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Is business getting ISO'd out?

It's no secret that to stay afloat today, it's simply not enough for foundry owners to produce quality castings on-time and at reasonable cost.

These days, you must also be an impeccable recordkeeper, emission control scientist, researcher and interpreter of regulatory codes, cost-cutter, teacher, market penetrator, ergonomist and community leader, to name a few. And make a profit to boot.

Just when you think you've got things under control, another expansive business standard from the International Standards Organization (ISO) is on its way. News of the "voluntary" ISO 14000 environmental standard, and its costs, bureaucratic documentation and coercive tone may cause sweat to bead on the foreheads of many businessmen.

ISO 14000 will be to environmental management what its older sister ISO 9000 is to procedural control. It places responsibility with top company officials and aims for environmental self-regulation by making certification a condition of doing business. It will apply to every business that handles, processes or emits environmentally regulated substances. Portions of the standard are in final vote this month, and will be published this summer.

The core of the standard is the statement of environmental policy. In it, according to IBM's Joe Cascio, who chairs the U.S. Technical Advisory Group assisting the standard's development, a firm pledges to: abide by current laws and regulations; continually improve environmentally; and prevent pollution within its technical and management resources. Like ISO 9000, the standardization of international performance levels isn't touched, so certification is granted solely on the verification that policy is being followed.

Proponents say the standard, dubbed the "green passport," will homogenize conflicting environmental regulations from around the globe, and eliminate those trade barriers.

We've been told that the U.S. EPA may even limit inspections, reduce fines and provide easier reporting for certified firms. Cascio believes the standard could one day result in "an entirely new system of environmental compliance - one that reduces government intrusion and privatizes regulatory and inspection efforts."

What this means is that, like ISO 9000, if you sell in countries requiring the standard, you too must become certified, or risk being left in the dust. At least, that's the way these standards were designed.

Both standards foster exclusive opportunities for certified firms, and there's some thought that they're just another attempt to keep certain producers out of the marketplace. Incidentally, the result is a limited supplier base, which may well negatively impact product price and service.

Neither standard directly measures the level of a company's core competency - in our case, producing quality castings, on-time. ISO 9000 certifications, which have grown among foundries, do deliver a customer benefit of sorts - information about a firm's consistency of process. ISO 14000, however, has no effect on product quality or service. Your customers won't receive any value from your certification, and it's another non-value-added expense for you.

Many ISO 14000 articles extol the "hidden" benefits you receive as a result of certification, probably because the only clearly evident one is staying in the market once restrictions are imposed. Yet companies (or specific industries) that decide to clean themselves up, and require suppliers to do the same, don't need a universal standard. Every OEM is free to drop any foundry that isn't doing its part environmentally.

The leading companies will be proactive in environmental management, and putting your environmental mission statement to paper is a good idea. But if it truly makes sense for corporations to become watchdogs of their suppliers' environmental activities, it will happen without the prodding of a universal standard expected to cost small businesses $50,000 to $100,000.

Those dollars could be better put to use, let's say, to install environmental control technologies or to develop worker skills, than for a business standard. Which I might point out, if required to do business, is not any more voluntary than the often-senseless regulations we've come to know and dread.

The question to ask of ISO 14000: is this only a window-dressing "paper standard," or does it truly reflect a company's environmental commitment?
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:casting industry; International Standards Organization
Author:Lessiter, Michael J.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1996
Words:667
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