Companies preparing for certification to ISO 14001 should seek an independent assessment to find out how close their existing systems are to the international environmental management systems standard, an environment, health and safety consultancy says. These assessments are a systematic process and are regarded as tools for managing and improving environmental performance. 'We audit against the draft ISO 14001 standard to find out the gaps that exist. This is what we call a 'gap analysis', ' said Jeremy Pong, an environment, health and safety consultant at Arthur D. Little. He said the consultancy had developed an assessment guide to carry out 'gap analysis'. External auditors can be an important part of a company's on-going or periodic reviews. Mr Pong said that Arthur D. Little's work in the audit field started in 1977 when the consultancy developed a pioneering corporate audit programme. Ricky Yu, also an environment, health and safety consultant, said his field of work - which embraced all three areas, not only environment auditing - was also part of the consultancy's services. Environment, health and safety auditing is also a process that helps companies to verify compliance with standards and to determine the effectiveness of management systems and controls. Last year, the consultancy conducted a two-day course for the Hong Kong Government. 'Our client was the policy branch and the Environment Protection Department played a co-ordinating role in the programme. We trained 30 'green officers' from various government departments,' Mr Yu said. 'In the course, we covered environmental auditing skills and techniques.' Mr Pong said environmental auditing was in 'some ways similar to financial auditing' but, unlike that discipline, environmental auditors required no formal accreditation or qualifications. What was mainly required was a knowledge of key management systems of the particular company where an audit was being done, Mr Pong said. An auditor would check for applicable regulatory requirements and also whether a company's internal policies and procedures were being followed, he said. Apart from being able to carry out audits on ISO 14001, the consultancy also had the expertise to review compliance against the British Standard BS 7750 and the European Community's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), Mr Pong said. Mr Yu said in addition the consultancy carried out environmental impact assessments, analysis of product life-cycle and other technical studies for clients. In Hong Kong, the consultancy has six environment, health and safety consultants.