What is ISO 14001:2004?

First of all, where will you find reference to it? If you read information made available by New Gold Inc. about their Cerro de San Pedro mine, then you’ll see they state that they have received ISO 14001:2004 certification for their environmental management system. For example, in their annual report for 2008, you can find the following statement:

Cerro San Pedro’s environmental management system received recognition from the International Organization of Certification, achieving ISO 14001:2004 status.

So that’s the context that it exists in. Let’s see if we can find out what it is. Let’s first figure out what ISO is. Some information on what ISO is is available at the ISO website. It’s a non-governmental organization formed out of a large number of member institutes around the world, many of which are themselves mandated by governments, with a central office in Geneva. They publish international standards in the interest of allowing businesses to operate in a way that meets not only the needs of the business in question but also the broader needs of society as a whole.

That sounds good. But then what is ISO 14001:2004? Again, an explanation is available on the ISO website. Look at the following paragraph that’s taken from that link:

ISO 14001:2004 specifies requirements for an environmental management system to enable an organization to develop and implement a policy and objectives which take into account legal requirements and other requirements to which the organization subscribes, and information about significant environmental aspects. It applies to those environmental aspects that the organization identifies as those which it can control and those which it can influence. It does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria.

That last sentence in particular caught my eye, although I’ll admit I had to read it a few times before convincing myself that I was reading it correctly. Read it again yourself. So in the case of ISO 14001:2004, ISO does not specify the environmental performance criteria that are decided upon by the company and the people who tell the company what it can do. I’m guessing that whether or not that’s satisfactory would depend on factors such as what country you live in, what kind of laws exist there, how well those laws are recorded and respected, what kind of influence you have in that country, what company is being certified, and how much you value environmental safety.

It seems therefore that the answer to the question of what ISO 14001:2004 actually is is not as straightforward or consistent as the answer to what it isn’t. I don’t want to trivialize the amount of hard work that I imagine is often involved in achieving this certification. But the amount of work or expense that might go into doing that can’t discredit the value of what we’ve been able to determine from a bit of reading.

If you don’t know what New Gold Inc. or Cerro de San Pedro are and would like to find out, then you can do so by reading my second letter to The Prime Minister of Canada, or visit their website at http://www.newgold.com.

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One Response to “What is ISO 14001:2004?”

  1. New Gold’s 2008 Sustainability Report « Canadian mineral operations Says:

    […] a reference to ISO 14001:2004 which does nothing to allay my concerns for reasons that I discussed in a previous post. There is no mention in this report by New Gold that ISO 14001:2004 does not state specific […]

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