BUCKSPORT, Maine — Verso Paper’s four mills have been independently audited and certified to the International Organization for Standardization ISO 14001:2004 for environmental management systems, Verso said Monday.

The internationally recognized standard identifies requirements for organizations that want to implement a comprehensive environmental management system aimed at continuous environmental performance improvement.

“Continuous environmental improvement is at the center of Verso’s sustainability philosophy,” said Craig Liska, Verso’s vice president for sustainability. “Achieving ISO 14001:2004 certification of our paper mills is a sign to our customers and other stakeholders not only that we are committed to continuous improvement, but that we have the systems, processes and policies in place to make it happen.”

The ISO has developed a long list of requirements to meet its certification. According to Bill Cohen, spokesman for Verso’s mills in Bucksport and Jay, the company has spent about a year reviewing the environmental, health and safety systems at each of the four mills to ensure they were in accord with the ISO rules and regulations.

The company conducted an independent audit and then had an independent consultant audit the mills for certification.

“We found that very often different departments were doing some very good things, but they were not tied into one mill system,” Cohen said.

Although the mills were meeting many requirements, Cohen said, documentation was not completed frequently or accurately enough to meet ISO standards.

While the company did not make any major changes in operations at the mills, it expended a great deal of effort to make sure processes and procedures were documented and accessible through a millwide database.

Mike Haws, manager at the Bucksport mill, indicated the certification reflects the commitment of the mill’s employees.

“Our employees take their environmental responsibilities very seriously,” Haws said. “It’s thanks to them that our mill was able to implement an environmental management system that meets the ISO … standard and that we continue to see year-over-year environmental performance improvement.”

The process of complying with the ISO requirements will give the company a better handle on the environmental, health and safety systems in the mills and help Verso manage those issues better, Cohen said.

That is one of the things Verso customers want to see in addition to an overall sustainability in the company’s operation.

“This is one way we can demonstrate to our customers that they can believe us when we talk about how we do things,” Cohen said. “We really do care about environmental, health and safety issues, and it’s not just us saying it. It’s an independent, third-party certification that we’re doing the right things.”

The ISO certification requires that the mills be audited annually to verify that the environmental management systems are operating efficiently and that employees are aware of their environmental responsibilities.