Not so Fast! Phased Implementation of ISO 14001

Many small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been reluctant to use an environmental management system (EMS) such as ISO 14001.  Even though the EMS has been specifically designed to work in any size operation, it appears to be overwhelming in scope for a smaller firm.  To make an EMS more palatable, ISO plans to issue a new guidance document to help smaller companies create a phased development, implementation, maintenance and implementation of an EMS.  The final standard is expected to be issued in September, 2010.  This new standard, ISO 14005, has been in the works since 2006. 

The issuance of this guidance is not without some controversy, however. NORMAPME, a European organization that is exclusively devoted to the interests of small and medium-sized businesses, is disappointed with the current draft of ISO 14005.  This organization believes that the document is still too complex and difficult to understand for SME’s. They state that the standard focuses more on the concept of a phased approach to EMS rather than on practical guidelines for SMEs.  In their mind, it is unclear whether the standard is a stand-alone document or a guideline to help companies implement  ISO 14001. 

Maybe this is not a fatal flaw. After all, the standard setting process is one of compromise and voting.   NORMAPME and the European Commission could issue guidance for the use of the document much like ISO 14004 offers guidance for the use of ISO 14001. 

The elements of ISO 14001 should be amenable to the proper operation of an enterprise of any size if implemented with an experienced facilitator.  The ISO 14001 requirements simply represent the elements of a sound business.  Implementation guidance can be useful in providing a scope for the facilitator to use when helping the SME implement an EMS.

With large customers issuing mandates for sustainability to all companies in their supply chains, it is going to be very important that SMEs are able to internalize these requirements in a management system that will help them make these mandates part of the way they run their business.  The customers will be auditing the implementation of these sustainability initiatives.  Having an EMS with ISO 14005 should help to provide the objective evidence that these auditors will seek.

There is a need to encourage the use of an EMS or SMS in SMEs.  The SMEs that adopt these management systems will reap the benefits of increased business from their customers that are adopting sustainability programs.

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