Association's Responsible Care program, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) principles, the International Chamber of Commerce's Business Charter for Sustainable Development, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Nash and Ehrenfeld (1996) report that such standards differ from government regulations in that they attempt to foster long-term changes in the ways companies think about the environment and how they integrate environmental aims with other business objectives. In contrast, the main purpose of government regulation has been to protect humans and the environment.

The ISO 14000 series of environmental management documents is perhaps the most promising of the current international efforts now under the auspices of the ISO, an international body that has developed international consensus standards for business in a wide variety of fields since 1951. More than 400 U.S. industries have participated in the development of ISO 14000. And like other ISO standards, ISO 14000 applies across a range of organizations and geographic locations, a feature that helps ensure common attributes throughout corporate management structures.

The ISO 14000 standards focus on tools for environmental management and planning, not performance or setting of environmental release levels. They are intended to help companies manage their organizations better within their own limitations, demonstrate their commitment to pollution prevention, and ensure that laws, regulations, and other goals are met. To become registered as an ISO 14000 entity, an organization needs to demonstrate to an independent, external registrar that

  • It has implemented all the elements of the Environmental Management Standards developed under the auspices of ISO
  • It has an effective system for maintaining its compliance to applicable laws and regulations

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