ISO 14000: an agnostic’s report from the front line

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Three years after the official release of the first ISO 14000 environmental management system standards, well over 10 000 organizations worldwide have already achieved certification to ISO 14001, a total which is increasing rapidly. By comparison, ISO 9000, the quality management predecessor to ISO 14000, was officially released 13 years ago and has since attracted over 300 000 registrations worldwide. By almost every measure, the USA is lagging behind in ISO 14000 certification: in GDP-adjusted terms, the US is sandwiched between considerably less developed economies like Ecuador and Pakistan, and well behind Egypt and Slovenia.

The question is,as the manager of a US-based firm, should you care? If your company is operating smoothly and profitably, in compliance with all local and national environmental laws, ad-mittedly some of the most aggressive and progressive anywhere,why would that not be enough? What do you really need to know about ISO 14000? In this article, we most definitely do not intend to argue against, or in favour of ISO 14000 certification; instead, we provide “an agnostic’s report from the front line”, based upon interviews with numerous companies, auditors, government bodies and other parties across the world.

We provide a framework for thinking about ISO 14000, rather than a list of simple justifications for or against seeking certification. To do so, we review five common misconceptions about ISO 14000, explore the evidentiary basis for these “myths”, and sug-gest possible directions in which ISO 14000 might evolve. Throughout, we emphasize the operational and strategic impacts of ISO 14000 more than the environmental ones.


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