ISO 14001 "failing the environment"

Environmental standard "may not lead to any environmental improvement," claim consultants

The international environmental management standard ISO 14001 is failing to make industry more sustainable, according to a provocative new book by two US-based environment consultants. In ISO 14001 - a missed opportunity for sustainable global development, Riva Krut and Harris Gleckman say that the standard's requirements are less stringent than many standards that companies and trade bodies impose on themselves. Companies certified to ISO 14001 are required to formulate an environmental policy, but details are left up to the firms and, the authors claim, can be so weak that "even if rigorously implemented [they] may not lead to any environmental improvements". They acknowledge the high profile the standard has gained since its creation in 1996, but say that companies are signing up to it due to market pressure rather than a real intention to improve environmental performance. The International Organisation for Standardisation, which first expanded from setting product technical specifications with the creation of the quality management standard ISO 9001 in 1987, has "sidelined" the "dynamic and far more participatory area of international standard-setting" which was beginning to emerge through co-operation between NGOs, industry and governmental bodies, says the book. Some countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, have adopted an "ISO 14001 Plus" approach, requiring companies to fulfil the ISO requirements plus additional demands. According to the authors, this trend dilutes international standardisation but is necessary as the ISO 14001 standard alone says "nothing about the environmental performance of a firm".

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