Thursday, August 13, 2009

Assessing the Corporate Impact of ISO 14000 Certification

The 1990s have indeed been a period of change. This has seen a change from a perspective that
emphasized trade-offs (you can have only one of the following quality) to a paradigm that stresses
simultaneity (you can simultaneously achieve lower costs and higher quality and shorter lead times).
This has also become a period when more and more managers are expected to become increasingly
environmentally conscious. Being environmentally responsible is no longer viewed as something that is
primarily done for publicity sake or to avoid prosecution. Rather it is seen as a matter of good business.
An indication of the increasing importance of the environment is the recent emergence of the ISO
14000 environmental standard. There are several features that make this new standard noteworthy.
First, it builds on the success of ISO 9000, and its variants (e.g., QS 9000).
Second, ISO 14000 is an international standard. It is hoped that it will replace the numerous and often
conflicting standards found in various countries. Third, ISO 14000 shifts attention from the outcome
(reduced pollution) to processes. However, being a new standard, the introduction of ISO 14000 has
raised a number of questions, namely:
1. What is the status of environmental management systems in most American plants and how are they perceived by management?
2. How are the predispositions of management towards ISO 14000 influenced by factors such as pastexperience with ISO 9000, corporate orientation towards environmental responsibility, industrial factors, importance of international trade to corporate performance and the functional positions of the respondents?
3. To what extent do the respondents see a relationship between ISO 14000 registration and success and improved market, or corporate performance?
4. How effective is ISO 14000 relative to the other alternatives available for improving environmental performance?
These and other questions formed the focus of a recently completed two-stage study into the status of ISO 14000 certification in the United States. The first phase consisted of a large-scale survey (consisting of some 16 pages) that were sent out to managers in various functions across the United States. This phase generated a database of 1,510 respondents. In the second phase, the researchers examined detailed case studies of eight plants shorter lead times, lower costs or higher? experience with ISO 14000. These plants were drawn from five categories:
ISO 14000 not being consider/only do it if mandated;
Assessing suitability of ISO 14000;
Planning for ISO 14000/Pursuing ISO 14000 Certification;
Implementing ISO 14000/Pilot Plants in North America; and,
Successfully certified in ISO 14000.

Implications for the Purchasing Professional
To date, the purchasing professions have played a relatively minor role in the ISO 14000-certification process. For the most part, interest in certification has been confined to within the firm. However, this
certification process can and does present the purchasing professional with certain opportunities to improve both environmental and strategic performance not only within the firm but also within the supply
chain. The results point out the need for purchasing professionals to take a more active role within the ISO 14000-certification process. They must start looking for and exploiting previously overlooked opportunities.
ISO 14000-certification represents a growth in opportunities.
In short, this study shows that there is much more action than hype about the ISO 14000 environmental standards. The early results are in and the evidence, while not complete, indicates that ISO 14000-certification does work. It does achieve the twin objectives of reduced pollution and improved corporate performance.