The fact that ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 share common management system principles is generally a good thing, until someone makes the unfortunate mistake of discussing the possibility of integrating the standards. That's usually when the conversation evolves into a sort of unintentional spitting contest.
"INTE(duck now)GRATION: It's not just important and necessary, it's the only way to do it," exhorts Joe Cascio, who heads up the U.S. delegation charged with writing the ISO 14000 standards on environmental management systems. Like any number of standards writers and major purchasers, Cascio feels strongly about this "Say it, don't spray it" issue. He believes it's critical to give companies the option of having a single audit to satisfy the requirements of ISO 14001, the sole registration standard on the environmental side, and ISO 9001, 9002 or 9003, under which companies seek registration on the quality side.
Much of the stress associated with integration seems needless and, to some degree, the result of semantics. Angst over this issue of integration even figured into the Big Three automakers' decision-making process with respect to whether they would drop the verbatim text of ISO 9001 in a successor document to QS-9000.
Now that companies have the option of pursuing both ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 registration, they understandably expect greater cost efficiencies. They are clamoring for something called integration, but what they really want is more bang for their registration buck.
Integration means different things to different people, depending on whom you ask. Many standards writers are taking the position that integration means avoiding incongruity between the various requirements of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000. This will most likely involve a closer alignment of the quality and environmental documents during their respective revision processes, but no radical changes.
There is a distinct minority (get ready to duck again) of standards writers lobbying for a single registration standard, which could be used to register either a company's environmental management system or its quality management system. There appears to be widespread agreement that this approach to integration would be a mistake at this time.
Standards writers reached a fragile consensus on ISO 14001 after years of painstaking negotiations. Few are eager to risk this consensus for questionable benefits. Not to mention the fact that many ISO 9000 users, like the automakers, might not be comfortable merging documents.
As Cascio puts it, "If we could have just developed one generic standard like that, we could have done it over a couple of beers in one night."
There have only been about 1,300 registrations worldwide to ISO 14001 since the standard was published last September. But that number will undoubtedly increase as regulators begin to reference ISO 14001 in some fashion, either in environmental regulations or as an alternative demonstration of conformance to environmental regulations.
Meanwhile, the number of companies seeking ISO 9000 registration has been boosted in recent years by important sectors like automotive, aerospace and defense. The most recent estimate places the total number of certificates at 120,000 worldwide.
In the final analysis, the marketplace must dictate how integration is best accomplished, if at all.
The International Organization for Standardization, which publishes both sets of standards, has convened a special technical advisory group with the urgent task of addressing the compatibility of the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series standards. This international group has been asked to assess the needs of business and consumers with respect to ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards. Among its tasks will be to recommend a strategic plan for the achievement of compatible quality and environmental management system standards either by direct integration or by alignment of the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series standards.
The real danger is that these officials charged with making recommendations won't fully understand the integration issue themselves. If not, you can bet that there won't be a dry eye in the house.
About the author
Paul Scicchitano is managing editor of Quality Systems Update and The Environmental Management Report, monthly newsletters devoted to ISO 9000, QS-9000 and ISO 14000 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 11150 Main St., Suite 403, Fairfax, VA 22030. Telephone (703) 591-9008, fax (703) 591-0971 or e-mail pscicchitano @qualitydigest.com.
Editor's Note: This will be Paul Scicchitano's last column for Quality Digest. His busy schedule prevents him from continuing his monthly column. We wish Paul well and hope he will contribute to future issues. A new columnist will debut in this space next month.