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ISO 14000 Becomes A Prerequisite For Suppliers To Stay In The Game

BY SUSAN GILBERT-MILLER

Small and midsize manufacturers that supply major OEMs face increasing pressure on every front -- from quality certification to industry consolidation. In recent years, automotive OEMs have focused their efforts on reducing the environmental impact of their entire supply chain. Toyota Motor Corp. has identified hundreds of chemicals and substances that suppliers must forgo using in their manufacturing processes. Environmental stipulations such as these have forced small and midsize manufacturers to accommodate additional demands on their resources or risk losing business.

Manufacturers that reduce their environmental waste, however, have seen measurable bottom-line benefits, such as lowered consumption of energy, water and raw materials. They can also market themselves as being environmentally friendly -- and be ready for any environmental requirements imposed by their suppliers.

To ensure suppliers are meeting environmental benchmarks, manufacturers such as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are requiring suppliers to be ISO 14001 certified. Generating environmentally damaging emissions and waste is often an indication of an un-optimized production process, and manufacturers that implement ISO 14001 requirements can realize improvements in efficiency and profitability -- and retain their positions in OEM supply chains.

The ISO 14000 series of standards provides companies with a broadly accepted measurement for managing environmental impacts by incorporating environmental considerations into operations and product standards. ISO 14001 requires implementation of an environmental management system (EMS) that has proven to lower production costs, reduce emissions, open new markets in Europe and Asia where certification is required of suppliers and improve regulatory compliance. Companies that receive ISO 14000 certification can also market themselves as "green" manufacturers.

One company that's been helped by receiving ISO 14001 certification is Dallas-based Texas Nameplate Co. Inc., a manufacturer of metal identification tags and information and safety warning labels. Texas Nameplate uses aluminum, brass, stainless steel, polycarbonates and vinyl in production processes that include screen printing, photoengraving and chemical etching. The company's operations are highly regulated because of the chemicals and water used.

After implementing an EMS, Texas Nameplate cut its water consumption by 30 percent and electricity consumption by 20 percent. It also boosted employee morale by actively raising an attitude of conservation regarding supplies and creating concern for employee safety.

ISO 14001 implements and maintains procedures to achieve goals, as well as monitor the EMS functions to identify and implement corrective measures. It aims to change the culture of facilities so that employees constantly seek improvements and ways to reduce the company's impact on the environment. Once employees are encouraged to eliminate waste, the effects reverberate throughout the company.

Howard Plating Industries, a 375-employee zinc plating and electro-deposition company, was ISO 14001 certified in September 2000 and recently completed the required six-month audit. The Madison Heights, Mich.-based company has reduced the levels of zinc in its wastewater by more than 20 percent and slashed the levels of volatile organic air emissions. The company cited employees' awareness and enthusiasm in improving the facility and making suggestions to reduce waste and consumption wherever possible as an unanticipated benefit.

While creating a safe and healthy environment is a goal of every manufacturer, smaller firms are only now beginning to understand the benefits of green manufacturing. Unfortunately, many small and midsize manufacturers are reluctant to follow voluntary standards until adherence becomes mandatory. They also do not have the internal resources or expertise to implement an environmental management system or meet the requirements of ISO 14001. Further, companies seeking ISO 14001 certification have few outlets that provide support and economically sound solutions.

In recent years, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a cost-effective ISO 14001 implementation system for small and midsize companies. MEP centers nationwide have already helped more than 50 small and midsize manufacturers achieve ISO 14001 certification.

-- Susan Gilbert-Miller is director of environmental services at the Chicago Manufacturing Center