Both series of standards were published by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. The purpose of ISO is to facilitate international trade and cooperation in commercial, intellectual, scientific and economic endeavors by developing international standards. ISO originally focused on industrial and mechanical engineering standards. Now, it has ventured into setting standards for an organization's processes, policies, and practices.
Both series of standards stemmed from concerns about international trade. One of the issues of the 1986 GATT negotiations in Uruguay was the removal of non-tariff trade barriers. Standards fall into this category. The ISO 9000 standard was published about a year after the Uruguay GATT negotiations. The ISO 14000 standards are a response to both the GATT negotiations and to the growing global concern for the environment as evidenced by the 1992 Rio Conference on the environment.
Both the ISO 9000 and the ISO 14000 series have critics and proponents. The critics of the standards point out that quality management policies proposed by ISO 9000 do not necessarily result in quality products. Critics also project that the environmental management policies of ISO 14000 will not guarantee that an organization is not damaging the environment. Both series require third-party certification, and the certification business is booming, thanks in part to these two standards. Questions have risen regarding the fairness of the certification process. Both series are heavy in their documentation requirements and demand a significant amount of time and personnel.
The proponents of the series point to the economic benefits that can be gained by putting the standards into practice. These benefits include the opening of new markets and the development of streamlined procedures, which can lead to increased profits. There are also non-tangible benefits of ISO 14000 certification, such as improved employee morale, improved corporate image, and the feeling of "doing the right thing".
Because of the strong similarities between the two standards, it is almost impossible to discuss ISO 14000 without including a discussion of ISO 9000 and the ISO standards-setting process. In addition, the experiences that organizations have had with the ISO 9000 series have raised questions that many people want resolved before they wholeheartedly embrace the ISO 14000 series. The reader will gain the most information from this paper by reading the following sections in the order in which they are listed below: