Water Scarcity and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Environmental Aspects Worthy of Management System Attention

Two of the most successful International Standards of the last 25 years are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. ISO 9001, a quality management system standard now used by more than one million organizations, first gave international prominence to the “systems approach” to management. It has become one of the all-time best-selling standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Its success helped launch ISO 14001, an environmental management system based on the “plan-do-check-act” virtuous cycle of policy-driven planning, managing to meet objectives, establishing operational control, and monitoring and measuring progress towards meeting identified objectives and targets. Several hundred thousand organizations around the world have adopted ISO 14001, usually as an enhancement of a quality management system which has the goal of managing processes for delivering quality goods and services and satisfying customers.

Fundamental to an environmental management system is the identification of the environmental aspects of an organization. These are the “elements of the organization’s activities, products and services that have or can have an impact on the environment,” whether adverse or beneficial. Identifying environmental aspects is key to the successful implementation of the management system, because it helps organizations proactively manage “those that can have a significant impact on the environment.”

Many early adopters of ISO 14001 environmental management systems reaped major benefits from their efforts. Energy efficiency, waste reduction, prevention of pollution, improved compliance with environmental legal requirements, all paid returns that contributed to the organizations’ bottom line while improving their standing among stakeholders, driving improvements through the supply chain, and augmenting workforce morale. Alas, the more the environmental management system standard became commonplace, the greater was the tendency of some later-adopting organizations to use the system as a regulatory compliance management tool and for little else.

In such cases, the true potential of the environmental management system is shortchanged. Properly implemented, ISO 14001-based systems should identify all environmental aspects that have the potential to create significant environmental impacts, whether they are currently regulated or not. Two prominent issues that fall in this category are water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

With the world population approaching seven billion, water scarcity is a growing concern. Organizations fortunate enough to be located in water-rich regions can ill afford to be complacent. Although “water wars” have not broken out recently in the United States, regions not normally considered water constrained have experienced some skirmishes. The contested northern boundary of the state of Georgia comes to mind, where claims of a flawed early nineteenth century survey that demarcated the boundary with Tennessee recently were raised. Why the sudden interest on behalf of the state of Georgia in a small strip of land that for nearly two centuries had been recognized as part of Tennessee? The explanation is access to the Tennessee River, which could have been tapped to relieve a drought that recently afflicted northern Georgia.

Another example is public opposition in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, to commercial development of the state’s water resources to feed an ever-expanding consumer thirst for bottled water. No thank you, say Minnesotans, who much prefer to keep their water for themselves.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is another issue that concerns many stakeholders. Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is now occurring in California and has become an important consideration for the siting of new power plants across the country. For many companies, however, regulation of carbon dioxide is an issue for some time in the future, not today.

However, US companies ignore greenhouse gases at their peril. Aircraft operators landing in Europe or taking off from there face regulation from 2012 as part of an expanded European Union Emissions Trading System. This includes all US transatlantic carriers, and even some general aviation. France and other EU countries have proposed legislation that would mandate disclosure of the “carbon footprint” of products sold in that country from as early as January 2011. Imports from the US would be affected.

Identifying water consumption and greenhouse gases as potentially significant environmental aspects in an ISO 14001–based management system makes good business sense today, in advance of regulations. Doing so helps organizations take early actions to tackle critical issues before the mandates arrive.

© 2010, Futurepast: Inc.

ISO Guidance on Social Responsibility Advances Toward Publication With Substantial–But Not Unanimous–International Support

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) reached a milestone in February when countries participating in the development of ISO 26000, Guidance on social responsibility, approved the latest version of their document as a Draft International Standard. This brings ISO one step closer to publication of an International Standard which could occur later in 2010 or in 2011.

The road to this milestone has been long and bumpy. Seven meetings of 430 experts from 90 countries and representing 40 organizations have been held, and what could be the final one is scheduled for May 2010. Although the Danish host of the May meeting, Ole Blöndal, stated in his invitation letter that the document now represents “broad consensus on common guidelines among different stakeholders around the world,” the results of the DIS ballot suggest that serious differences of opinion remain. Before returning to that topic, let’s take a closer look at the content of the standard.

The heart of the document is found in sections 3-6. Section 3 introduces the topic of social responsibility through discussions of its historical background, recent trends, characteristics of social responsibility, and the different roles for states and organizations with respect to the creation and application of laws.

Seven principles of social responsibility are set forth in section 4. They include:
• Accountability
• Transparency
• Ethical behavior
• Respect for stakeholder interests
• Respect for the rule of law
• Respect for international norms of behavior
• Respect for human rights.

Section 5, “Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders,” provides guidance on the relationship between an organization and its stakeholders and society. It defines core subjects and issues of social responsibility and describes the “sphere of influence” on these subjects and issues that an organization has.

The “core subjects” covered by the standard include the most likely economic, environmental and social impacts that should be addressed by organizations, namely:
• Organizational governance
• Human rights
• Labor practices
• The environment
• Fair operating practices
• Consumer issues
• Community involvement and development.

Section 6 of the standard is organized around the core subjects and associated issues relating to social responsibility. Subsections provide an overview for each subject, principles and considerations in understanding an organization’s role with respect to the topic, and detailed descriptions of issues and what related actions and expectations an organization should take with respect to them. For example, in subsection 6.5, the guidance provides an overview of the relationship of an organization to the environment and identifies four principles for organizations: environmental responsibility, use of the precautionary approach, environmental risk management, and polluter pays.

A section on “considerations” refers organizations to the following approaches and strategies:
• Life cycle thinking
• Environmental impact assessment
• Cleaner production and eco-efficiency
• A product-service system approach
• Use of environmentally sound technologies and practices, and
• Sustainable procurement.

Four environmental issues are analyzed in detail. They include prevention of pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and protection of the environment and restoration of natural habitats.

Section 7 provides guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an organization. Topics include increasing understanding of social responsibility and setting expectations, communication, taking action, monitoring progress and improving performance, and evaluating the relevance of voluntary initiatives outside the organization that are designed to assist organizations in meeting social responsibility objectives.

When all the country votes on adopting ISO 26000 as a Draft International Standard were counted in February 2010, the document that so many experts had worked on since 2005 barely achieved the needed margins for approval. It needed 52 affirmative votes and got 56; and it had to attract no more than 19 negative votes (it received 18). Half of no votes came from states in the Middle East. The other nine negative votes were cast by an array of countries that included Russia, China, India, Malaysia, Cuba, Viet Nam and Kazakhstan. Thirteen countries abstained or did not vote.

ISO/DIS 26000 represents a serious attempt to address the social responsibilities of organizations. The document is not designed to be used for certification purposes, and explicitly says that any certification program that makes such a claim is misrepresenting the intent of the standard. Nonetheless, it is difficult to define “actions and expectations” related to the world’s most important economic, social and environmental issues and not expect watchdogs, self-appointed or otherwise, to take heed and to hold organizations accountable for their actions, or inactions.

ISO/DIS 26000 is available for download at www.iso.org/wgsr.

© Futurepast: Inc., 2010