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My first exposure to ISO 14001 was characterized by the words of a cynic and skeptic of the value of the global standard for environmental management.
“What does it mean to be certified?” he said, repeating my question rhetorically. “It means you can pollute to the ends of the earth, as long as it is well documented.”
Needless to say, the statement was a sarcastic hyperbole, since any polluter is at least held to account on legal and regulatory thresholds that affect the jurisdiction they operate within. But his remark highlighted a widespread perception of ISO 14001: Although it is capable of giving businesses a clear sense of where they’re at in terms of environmental performance, no intrinsic “moral compass” of environmental responsibility is built into the standard.