Debate kicks off on ISO 14001 revision

Changes could bring international management standard into competition with EMAS

A planned revision of the international environmental management standard ISO 14001 could throw it into greater competition with the EU's eco-management and audit scheme, EMAS, the chair of the International Organisation for Standardisation sub-committee on environmental management systems Ossie Dodds has told ENDS Daily.

A strengthening of requirements on legal compliance, writing in a commitment to the principle of continuous improvement and specifying mandatory environmental reporting are among the areas members have said they want to discuss. The proposals will get their first thorough airing at a technical committee meeting in Korea in early June.

Some business organisations and regulators are looking to a strengthened standard which might open the door to a reduced regulatory burden, although this remains contentious. Other businesses, particularly in the USA, do not want the standard to be made tougher for firms to sign up to. In addition, some of ISO's European members are reluctant for ISO 14001 to come any closer to EMAS. "The current revisions being made to EMAS are already incorporating more ISO 14001 specifications," one source pointed out (ENDS Daily 15 February). "If they came any closer businesses might begin to question the need for two schemes – although this is some way down the track."

The review follows a survey of ISO's 47 national standards body members, almost three-quarters of which were in favour of a revision. Initial talks, to be held in London at the end of April, will focus on compatibility with the ISO 9000 quality standard series. ISO 9000 is itself being revised, and officials want to take the opportunity of fine-tuning ISO 14001 to give it a better fit and tighten up certain passages. These changes should be published in 2000, at the same time as the revisions to the 9000 series.

The debate on more fundamental changes, including legal compliance, continuous improvement and mandatory reporting is on a slower track, however. Any changes are expected to come in a second phase of revisions in 2001 or 2002.

A separate meeting will be held on improving guidance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These make up more than 90% of businesses worldwide, but few have applied for ISO 14001 certification. A special committee was set up after the standard was introduced in 1996 to examine whether SMEs needed a separate supporting document or even a special standard. The committee concluded that ISO 14004 – the set of guidelines supporting ISO 14001 – should be adjusted instead, so that the language, style and examples better reflected the needs of SMEs. Changes would be brought forward into ISO 14001 as necessary.

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