Changes to the ISO 14001 standard are expected to lead to a lot more work and result in a stronger, more respected and widely accepted program. ISO 14001 is the standard against which an organization may have its Environmental Management System (EMS) audited by an independent certification body that then vouches for the conformity of the system to the standard's requirements by issuing an "ISO 14001 certificate." Certification is not a requirement of the standard, but many organizations have chosen this option because of the perceived credibility of an independent verification. Up to the end of December 2003, at least 66,070 certificates to ISO 14001:1996 had been issued in 113 countries and economies, over 34% more than the previous year and the largest annual increase so far recorded by The ISO Survey.

Little words can make a big difference when designing a regulation, standard, or guidance document. On November 15, 2004 the International Standards Organization published two new sets of guidelines for companies to manage their environmental impacts--known as ISO 14001 and ISO 14004. "These standards represent the state of the art in environmental management practice," affirmed ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden, "and are at the leading edge of ISO's comprehensive offering to help organizations address all three dimensions of sustainable development--social, economic and environmental." One significant change in the standard is little more than an "or" changing to an "and."

Previously, the ISO 14001:1996 re-quired an organization to evaluate the "environmental aspects of its activities, products, or services." The ISO14001: 2004 changes the "or" to an "and," which means that an organization must simultaneously focus on the environmental impacts from internal processes as well as the products it produces and the services it provides. This little change in the language will have a significant effect on how environmental impacts are discovered, prioritized and managed. For those companies who began the ISO 14001 process years ago, the change means extending what is already being worked on or has been accomplished. However, this change can seem overwhelming to companies who are considering to begin or that have recently begun the ISO 14001 implementation and certification process.

In addition to the "little word" changes, there have been two more rather significant modifications. The first deals with how regulatory requirements are addressed. This part of the 1996 standard has been a concern that was identified a number of years ago as something that has held back the standard from achieving certain levels of interest and credibility. The 1996 standard simply required that a company devise a process to identify legal and other requirements. In fact, the way the previous standard was written and interpreted, a company was required to do nothing more than identify its compliance obligations without even having to comply with any rules. The 2004 changes include an entirely new section on evaluating an organization's compliance with environmental regulatory requirements. For an institution that has been active in working on regulatory requirements as a part of its environmental management program, this change may be insignificant. It will, however, lead to a more aggressive compliance audit procedure prior to achieving certification.

The second change results in a better alignment of the language between the ISO 14001 program and that of the ISO 9001 quality standard. A number of companies have realized administrative cost savings by combining ISO management programs. In addition, this change addresses a cost concern that has kept many companies from achieving one or the other program. In other words, once a company achieves ISO 9001 certification and has realized the somewhat administrative burden with implementation and keeping the program current, they are less apt to want to take on another voluntary management system program if it is expected to double the work load and potential cost. By combining programs the costs and associated workloads can be managed more efficiently and therefore result in more companies becoming interested in moving forward.

It's important to note that the ISO organization does not certify institutions to the standard; instead the certifications are issued by independent registrars that are overseen by a governing body called the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). ISO and the IAF have agreed to set the period for making the transition from certificates of conformity to ISO 14001:1996 to the ISO 14001:2004 version at 18 months from the publication date of the latter. Beyond this period, the IAF will recognize only certificates to ISO 14001:2004. IH