If you're breathing a sigh of relief after your company's efforts to gain ISO 9000 certification, don't relax too long. You may soon be trying for certification to new international environmental management standards.

For over three years the International Organization for Standardization has been working on a set of standards- known as ISO 14000- for evaluating an organization's environmental management system. ISO 14000 also will include standards for evaluating a company's products through such issues as environmental labeling and life cycle assessment. Final standards on these product evaluation issues are several years away, however.

Later this year the ISO committee expects to finalize the standards dealing with environmental management systems and auditing. To become certified, companies will need to have: a written environmental policy; documentation of legal requirements; an internal and external communications plan; training programs; monitoring and measurement systems; compliance auditing provisions; and objectives and targets for the environmental policy.

Although voluntary, many experts expect the ISO 14000 standards to essentially become a requirement for doing business internationally, as the ISO 9000 standards have become. Joe Cascio, director of environmental health and safety standardization for IBM and chair of the U.S. technical advisory group providing input to the ISO committee, says many organizations, including governments, will probably make ISO 14000 a part of the bidding process. Plus, competitive market forces will likely spur companies doing business in the U.S. to meet the ISO 14000 standards.

EPA's interest

Being certified could also influence your relationship with EPA. The agency is considering ways to incorporate ISO 14000 into its Common Sense Initiative, which aims to develop regulations that address multi-media permitting for specific industry sectors.

ISO 14000 might also become a benchmark for EPA's recently launched environmental leadership program. EPA will waive routine inspections when companies can prove they have a program in place to meet environmental standards. ISO 14000 certification could be a basis for judging the adequacy of a company's compliance program. Cascio says industry representatives would also like EPA to take certification into account when issuing fines and sentencing guidelines.

Assuming the ISO committee finalizes the standards late this year, companies looking to meet the ISO 14000 requirements will probably not earn certification until early 1997. For starters, the committee must establish a program for training and accrediting the third-party auditors who will evaluate businesses.

And as ISO 9000 veterans know, adopting these standards can take time. Considering all of the necessary documentation, and the effort to get everyone in the organization involved, Cascio says it will probably take a company at least 12 months to adopt ISO 14000 standards.

Certification won't come cheap, either. Registration could cost several thousand dollars. But the bulk of the cost will be in integrating this environmental management system into your company. It will be a "revolutionary change" in some cases, Cascio says.

The man-hours alone can run up the tab. In a small company with 100-200 employees, a $50,000-a-year manager might need to spend half a year on ISO 14000 issues, says Cascio. A large operation could easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go through the certification process, he says.

Given the complexity of certification, Cascio recommends getting started now. Purchase a copy of the draft standard from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) (212-642-4900), or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) (215-299-5487). Although the final standards will differ, he says changes should only be minor.