Environment Is Next Improvement Target

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Blending environmental stewardship with standard business practices is the basis of a new ISO certification that U.S. automakers will require their top suppliers to achieve within two and a half years.

The idea behind ISO 14004 is to help companies improve existing or implement new environmental management systems.

The standard offers options and examples that companies can follow to eliminate or reduce waste, increase the recycling of raw materials, reduce air emissions and cut energy consumption.

General Motors and DaimlerChrysler are requiring tier one automotive suppliers to earn ISO 14004 certification by Jan. 1, 2003.

Ford Motor Co. requires its suppliers to have at least one manufacturing site certified in ISO 14004 by Jan. 1, 2002, and to become completely certified by July 1, 2003.

Focusing on pollution prevention, ISO 14004 builds on environmental sections of previous worldwide quality standards.

The new standard requires companies to establish environmental objectives and identify all aspects of their operation that can have an impact on air, water, land, natural resources, humans, flora and fauna. A company then must develop a program for continual improvement in its environmental performance — even if it already had a strong environmental management system in place for years.

"You can have the best environmental program in the world, and you still have to show continual improvement," said Merry Keating, an auditor for Entela Inc., a Grand Rapids-based registrar of ISO and QS certificates.

ISO 14004 is "just starting to get big," Keating said. About 40 percent of Entela's business presently comes from firms who are seeking ISO 14004 certification.

"It's a significant trend," she said. "They're (automakers) basically coming up to the plate and saying, 'Look, we expect a certain responsibility here.' "

Keating expects that many tier one suppliers will pass on the standard to their suppliers, although such a move is not mandated. ISO 14004, she believes, will also become as common within five years as ISO 9000 is today.

The push for ISO 14004 stems in part from increased environmental awareness among corporations. ISO 14004 will create even more awareness, Keating said.

"People are going to find out there's a lot of impact on the environment that they don't even realize," she said.

Companies adopting ISO 14004 must also have an emergency response plan in place, document their activities under the environmental management system to verify compliance, and adequately train staff to carry out the objectives.

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