thoughts was how ISO 18404 outlines the specific levels of competency with regards to Six Sigma, Lean and Lean & Six Sigma & that these guidelines provide assurance to organizations regarding the competence of personnel such as Black Belts, Green Belts, Master Black Belts and Lean practitioners.

Could these principles be used for environmental management competencies?

As with many new and developing International Standards, these levels are defined not by required education levels but with a genuine focus on skills and abilities to deliver benefits to the organization.

In relation to environmental auditing, there are number of relevant International Standards covering environmental competency issues, such as:

ISO 19011:2011
Guidelines for auditing management systems

ISO/IEC TS 17021-1:2015
Conformity assessment — Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems — Part 2: Competence requirements for auditing and certification of environmental management systems

However, there is no equivalent for Environmental Managers (or those managers responsible for their organisation’s Environmental Management System – EMS) especially when you consider the different levels of competence.

Whilst there any number of environmental membership organisations, such as the UK’s Institution of Environmental Management and Assessment & the NAEM in the United States that provide different membership categories based on educations and knowledge.

A practical solution to the development and maintenance of EMS’s, such as ISO 14001:2015, would be to develop different grades of competence for Environmental Managers similar to the Belts in Six Sigma. This would have the combined benefit of providing a framework for leadership, competence and growth for Environmental Managers, an opportunity for real continual improvements and environmental performance  for the organisation and its EMS &  would develop assurance that the managers are able to support the EMS.

It would be good to see ISO (or any of the Environmental Membership organisations) to take a lead in the development of a system similar to the Six Sigma Belts.

What is your take on the competence issue for Environmental Managers?

Share this article on Social Media:


  1. I thought there was already a ISO 13025 or 13053 or something for Six Sigma and NSAI SWIFT has a Lean Guideline too?

    1. Hi Michael
      Yes – You are correct there are other versions of Six Sigma and Lean in the marketplace.
      The article was highlighting that the new International Standard: ISO 18404:2015 was an internationally recognised framework for the competencies of key personnel and their organizations in relation to Six Sigma and Lean implementation & how it could be used to shape environmental and sustainability competencies.

Leave a Reply