Certification to the international environmental management standard is on the rise. Should your company consider implementation?
Certification to ISO 14001 -- an international standard that lays the groundwork for environmental management systems (EMSs) -- is on the rise, both in the United States and around the world. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Swiss-based organization that issued the standard, reports a record 79 percent increase in certifications worldwide from 1998 to 1999. Although the most notable growth was in Japan and the Far East, the United States saw registrations more than double from 291 in 1998 to 636 in 1999. In July, the number was more than 800.
Reasons for implementing ISO 14001 vary, ranging from gaining a competitive edge globally to improving community relations to just plain "doing the right thing" environmentally. Although ISO 14001 is technically a voluntary standard, it is becoming, in some areas, a business necessity. Often seen as a requirement for doing business in Europe, most of the major auto manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, are requiring their suppliers to be certified to ISO 14001. Other major companies, including IBM and Bristol-Myers Squibb, although not requiring suppliers to be certified to ISO 14001, strongly recommend it.
In fact, interest over EMSs seems to be coming from every corner. Earlier this year, President Clinton signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to develop and implement EMSs. In June, the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation issued a statement that advocates companies adopting EMSs.
Major banks are even considering EMSs in their decisions to give loans, notes Thea Dunmire, president of ENLAR Compliance Services Inc., a Largo, Fla.-based consulting firm. The move toward EMSs is "snowballing," she says.
What's a company to do? "My very strong recommendation is that companies implement ISO 14001 and be ready to achieve certification if the business warrants it," says Joel Charm, director of environmental, health and safety services for Excel Partnership, a consulting and training firm based in Sandy Hook, Conn. In short, Charm, who also serves as chairman of the U.S. subcommittee of the Technical Advisory Group on ISO 14001, recommends having an EMS in place and then getting third-party certification by a registrar, if required. "Clearly, it's growing as a requirement for doing business," he says.
A Step Back
ISO 14001 is the cornerstone of ISO 14000, a family of international standards covering environmental management. The standards are generic, which means that they can be applied to all types of organizations, whether large or small, regardless of their product or service. As such, ISO 14001 doesn't contain actual performance requirements. It does require, however, a company to set environmental goals and establish programs to meet those goals, as well as continually improve its environmental performance and adhere to governmental requirements. Most importantly, ISO 14001 strives to make environmental concerns an inherent part of the overall business management process.
ISO 14000 is similar to 150 9000, a series of international standards on quality management. Industry experts say elements of ISO 14000 also match up with other widely used standards or programs, such as QS 9000, an automotive quality standard; OHSAS 18000, an occupational health and safety management system; OSHA's VPP program; and the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care program.
Jim Thatcher, manager of health, environmental and safety plant services for Atofina Chemical Co. Inc., based in Philadelphia, says his organization's training in 150 14001 has not been overly difficult because it dovetailed with training already being done for the VPP program and Responsible Care. "We went with what we had and fine-tuned it with the ISO process," he says. …