Global uptake of ISO14001 doubles in six months

Uptake of ISO14001, the international environmental management standard, is increasing steadily. The total number of certificates world-wide now exceeds 4,000, and Japan, the UK and Germany still dominate with nearly half of the certificates issued. The USA is lagging far behind, but the standard is set to receive a boost as IBM promotes it along its supply chain.

ISO14001 was finalised towards the end of 1996. Last October, an ENDS survey showed that about 2,300 certificates to the standard had been issued globally after 12 months. More than 300 had been awarded in the UK, Japan and Germany, but the Netherlands and Switzerland had the highest numbers in terms of population (ENDS Report 273, p 3 ).

Japan has since overtaken the UK. It now has over 900 certificates compared with the UK's 650, according to figures collected by Reinhard Peglau of Germany's Federal Environment Agency. However, the UK is still ahead on a population basis.

Japan, the UK and Germany still account for almost half the certificates issued. But a second group of countries - including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan and Korea - is catching up rapidly and accounts for a further quarter of the total.

The certification trend has remained remarkably consistent across the world, with most countries doubling the number of certificates since October. A few - including Spain, France and Finland - have done even better, but mostly from a low base.

In the UK, however, uptake of ISO14001 has increased at a lower rate. The number of certificates has grown by just over 200 to 650 since last October, an increase of only 48%.

When the figures are adjusted for population, the UK and Japan slip down the table to sixth and tenth place, respectively. Switzerland is in top position (see figure ).

In the USA, the number of certificates has more than doubled since October. But the US still languishes in the bottom half of the table.

Joe Cascio, leader of the US negotiating team on ISO14001, maintains that the figures do not reflect the extent of corporate environmental management system activity. He claims that there are "dozens, if not hundreds, of companies who have implemented ISO14001 without the slightest intention of getting registered."

In contrast to the UK, the US Government is keener on certification than US industry. "Pro rata, Government is much more active in implementing ISO14001," said Mr Cascio. Examples include a large pilot project by the Department of Defence and implementation of ISO14001 at all Department of Energy laboratories.

However, the situation may begin to change following a move by computer giant IBM to encourage certification along its supply chain. In April, the company sent letters to over 900 suppliers saying that it is "interested in doing business with environmentally responsible suppliers" and asking them to achieve certification to the standard. No deadline has been set for certification and no sanctions have been proposed by IBM, but the message is clear.

IBM is the first US company to make such a move, but examples are more common in Europe - as recent initiatives by Jaguar and Rover illustrate (ENDS Report 279, pp 23-25 ).

Uptake of ISO14001 in Asia remains strong, despite the financial crisis in the region. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are in the lead, but the numbers of certificates in China, Malaysia and Thailand have more than doubled.

Kazuhiro Okuma, assistant director at the Japanese Environment Agency, told ENDS that "companies in Japan are getting more and more environment-conscious," with green consumerism in Europe cited as an influence. He has seen no evidence that the economic turmoil has influenced the rate of uptake, and believes that any effects will be limited

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