ISO 14001: Big Mo' for Environmental Management

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 ISO 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 ISO 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. "We didn't have to reinvent the wheel."

Industry Experiences

Having existing management programs in place from which to build ISO 14001 implementation helps, but it's not all you need, especially if you're one of the first facilities in your company to implement the standard. That was the case with the Ford Lima Engine Plant in Lima, Ohio, which was certified to ISO 14001 in 1996, just a few months after the standard was finalized. "Starting the ISO 14000 process was difficult because the standard gives very little direction," says Kevin Bruin, environmental engineer at the plant. "The standard is very broad and general, and you had to figure out what would work at your particular plant."

The Lima Engine Plant's easiest task was complying with existing governmental regulations, which it had already done, Bruin says. Challenges included writing an additional 15 to 20 procedures specific to the standard, and modifying another 15 to 20. Training was also time-consuming and costly. Initial training for the 2,200 workers cost approximately $220,000.

Early challenges were similar at Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems-Syracuse, which also was certified in 1996, says Brian Kent, regional manager for environmental, safety and health. "We didn't have any guide to go by. No one had an environmental management system we could take a look at and use as our baseline," he says.

Today, facilities considering ISO 14001 for the first time have the benefit of learning from what other companies have done. Although all plants are different, other companies' experiences can be helpful. Lockheed Martin's Syracuse plant, for instance, didn't do typical classroom training but used other methods, such as the company's intranet, e-mail system, bulletin boards, internal newsletter and direct mailings. "We were trying to avoid having the employees think that it was a new system with new requirements," Kent says. "It was really just a repackaging of the systems that we had had in place for years."

Rockwell Automation Control Systems, based in Milwaukee, uses a train-the-trainer approach in ISO 14001 training, says Charyl Fines, environmental director. A group from her corporate office goes to individual sites and trains key personnel there, who train the location's employees. It not only expedites training, but "empowers people instead of getting classroom attendees," she says. The company also uses CD interactive training so employees can train on their own time, instead of coming to a class, if need be. "That's a huge advantage," Fines says.

Payoffs

Reducing a company's environmental pollution and waste through environmental management systems can certainly pay off on the bottom line. Fines says one of Rockwell Automation's facilities reduced hazardous waste by 18 percent by eliminating a particular solvent and waste rags that went along with it. Another facility saw a 5 percent reduction for hazardous waste disposal. Although Fines doesn't have actual savings in terms of dollars, she notes that the savings are not only directly related to eliminating the costs of disposing of waste. They're also indirect, because when you don't have hazardous waste, for instance, you don't have to monitor or label it.

Ford's Lima Engine Plant improved its piston tin-plating process and was able to reduce water usage by 2.4 million gallons a year. The change not only conserved a natural resource but lowered the plant's yearly water bill by about a third. That alone boils down to a savings of $248,000 a year which, notes Gary Scheckelhoff, facility engineering team manager, more than covered initial training costs.

Changes made for environmental reasons can also have an impact on worker safety and health. In working to reduce the number of aerosol cans taken to landfills, the Lima Engine Plant started buying WD-40 in bulk containers and putting it in refillable squeeze bottles. Dispensing the lubricant in a pump-type, nonaerosol reusable bottle helps avoid waste, but it also makes the process safer for workers because the drop let size is much larger from the new dispensers. Workers are safer, and the waste elimination saves the plant $10,000 to $15,000 a year in buying the product, Bruin says.

Significant environmental efforts don't go unnoticed in the community. Lockheed Martin's Syracuse plant was awarded the New York State Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention in 1996 and 1998. Kent attributes that recognition to improvements made since implementing ISO 14001, which include a wastewater reduction of 86 percent, a solid-waste reduction of 78 percent and a process hazardous-waste reduction of 34 percent. Recycling at the plant has improved 22 percent.

Key Factors to Expect

No two companies or plants are the same, but if you're new to ISO 14001, here are some generalizations related to time and costs that may be helpful:

Time needed to implement a program. According to ENLAR Compliance Services' Dunmire, it takes anywhere from six to 18 months for a company to go from deciding to implement ISO 14001 to getting initial certification. Most companies take nine to 10 months, she says.

Initial costs involved. Excel Partnership's Charm lists the three most costly areas of implementing ISO 14001:

  • The time it takes to define your company's processes, identify the significant environmental aspects of products and operations, and write documented procedures so that the processes involved with the significant environmental aspects can be controlled.
  • Training employees to understand the requirements and their role in the system.
  • Paying the third-party registrar to become certified.

Fines, who at press time had seen 29 of Rockwell Automation's 44 manufacturing facilities certified to ISO 14001, says the company spends about $50,000 for each average-sized facility (200 to 300 employees) to go through the certification process. "We've done it for more, and we've done it for less," she says. "And we've already set up the template."

Pay-back time. According to Fines, it takes about two to three years of ISO implementation before a plant's initial costs are recouped through direct and indirect cost savings. "That's based on the financial information and my gut feeling," she says.

Although there are ongoing maintenance costs of the program, including getting re-certified every year, Fines calls them minimal in comparison with initial costs.

Sandy Moretz is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She is a former associate editor of Occupational Hazards.

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