Going for the Green: ISO 14001 Delivers Profits

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The myth that a green-friendly environmental policy doesn't translate into extra "green" at the bottom line is withering fast. A good environmental management system such as ISO 14001 can actually help pump up profits while controlling environmental hazards. By following the steps outlined here, most companies can achieve ISO 14001 registration within 12 to 18 months.

In the United States, environmental management is typically considered a hindrance to business rather than an asset. This is especially true in the electronics industry, in which the need to reduce costs has traditionally meant moving production to countries that have low labor costs and little or no environmental protection requirements. Thus electronics businesses have gotten the reputation of exporting environmental problems rather than developing solutions. Today, many companies are realizing that instituting a sound environmental management system (EMS) like ISO 14001 actually leads to higher profits, produces a positive public relations image, and results in a cleaner world. In fact, one company with an ISO 14001 EMS learned how to recycle 94 percent of its waste and created a profit center in the process.

Environmental awareness is important to success

Every electronics manufacturing facility, no matter the location, has environmental impacts on its neighbors. Companies must manage a variety of chemicals, energy use, air and water discharges, solid waste from scrap and packaging, and disposal of hazardous waste. Companies must have procedures to unload chemicals at the receiving dock, store them appropriately and in accordance with regulations, use them safely, and treat and dispose of them correctly

The electronics and computer industries use a wide variety of chemicals in their manufacturing processes. The processes within the electronics industry that use chemicals and generate the most waste are the manufacturing of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, and cathode ray tubes.

The most common chemicals used and released in semiconductor manufacturing are sulfuric and hydrochloric acids, which are used in etching and cleaning, and solvents such as acetone and glycols, which are used in photolithography and cleaning. Printed circuit board manufacturing uses and generates sulfuric, hydrochloric, and nitric acids for plating and etching, and metals such as lead and copper. Glycol ethers and solvents, such as acetone, are used in image application and cleaning. Ammonia solutions are used in electroplating, imaging, and etching. Production of cathode ray tubes involves a variety of metals, acids, and solvents.

Management of these hazardous wastes is of particular concern to most companies, whether large or small. Hazardous waste includes concentrated acids and bases, organic solvents, metallic salts, epoxy resins and catalysts, and gases, some of which are highly toxic. In addition to following Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations, companies must track all materials in accordance with local fire regulations. Off-site recycling and disposal of hazardous wastes are expensive and have potential liabilities associated with them, especially if wastes are buried in a landfill. Recently, one small company was almost bankrupted by the amount of money it had to pay when records showed its waste had been disposed at a Superfund site.

An effective EMS considers all aspects of a facility's environmental impact. Consider the amount of energy it takes to make electronic components, operate lights and computers, and air-condition the building. Energy production uses natural resources and either emits greenhouse gases or has other serious environmental effects. Becoming more energy-efficient not only helps the environment, but it adds directly to a company's profits.

Management of solid waste from scrap and packaging can also have significant financial potential. …