ISO 14000 solutions

Small to mid-size businesses are either facing, or will be faced with, the daunting task of implementing an environmental management system (EMS) for compliance with ISO 14000 standards. With companies like Ford, General Motors, IBM and the U.S. government requiring suppliers to comply with ISO 14000 standards, other large manufacturers will soon follow suit.

The ISO 14000 series of standards

Published in 1996, ISO 14000 is a set of voluntary environmental standards devised by the International Organization for Standardization. These standards address an organization's environmental management system and were designed to manage, track and consequently reduce a company's harmful impact on the environment. The overall objective is to assist companies worldwide in achieving the goal of sustainable development and environmental friendliness as set forth at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The smaller business owner's concern

For many small to mid-size businesses, the thought of implementing an EMS for compliance with ISO 14000 standards may be overwhelming. Some companies may argue that their practices and procedures do not affect the environment in any way. Should they be required to spend money on an environmental process when their activities do not affect the environment? Others, who are already ISO 9000 compliant may balk at the cost associated with processing duplicate audits. ISO 9000 compliance proved to be a costly implementation process and an especially unwieldy procedure for the small to mid-size business owner. The small business owner typically controls all financial decisions and is concerned with cutting internal costs, not on spending money on implementing another management system.


Without the ISO 14000 certification, the small to mid-size businesses will be kept out of the global marketplace, impeding their chances of growing revenue and ultimately surviving.

Small to mid-size business owners often do not have the personnel to dedicate to the implementation of an EMS, nor do they have the know-how. They may think that employing a third party is the only answer. Another concern that smaller companies have is the cost associated with any legal issue that may be uncovered while implementing the EMS. Steps taken to formalize environmental procedures have associated legal risks. There is always the chance that implementing the system may create public concern.

The drivers

With the Big Three auto manufacturers and multinational companies like IBM and VOLVO requiring their suppliers to be ISO 14000 certified, some small to mid-size business cannot afford NOT to implement. Without the ISO 14000 certification, the small to mid-size businesses will be kept out of the global marketplace, impeding their chances of growing revenue and ultimately surviving. Some customers do not reward contracts to questionable suppliers because they fear bad publicity, and banks tend to shy away from companies that may be viewed as environmentally unfriendly.

An EMS that conforms to ISO 14000 standards can end up saving the smaller business money. Savings will be realized with improved operations, streamlined raw material consumption, reduced cost of waste management and reduced risk of facing litigation. Also, improved incident experience and the implementation of an ISO 14000 compliant EMS can result in lower liability insurance rates.

The EPA has taken steps to encourage businesses to conform by allowing ISO 14000 certified companies special regulatory privileges, such as reduced inspection frequency and greater permitting flexibility. The improved means of management also allows companies to responsibly report their environmental performance and environmental, health and safety hazards and liabilities to stakeholders and the general public. The increased public goodwill will prove beneficial to business when trying to procure bids and compete in the global marketplace.

Implementing an EMS

The process of implementing an EMS that conforms to ISO 14000 standards can be lengthy and painful, but the best solution does not have to involve a third party consulting company. Large companies will require the aid of a third party when implementing an enterprise wide environmental management information system (EMIS), but effective electronic resources are available for the smaller business, which can seamlessly achieve ISO 14000 conformance at a reasonable price. A good web resource for any company dealing with ISO 14000 issues is ISOft14000.com, which offers software and information that facilitate certification.


The EPA has taken steps to encourage businesses to conform by allowing ISO 14000 certified companies special regulatory privileges, such as reduced inspection frequency and greater permitting flexibility.

A mid-size business with multiple operating sites may want to consider a software product like EMSoft 2000, a management tool designed to enable organizations to implement an integrated environment, health & safety and quality assurance management system. Whereas, a smaller business may want to consider a desktop software package like the one ISOft 14000 offers. Above all, in order to implement the most effective EMS system, companies must be mindful of what the ultimate needs of their business are, and put a system in place that meets those needs.

The first step in employing an EMS system is to devise a plan that includes management commitment and approval. Next, what is driving the business to seek ISO 14000 certification? Is the need customer driven? Is the EPA or some other agency requiring conformance for compliance reasons? Is the competition the driving force? Once the drivers are established, identifying the most effective plan for the company is easier, and business owners can decide through which means they will assess, implement and audit the EMS. The best solution for smaller businesses is to take advantage of electronic resources offered at reasonable prices.

ISO 14000 solutions for small to mid-size businesses

The Internet can be a helpful resource for small to mid-size businesses looking toward ISO 14000 certification. A Web site like ISOft14000.com is easy-to-use, and provides users with information pertaining to every aspect of the ISO 14000 certification challenge. Visitors to the site will find a directory of comprehensive databases that allow users to link to other sites, search for and register ISO 14000 consultants and browse a registry of certified companies. Visitors may also look through a listing of ISO 14000 registrars that have earned accreditation through the National Accreditation Program.

The site also houses a forum of discussion groups dealing with various ISO 14000 topics. Here professionals can communicate with their peers and learn from the experiences of others. In addition to informational resources, the site offers a series of desktop software packages that were designed to assess, implement and audit EMS systems based on the ISO 14000 series of international standards, and books that address all aspects of the ISO 14000 conformance issue. For those who want a timesaving, easy-to-use solution, the site provides a web-based assessment tool that allows companies to assess their EMS in regard to the requirements set forth by the ISO 14000 standards.

The desktop software series offered by ISOft 14000 includes software to assess, implement and audit an EMS. The Assessment application identifies the requirements of the ISO 14000 standards and asks the user to complete a series of interactive checklists that deal with each requirement of ISO 14000. The software then automatically generates a gap analysis report that provides the user with a detailed analysis of the current status of their EMS in terms of meeting these specifications.


Savings from implementing ISO 14000 standards will be realized with improved operations, streamlined raw material consumption, reduced cost of waste management and reduced risk of facing litigation.

The Implementation package provides guidance for implementing an EMS. With this package the user must identify and report the business' aspects, or the affect/impact the company's activities are making on the environment. This package is organized with two types of documents, ISO 14000 implementation worksheets and implementation procedures. Implementation worksheets provide specific and detailed guidance, instructions, procedures and analysis for implementing each of the requirements of an EMS specified in ISO 14001. The procedures section uses templates to develop specific operating procedures for implementing an EMS. The audit package enables qualified ISO 14000 auditors to verify and document systematically whether a company has an environmental management system in place in conformance with the audit criteria named in the ISO 14000 series of standards.

EMSoft's management software does not offer the same degree of guidance in respect to ISO 14000, but it is a powerful environmental, health and safety (EH&S) and quality assurance (QA) management tool that can be used to achieve compliance. The software operates on essentially any network platform and is web enabled to work with an Intranet / Internet. This software package was designed to assure EH&S and QA conformance, legal compliance, track and confirm system performance, generate management reports and provide vital EH&S document control.

Conclusion

Today, the small to mid-size business owner has options when it comes to compliance with the ISO 14000 environmental standard series. The fact is, although the standards are voluntary, the cost of noncompliance may be devastating. The development of intuitive software products and web-based resources allows the small business owner to continue to compete in the global marketplace without paying the high cost to hire a third party to assess and rebuild an EMS. In today's environmental market, compliance may simply be a click away.

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Jeremy Rishel is a project consultant with T3, LLC, Research Triangle Park, N.C. Jodi Brickley Hubble is a commercial marketing specialist with T3, LLC, Research Triangle Park, N.C. Hubble can be reached via e-mail at jhubble@tthree.com.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

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