The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) recognized the need for businesses to invest in environmental stewardship beyond regulatory requirements. In response to this, the International Standard Organization (ISO) a non-governmental organization that formulates technical and management standards, introduced the ISO 14001 environmental standards in 1995. As at 2013, ISO had 164 members, each representing a country with about 22% from Africa. The ISO 14001 standard requires participants to establish Environmental Management System (EMS) that is verifiable externally. Participants are required to pass an initial certification audit and subsequent annual recertification audits conducted by approved and accredited third-party organizations.

In 1996, Shell committed to external certification of its EMS, initially with EC EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) and later with ISO 14001 EMS. Shell in Nigeria developed a phased approach to ISO 14001 certification of its operations, starting with the Alakiri Gas and Oil production facilities in 1997, with the goal to maintain transparency, demonstrate visibility and leadership commitment to continuous improvement in environmental performance.

This paper reviews the value added and lessons learnt from ISO 14001 implementation in Shell Nigeria. It assesses the company environmental performance prior to certification and 15years after, and the overall impact on Health Safety and Environment (HSE) management. Also, it takes a look at how ISO 14001 impacts management of HSE across the industry in Africa and discusses the challenges and opportunities offered by voluntary environmental governance vis-à-vis effectiveness of traditional style of government regulation and compliance driven approach.

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