Covering the Gap: ISO Standards vs Government Regulations

January 18, 2016

When it comes to making sure a company is up-to-date with the latest environmental practices, any compliance manager could tell you that it's never as simple as filling in all the boxes on a checklist. From local municipal regulations and federal laws to international standards, there are several sets of rules that guide a business's environmental protocols.

Some overlap, while others speak to unique aspects of environmental policy. Some are backed by enforceable law, others are simply requirements to achieve industry ratings. The one thing they all have in common is that their interplay can be confusing to even the most savvy business owners.

To help your business navigate these protocols, let's take a look at the differences between some of the most often misinterpreted codes, ISO 14001 Standards and government regulations.

ISO Standards:

The International Standards Organization, or ISO, develops standards for businesses around the world so that they may operate using a uniform set of best practices. These standards are not enforceable laws, but companies who choose to follow them stand to gain international credibility from their compliance.

"Adhering to ISO standards does not guarantee EPA compliance."

The ISO standards pertaining to environmental issues, listed as ISO 14001, are meant to improve businesses' processes and outcomes in terms of environmental safety. For example, the Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Verification standard (ISO 14064) aims to help companies develop more consistent and transparent greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting processes and improve their GHG management.

While adhering to these standards can certainly improve both businesses' environmental strategies and their standing in the global community, it cannot guarantee they are in compliance with their national, state or local regulations.

Government Regulations:

Unlike ISO standards, government regulations are backed by laws passed by the U.S. Congress and published in the United States Code. These laws typically do not specify details explaining how businesses should comply with the new legislation, so Congress granted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to create and enforce specific regulations for businesses' air, soil and water impact. The EPA's efforts also serve as a guide for local and state governments when creating their own laws on environmental protection, which they can also enforce on companies operating within their jurisdiction. 

"Partnering with environmental consultants can help businesses bridge the gap."

Failing to meet ISO standards may cost companies their certifications with the organization. If businesses fail to comply with the EPA's federal regulations or local laws, on the other hand, they can face much steeper penalties, including fines of thousands of dollars every day until regulations are met.

It is therefore crucial for organizations to take careful measures to ensure they do not fall out of compliance. Environmental companies can perform extensive testing and offer consulting to help businesses avoid the hefty legal penalties that incur when they fail to meet regulations. From initial risk assessment to full environmental compliance audits, partnering with trusted environmental consultants like PPM can help businesses bridge the gap between meeting ISO standards and achieving full environmental compliance.