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Risk Management and Decision Processes Center

Survey of Facilities Certified to the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Standard

Faculty involved:
Haitao Yin, ERB Institute, University of Michigan
Howard Kunreuther, Wharton Risk Center
Ulku Oktem, Wharton Risk Center

This project is being done in conjunction with:
ANAB (ANSI-ASQ* National Accreditation Board); Robert King, President
QSU Publishing; Paul Scicchitano, President and Publisher

*ANSI = American National Standards Institute
*ASQ = American Society for Quality

Project description:

Sound environmental management systems (EMS) have the potential to promote good environmental performance including prevention of incidents that occur infrequently but have major consequences. ISO 14001 is an international standard for EMSs that includes the use of third party auditors to assess a facility's EMS compliance with the standard. If a facility is in compliance, a certificate of compliance is awarded. In the study of voluntary environmental management programs in general and the ISO 14001 certification in particular, one of the key question that has been explored is whether these programs are just "green wash" or really lead to better environmental performance. Several studies have been done on this specific question; however, no consensus seems to have been reached. Some researchers argue that ISO certification has improved participants' environmental performance because of the element of third party audit (Kang 2005, Dahlstrom et. al 2003, Potoski and Prakash 2005 etc.). Others argue that ISO certification has had no impacts or negative impacts on facilities' environmental performance (Yin 2003, Matthew 2001, UNCCH 2003).

The absence of agreement between these methodologically sound studies suggests that the efficacy of ISO certification may be dependent on certain organizational characteristics, or/and how organizations use ISO 14001 standard. A survey has been developed that attempts to identify the organizational parameters that maximize the effectiveness of ISO 14001 in improving firms' environmental performance. It also attempts to determine the economic and organizational benefits derived from the implementation of ISO 14001. Preparation of the survey instrument started in July 2005. It has undergone a series of revisions based on comments from individuals in the environmental area. The survey went live on February 21, 2006.

Relevant Publications:

"Does ISO 14001 Certification Enhance Environmental Performance? Conditions under which Environmental Performance Improvement Occurs," Haitao Yin and Peter J. Schmeidler, Wharton Risk Center Working Paper # 07-07, Revised September 2007

"Study Reveals Financial, Regulatory and Internal Benefits from ISO 14K" Environmental Systems Update, Volume 17, Number 4, 2007. Internet link

"Preliminary Findings Point to Green for ISO 14001 Certification" Environmental Systems Update, Volume 11, Number 1, 2006