American Society of Quality / Quality Press, USA

The ISO 14000 Family of Standards - Frequently Asked Questions

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Courtesy of American Society of Quality / Quality Press, USA

What is ISO 14000?

Developed by ISO Technical Committee 207, which has as its scope of work “standardization in the field of environmental management tools and systems”, ISO 14000 is a series of international, voluntary environmental management standards, guides and technical reports. There are presently 14 standards, 2 technical reports (TRs) and a guide published in the 14000 series, with 3 standards and 4 TRs in development. The 14000 series addresses the following aspects of environmental management:

    * Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
    * Environmental Auditing & Related Investigations (EA&RI)
    * Environmental Labeling and Declarations (EL)
    * Environmental Performance Evaluation (EPE)
    * Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
    * Terms and Definitions (T&D)

The ISO 14000 series effectively addresses the needs of organizations worldwide by providing a common framework for managing environmental issues. They promise to effect a broadly based improvement in environmental management, which in turn can facilitate trade and improve environmental performance worldwide.

What are the principles behind the ISO 14000 series?

The ISO 14000 standards and other documents are being developed with the following key principles in mind:

    * To result in better environmental management
    * To encompass environmental management systems and the environmental aspects of products
    * To be applicable in all countries
    * To promote the broad interests of the public and the users of the standards
    * To be cost-effective, nonprescriptive and flexible so they are able to meet the differing needs of organizations of any type or size worldwide
    * As part of their flexibility, to be suitable for internal and/or external verification
    * To be scientifically based
    * Above all, to be practical, useful and usable.

Are the ISO 14000 standards 'organization' or 'product' oriented?

The standards in the ISO 14000 series fall into two major groupings: organization-oriented and product-oriented documents.

The organization-oriented standards provide comprehensive guidance for establishing, maintaining and evaluating an EMS. They are also concerned with other organization-wide environmental systems and functions.

The following is a list of the published organization-oriented ISO 14000 standards, TRs and guides:

    * ISO 14001:1996, Environmental Management Systems—Specification With Guidance for Use
    * ISO 14004:1996, Environmental Management Systems—General Guidelines on Principles, Systems and Supporting Techniques
    * ISO 14010:1996, Guidelines for Environmental Auditing—General Principles
    * ISO 14011:1996, Guidelines for Environmental Auditing—Audit Procedures—Auditing of Environmental Management Systems
    * ISO 14012:1996, Guidelines for Environmental Auditing—Qualification Criteria for Environmental Auditors
    * ISO 14031:1999, Environmental Management—Environmental Performance Evaluation—Guidelines
    * ISO/TR 14032:1999, Environmental Management—Examples of Environmental Performance Evaluation (EPE)
    * ISO/TR 14061:1998, Information to Assist Forestry Organizations in the Use of Environmental Management System Standards ISO 14001 and ISO 14004

The product-oriented standards are concerned with determining the environmental aspects and impacts of products or services over their life cycles and with the application of environmental labels and declarations on or to products. These standards are intended to help an organization gather the information needed to support planning for and decision making on its product/service and to communicate specific environmental information about a product/service to customers, end-users and other interested parties.

The following is a list of the published product-oriented ISO 14000 standards and guides:

    * ISO 14020:1998, Environmental Labels and Declarations—General Principles
    * ISO 14021:1999, Environmental Labels and Declarations—Self-Declared Environmental Claims (Type II environmental labelling)
    * ISO 14024:1999, Environmental Labels and Declarations—Type I Environmental Labelling—Principles and Procedures
    * ISO 14040:1997, Environmental Management—Life Cycle Assessment—Principles and Framework
    * ISO 14041:1998, Environmental Management—Life Cycle Assessment—Goal and Scope Definition and Inventory Analysis
    * ISO 14042:2000, Environmental Management—Life Cycle Assessment—Life Cycle Impact Assessment
    * ISO 14043:2000, Environmental Management—Life Cycle Assessment—Life Cycle Interpretation
    * ISO Guide 64:1997, Guide for the Inclusion of Environmental Aspects in Product Standards

What is an environmental management system (EMS)?

An EMS is a systematic approach to dealing with the environmental aspects of an organization. It is a “tool” that enables an organization of any size or type to control the impact of its activities, products or services on the environment. ISO 14001:”1996, Environmental management systems—Specification with guidance for use, is the standard within the ISO 14000 series that specifies the requirements for an organization’s EMS.

What are the benefits of an EMS?

An organization can obtain the following benefits from implementing an EMS:

    * Assure customers of commitment to demonstrable environmental management
    * Conserve input materials and energy
    * Improve cost control by identifying and eliminating waste and inefficiencies
    * Satisfy investor criteria and improve access to capital
    * Obtain insurance at a more reasonable cost
    * Reduce incidents that result in liability
    * Enhance the organization’s image and make it more attactive to potential customers
    * Meeting vendor certification criteria
    * Demonstrate reasonable care
    * Facilitate the attainment of permits and authorizations
    * Maintain good public/community relations
    * Foster development and share environmental solutions
    * Improve industry-government relations

What are the key elements of an ISO 14001 EMS?

The key elements of an ISO 14001-based EMS are:

    * Environmental Policy — the environmental policy and the requirements to pursue this policy via objectives, targets and environmental programs
    * Planning — the analysis of the organization’s environmental aspects (including its processes, products and services as well as the goods and services used by the organization)
    * Implementation and Operation — the implementation and organization of processes to control and improve operational activities that are critical from an environmental perspective (including product/services of an organization)
    * Checking and Corrective Action — the system verification and correction activities, including the monitoring, measurement and recording of the characteristics and activities that can have a significant impact on the environment
    * Management Review — review of the EMS by the organization’s top management to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness
    * Continual Improvement — the ongoing efforts to improve the EMS, which is a key component of the system; it is the last element in the cyclical process of plan, implement, check, review and continually improve.

What are the main implementation issues for an ISO 14001-based EMS?

Although TC 207 was created to develop standards, it would be remiss if it did not look beyond the published standards to their use and influence in the marketplace.

TC 207 has taken several initiatives to help ensure that the standards do what they were designed to do and that they meet the needs of all of their intended users, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses in developing countries. In fact, TC 207 is placing increasing emphasis on meeting the needs of these types of organizations, which make up the vast majority of businesses in the world. Their use of the ISO 14000 series is essential to its success.

Effective implementation of an ISO 14001-based EMS will depend on a number of factors, among them:

Clear communication of the purpose and scope of the ISO 14000 documents to users and the public
Acceptance and use of the standards, TRs and guides in developing countries
Creating a mechanism for improving trade
Consistent and reliable conformity assessment mechanisms to support ISO 14001 registration.

How are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and developing countries affected by the ISO 14000 standards?

ISO member bodies in many developing countries recognized early on the potential significance of the ISO 14000 series and have been active participants in the standards development process. This participation, combined with TC 207’s efforts to meet the similar concerns of SMEs, has significantly affected the overall shape and focus of the core EMS standards in the ISO 14000 series.

By encouraging participation by representatives of developing countries and SMEs in TC 207 and its subcommittees, and through consultation with other experts, TC 207 has considered the particular requirements of these groups and countries and attempted to address their needs in the core EMS documents. However, to be truly responsive to the needs of SMEs and developing countries, TC 207 will continue to listen and to encourage participation by those that may not have the resources to otherwise have their voices heard. This is particularly important in the current implementation phase of the ISO 14000 EMS and environmental auditing standards.

In addition, the ISO 14000 product-oriented standards and TRs offer valuable guidance to SMEs and organizations in developing countries, which are likely to lack the tools and information resources to effectively manage the environmental impacts of their products. The product-oriented standards have been developed to provide the tools and information resources for these organizations that would otherwise lack them.

TC 207 has encouraged developing country participation.ut However, lacking its own financial resources, TC 207 has had to rely on the assistance of several countries that, beyond recognizing the importance of broad participation by developing countries, have donated funds to support this participation. These donations have been coordinated by ISO/DEVCO (Policy Development Committee).

DEVCO is also working to facilitate the availability of the ISO 14000 standards, guides and TRs in and their applicability to developing countries. Recognizing that countries need to have a standardization infrastructure in place and clear, accurate information available for potential users, DEVCO has worked with TC 207 to develop a manual on environmental management and initiated a seminar program to build the capacity of developing countries to use and support the ISO 14000 series.

Meanwhile, the TC 207 subcommittee responsible for ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 has undertaken an initiative to help the TC to better meet the needs of SMEs worldwide, as they implement and use these EMS standards. This subcommittee has assigned a project team to gather information on the needs of SMEs in this area.

What are the trade issues associated with ISO 14000?

The intent of environmental management standards has been to develop a common language for environmental issues, so that businesses, customers, governments and other interested parties can be assured that environmental issues have been taken into account in the activities and products of the organizations that are using the standards.

However, TC 207 is also aware that standards can be used to limit trade—a fact recognized by the World Trade Organization when it set limits on the use of “non-tariff barriers” to trade. Environmental impacts are highly regulated in many countries, and there are pressures in some areas to use regulations as well as national and regional standards to exclude goods and services on environmental grounds. On the commercial level, environmentally related expectations and requirements of purchasers can have a significant effect on purchasing decisions and can also affect trade. Environmental labeling and life cycle analysisof products are examples of the potential effects on trade, making the labeling and LCA standards and TRs valuable to help prevent these issues from becoming barriers to trade.

By concentrating on management and product standards and emphasizing guidance over strict specifications in its documents, TC 207 has tried to create a positive mechanism for improving trade while encouraging improvements in environmental performance. Its challenge now is to help ensure that the standards are used as intended and do not become a barrier to trade.

What is conformity assessment and how does it relate to ISO 14001?

Conformity assessment is a general term that covers any situation that involves determining if the requirements of a standard are being met by an organization. In the case of a management system standard such as ISO 14001, conformity assessment involves the auditing of an organization’s EMS by an accredited third-party to verify conformance to ISO 14001’s requirements and this audit is the basis for the organization’s “certification” or “registration” to the standard.

As with ISO 9001 or the other ISO 9000 conformance standards (ISO 9002/3:1994), the value of an ISO 14001 certificate of registration depends on the confidence that others have in the third-party or registrar that performs the assessment and issues the certificate, and in the processes it uses. There must be some assurance that the registration was performed rigorously and fairly, and this confidence is provided by accreditation of the registrar—that is, the recognition that a registrar is qualified to conduct a registration assessment to the standard.

TC 207 is not directly responsible for or involved in the existing conformity assessment system to support ISO 14001 registration. However, TC 207 and the US Technical Advisory Group to TC 207 are monitoring and participating in international efforts in this area. Much of this work is handled by the ISO Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO). In 1996, CASCO formed an EMS working group, which has a mandate that includes developing general requirements for bodies operating assessment and certification/registration for EMSs. At present, the working group is developing a guide that will lay out requirements for registrars and for the registration assessment process.

What do registrars and internal auditors rely on in conducting ISO 14001 audits?

As listed above, there are presently three environmental auditing guidelines standards that provide guidance and information on the conducting of an environmental audit (EA) and the recommended criteria for auditors who are to conduct internal, second- and third-party EMS audits. These standards and three similiar quality auditing standards in the ISO 9000 series are to be replaced in the near future by ISO 19011, Guidelines on quality and/or environmental management systems auditing, which is being drafted by a joint working group of TC 176 and TC 207 auditing standards experts. The existing ISO 14000 auditing standards provide useful guidance to organizations establishing and/or enhancing an EA programauditing program.

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