Guest Editorial

by James P. O'Neil

Proactive Environmental Management

Will U.S. companies embrace ISO 14001 as fervently
as their overseas counterparts?

Now that it's clear the political climate in Washington will remain more or less the same for the next four years, U.S. companies may want to take a critical look at the environment of tomorrow and ascertain what their environmental management systems are doing to promote its well-being today.

Superfund, a 15-year effort to clean up America's toxic waste sites, realized more results in the past three years than the previous 12. The 1990 Clean Air Act is considered by many to be the single most comprehensive environmental law enacted to date and is held in high regard by President Clinton. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 was signed into law by President Clinton and is expected to increase the number of government agencies and contractors that subscribe to the EMS standards of ISO 14000.

Three important pieces of legislation, one administration, thousands of manufacturers and suppliers, and only a handful of qualified registrars.

The picture being painted is clear. The concerns for clean air, clean water and toxin-free soil are staunchly supported by the general public and, therefore, stand to be prominent on the political agenda for many years to come. Additionally, these concerns will likely become prerequisites in any multinational business partnership. Currently, some 400 companies are ISO 14001 registered around the world, many of which reside in the European Union.

The point? Be proactive. Gain the global competitive advantage. Move away from command-and-control processes. Be a pioneer. Don't wait until your customers require ISO 14001 registration before your business relationship can go or grow. Support the environment and generations to come; the world can't wait until tomorrow.

Presently, and unfortunately, the corporate mentality regarding the environment seems to be one of "pay now or pay later ... with interest." This means adhere to ISO 14001 standards or disregard them altogether, following the classic command-and-control policies of pollution control, continuing to abuse our environment and paying somewhere down the road.

How will you end up paying?

Cleanup: Think about your costs and profit margin if you have to completely tear down and implement entirely new processes to appease the local and national press, and government officials.

Reputation: If you've built a thousand bridges in your lifetime and destroyed one ecosystem, think again if you entertain thoughts of going down in history as a consummate bridge builder.

The future: How about the Environmental Protection Agency stepping in and extending their authority to include enforcement of environmental management systems? Possible but not probable? Think again.


Think about the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound, which cost Exxon $2.5 billion in cleanup costs and another $5 billion in reparation payments to 34,000 fisherman and Alaskans harmed in the disaster. Or Love Canal. Or the number of polluted, dead bodies of water in the United States continuing to multiply.

If scenarios like these remain commonplace, you can bet your last dollar that the EPA will act upon its mandate as nature's police and dabble in the enforcement of environmental management systems.

Ratified June 1, 1996, and published in September, ISO 14001 is now the only internationally recognized and accepted EMS standard. It offers companies a worldwide focus on environmental management, increases efficiency (thereby decreasing costs), opens new market opportunities, enhances the civic-minded corporate citizen image among target audiences and demonstrates a commitment to move beyond regulatory environmental performance stewardship. Although registration costs may seem steep at a glance, the aforementioned benefits&emdash;all of which, one way or another, can be translated into a dollar figure&emdash;will pay off in the long run.

So now the question: Will U.S. companies embrace ISO 14001 as fervently as their overseas counterparts? Without a doubt, yes. One way or another, sooner or later, either of their own, proactive volition, through governmental pressure or through the pressure of an overseas business partner, U.S. companies will subscribe to the EMS standards of ISO 14001.

About the author

James P. O'Neil is president of ITS Intertek Services, the first accredited ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 registrar, and among the first accredited QS-9000 registrars in the United States. ITS Intertek Services is a global organization that provides worldwide coverage with local specialist knowledge.

O'Neil founded and was the president of National Quality Assurance USA, and has extensive experience in nuclear power regulatory interfaces, manufacturing assessments, design analysis and compliance issues. He is an IRCA-registered lead assessor and is on the board of directors for the International Standards Institution.