KYOTO — Although major companies are accelerating efforts to obtain international recognition of their environmental management systems, few small and medium-size firms are following suit due to the high cost of certification and a lack of knowledge.

As of the end of April, 3,693 offices and factories in Japan had received ISO14001 recognition, an international standard for environmental management systems set by the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, according to the Japan Standards Association.

Members of Kino Kankyo, a nonprofit organization that provides environmental consultant services, discuss their activities in an office at Kyoto Seika University.

The Agency of Industrial Science and Technology estimates that small and midsize companies account for less than 10 percent of that total.

In a bid to change the situation, two professors and two students at Kyoto Seika University created an organization in April to help smaller businesses introduce environmental management systems and, if they wish, obtain ISO14001 certification.

Kino Kankyo helps its clients create their own EMS and provides related services, including measuring environmental burdens caused by their business operations and conducting in-house audits.

“While small companies are encouraged to obtain ISO14001 certification, few of them have done so because they find the cost, including consultation fees, too high,” said Shoichi Kurosawa, an associate professor of environment at the university and a member of Kino Kankyo. “Our group wants to help such small companies by offering low-cost and user-friendly services.”

For obtaining ISO14001 certification, companies must measure which aspect of their business affects the environment and draw up a plan with specific deadlines for reducing the burden. They are also required to have their actions for achieving the goal documented and audited in-house. They then need to pass audits by an authorized body.

For a company with about 200 employees, auditing by an authorized body alone would cost an average 2 million yen. If the company hires an environmental consultant, a common practice, it would cost at least several million more yen.

Kurosawa, an environmental consultant himself, says his group charges around 1 million yen for its consultation services, depending on the company’s size and type of business it is engaged in.

At one point, group members considered transforming Kino Kankyo into a limited company, but dropped the idea in order to purely pursue their ultimate goal of providing inexpensive services for small and midsize companies.

The idea of founding the group stemmed from their experience creating an EMS for the university; the school obtained ISO14001 certification in March.

Ikko Marutani and Tomonobu Saito, both seniors at the university, worked as a consultant and secretary for the project, respectively.

They also helped create the EMS for the university’s faculty office. They sought recognition of the system not from an authorized body but from fellow students qualified as assistant auditors, an expedient admitted under the ISO14001 guidelines.

Both Saito and Marutani said they will not seek company work after graduating from the university but will continue to work with the group.

“I want to be a farmer in the future, producing organic products. But for the time being, I want to do this work because the social impact is greater,” Marutani said. “EMS is a tool to turn this (destructive) society into a more ecological one.”

Saito meanwhile said he sees his work with Kino Kankyo as a step toward his future goal of becoming an industrial designer with emphasis on the environment.

Just last week, the group sealed its first contract with an Osaka-based business consulting firm to help it acquire ISO14001 certification.

“The experience of working with an actual business concern makes us realize the importance of fully understanding our client’s work and business operations to create an EMS specific to the customer,” Saito said.

The group hopes its deal with the consulting firm will bring in many other clients.

For this year, however, the group plans to receive only 10 orders, as both Marutani and Saito need to finish their graduation theses.