ISO 14000 is an international voluntary environmental standard recognized by major trading nations and trade regulating organizations such as GATT and the World Trade Organization. It is not a law in the sense that no one is required to be registered ( hence it is voluntary ); however, neither does anyone have to do business with you, buy your products and services, or let your products and services into their country if they have declared ISO 14000 registration a requirement for doing business with them or in their country. It is expected that many foreign trading partners will require registration by import manufacturers. This is a recognized legal trade barrier under international treaty. Elements of the U.S. Government have indicated intention to institute either preference for, or requirement that, suppliers be registered. It is likely that registration will influence the enforcement stance of environmental regulators, and will likely influence insurance rates and lender practices.
ISO 14000 is actually a series of standards that cover everything from environmental management systems ( The EMS ) to auditor qualifications to as yet unwritten standards for such things as life cycle assessment.
The issue of concern at this point for organizations seeking registration is the EMS. This is governed by ISO 14001 and this is what registration deals with.
ISO 14001 requires conformance with a series of elements of an EMS. That is, the organization must show that it has a working system in place to produce the required outcomes. The ISO 14001 does not dictate how this is done, but it does require a stringent audit to determine that they in fact are done and are continuously operating. ISO 14001, for instance, does not require that an organization be in compliance with any environmental law, but it does require that the organization know what regulations it is subject to, and has in place a verifiable system for achieving compliance and for heading off noncompliances before they occur. This responsibility must involve everyone in the organization from top management down to the line worker, wherever any employee has an influence on the environmental impacts of the company.
This brings up another aspect of ISO 14001 ?environmental aspects. This major element of ISO 14001 requires that an organization know what impacts it is having on the environment. This awareness must go beyond mere textbook knowledge of typical pollution control. It must take into account the specific facility's environmental aspects peculiar to its operations, processes, products, and its location. It must take into account its possible affects on the community local to the facility, and its impact on other stakeholders, such as citizens groups, or even the local wastewater treatment plant. The objective is to identify the environmental "aspects" and continually work to minimize negative effects of operation. This is the key to ISO 14001 ?a management system that ensures the entire organization is involved in continual improvement. The system must have a structure that forces improvement, and can prove it.
To accomplish this, the organization must set performance measures against which to measure improvement, and must involve each member of the organization who has a role in achieving the performance measure. The documents that describe the system must indicate who these members are, down to the line worker, and it must indicate where supporting plans, instructions, and guidance documents are located showing that whoever "needs to know" can easily find the proper documents and performance measures. Again, this does not involve strict attention to legal compliance. It is perfectly legal to generate 10 tons of solid waste per week, but if the facility can produce as high a quality product while producing 3 tons per week, it should strive for this reduction and in the process it will benefit like most other companies who have implemented an EMS ?its costs will drop sharply.