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Bridging the Gap Between Intellectual Excellence and Civic Initiatives

Special Lecture

ISO 14000:
The Challenge of Applying International Envrionmental
Management Standards to Economies in Transition

On February 24th, Randy Kritkausky, President of ECOLOGIA, offered 24 CEU students and 5 faulty and staff an overview of ISO 14000, identified current trends in ISO standards development, and offered solutions how regional companies and NGOs can get the best and avoid the worst of ISO.

 [ poster ] "Debunking ISO."
1. No Impact Reduction Necessary. Much time was dedicated to debunking the myth that ISO is designed to reduce negative environmental impacts. Rather, Kritkausky states, ISO is a management tool to improve efficiency within a facility, not improve product quality or reduce environmental impacts. While better management of raw material in the production cycle could lead to its capture and reuse, reducing emissions is not necessary for ISO certification.

2. Improvements without Certification. Many companies could benefit from implementing an environmental management system (EMS), like ISO 14000 or EMAS. However, Kritkausky states that coming into compliance with ISO does not necessarily mean taking the final step to certification. An ISO certificate can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Kritkausky suggests that there it may make more business sense for companies to spend available funds developing a sound environmental management plan or investing in newer technologies.

3. Self-Certification Option. Another option to an expensive certificate is to self-certify; an option not frequently mentioned by ISO consultants. A facility does not need to hire a consultant if it can develop its own management and continual improvement plans. However, companies concerned about their ability to effectively self-certify can form a certification coalition with similar industries. Together, the group of industries can set management goals and an external monitoring system for their implementation.

4. No Barrier to Trade. It does not appear that ISO certification will affect a company's ability to trade with the United States any time soon. At present, about 300 companies are ISO certified in the US.

"Greater Access to the Process for Countries in Transition and NGOs."
ECOLOGIA has deep concerns about the procedures being used for developing ISO 14000. "They tend to limit the meaningful participation of many countries that do not have the financial resources to attend numerous meetings around the world," Kritkausky states. Developing countries and other stakeholders in environmental management, such as NGOs, should have a voice in developing the standards which will govern ISO certification if it is to be meaningful. For example, EMAS, the European environmental management system, mandates public participation. Kritkausky states, "ISO risks loosing its credibility" if alternate models are not taken into account.

Kritkausky explained that one of ECOLOGIA's goals is to collect information on the implementation of ISO 14000 from economies in transition, and to bring this information to the TC207 (International ISO Standards Development committee) meeting in Seoul in June 1999. Currently, Kritkausky sees a conflict between the industrialized countries (US, UK, and Germany, for example) who want to keep ISO strictly limited to certifying internal factory environmental management systems performance, and transition economies who want to use ISO 14000 as part of the larger strategy to reduce pollution and document and certify environmental performance.

More than 10 Environmental Sciences and Policy students beginning their theses on ISO 14000 listened as Kritkausky outlined concrete, low-cost examples of how ISO's emerging regulatory and performance standards "weaknesses" could be used to Central European business' advantage in terms of greater efficiency, lower costs, and reduced emissions. Kritkausky's suggestions focused on industries becoming ISO-compliant while addressing their unique economic, regulatory, and environmental concerns.

Follow-up: ISO 14000 Thesis Consultation. The following day, Randy Kritkausky consulted nine CEU Environmental Sciences and Policy students in a marathon three-hour session. Kritkausky gave students background information and references to ISO materials both supporting the standard and roundly criticizing it. Students have since indicated how valuable the sessions were to focus their research and identify current trends, problems, and issues.

"The CEU students are doing interesting work in a field where there is little empirical data to indicate if ISO is actually working," said Kritkausky. "Data coming from the region, from Lithuania and Russia for example, should be closely regarded around the world as indicators of what ISO 14000 is going to look in practice. I wish them luck in their research."

Other links to ISO 14000 information:

An NGO Initiative on ISO 14000
Environmental Management: Should Industry Adopt ISO 14001 Standard? Canadian Aluminum Industry Case Study
EIA Network for Countries in Transition

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