ISO has seen many memorable dates in its history and one, marking an environmental milestone, occurred very recently: Nov. 15, 2004. This was a significant date for ISO and for thousands of companies in North America and, indeed, in all regions of the world. That was the day that ISO published revised, improved versions of its ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 standards on environmental management system (EMS).
Up to the end of December 2003, at least 66,070 certificates to the 1996 version of ISO 14001 had been issued in 113 countries and economies, over 34 percent more than the previous year and the largest annual increase so far recorded by The ISO Survey. The United States itself is sixth among the “top 10” countries for ISO 14001 certificates. At the same time, certification, which is not actually a requirement of ISO 14001, is not the primary issue. What is most important is that ISO 14001:2004 and ISO 14004:2004 help forward-looking organizations meet their environmental challenges.
That means implementing good environmental management practices, not polluting or depleting the environment, reducing waste and making efficient use of resources, and respecting the environmental concerns of customers, shareholders, employees, local communities, regulators and society as a whole.
In fact, these standards represent the state-of-the-art in environmental management practice and are at the leading edge of ISO’s comprehensive offering to help organizations address all three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental.
Families of management
As many readers will know, ISO has two families of management system standards, ISO 14000 for the environment and ISO 9000 for quality management. Their prominence is such that some readers may not realize that ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has a current portfolio of more than 14,700 standards developed to provide solutions for just about every business sector and area of technology.
For readers who want to know where ISO is headed, I recommend they visit our Web site (www.iso.org) and consult the newly adopted ISO Strategic Plan 2005-2010. We have set ourselves the following seven key objectives for the coming years:
• developing a consistent and multi-sector collection of globally relevant international standards;
• ensuring the involvement of stakeholders;
• raising the awareness and capacity of developing countries;
• being open to partnerships for the efficient development of international standards;
• promoting the use of voluntary standards as an alternative or as a support to technical regulations;
• being the recognized provider of international standards and guides relating to conformity assessment;
• providing efficient procedures and tools for the development of a coherent and complete range of deliverables.
We have placed our strategic plan under the generic title of Standards for a sustainable world and indeed our contribution to this now largely shared objective for the planet is at the core of our mission and production. We cover the three facets I have already referred to: economic, environmental and social.
The economic component
We develop international standards, which facilitate global trade and access to world markets, in line with and in support of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The expansion of our scope to management systems and to services contributes to the dissemination and recognition of good organizational and business practices. The “toolbox” of International Standards and Guides that we develop in relation to conformity assessment is being updated, completed and promoted in such a way that it effectively supports the “1+1+1” concept of “one standard, one test, one conformity assessment procedure = accepted everywhere.” Our technical standards facilitate global procurement and investment, as well as enable the transfer of technology to developing economies.
The environmental component
The achievements of our technical committee ISO/TC 207 on environmental management are well known and expanding. The newly revised versions of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 draw on the experience gained in implementing the 1996 versions and their compatibility with ISO 9001:2000, which has been increased to facilitate the integration of management systems. We are also working hard on providing a set of unambiguous, verifiable requirements or specifications to support the organization and monitoring of green house gas emission reduction projects. We have published guidelines on environmental labelling and life cycle analysis that are instruments for designing and promoting “environment friendly” products and processes
But ISO’s commitment to the environment does not stop with our TC 207. It is witnessed by a large proportion of our committees’ work, from assisting in the efficient and safe production and promotion of clean energies, such as solar energy, hydrogen and nuclear energy and monitoring water, air or soil quality to service activities related to drinking water supply systems and waste water sewerage systems.
The social component
Standardization is the modern way to associate all stakeholders to the design and implementation of technical rules relating to environmental protection and to safety, be it at work or in relation to consumer products. Regulators, consumer and labour interests, as well as all other affected actors of society, should be associated to the standards development process. This guarantees that our voluntary standards will eventually be accepted and implemented by all those concerned. In ISO, our Consumer Policy Committee, COPOLCO, is the mechanism and the spur to help us progress in this direction. It has been instrumental, for instance, in making us move forward in the area of services, as illustrated by our current involvement in financial services or our proposed new work area in tourism, or, recently, also on the challenging subject of social responsibility.
Following a broad and exemplary consultation of all those involved, and a thorough review of initiatives and trends, we have been invited to embark on the development of an International Standard giving guidelines on the concept and implementation of social responsibility.
ISO and the U.S.A.
North America, and the Americas as a region, already play a great role in ISO. We are following closely the strategic thinking on international standardization in the U.S.A. and we hope to enable an even greater involvement of the U.S. stakeholders in ISO. The ISO member for the U.S.A. is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) which, together with the major U.S. standards development organizations, is a major actor in developing our standards as it is the biggest single provider of secretariat and convenership services for ISO technical committees, subcommittees and working groups.
This demonstrates that the U.S. has certainly understood the truth that the message for last year’s World Standards Day, which ISO celebrates with its partners IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) should indeed be: Standards connect the world.
International standards are omnipresent in products and services and in the components of the global supply chains for which they provide the backbone. The international standardization system transforms qualities like efficiency, effectiveness, economy, quality, ecology, safety, reliability, compatibility and interoperability into concrete characteristics of products and services for implementation in their manufacture, supply or utilization. ISO and its members thus develop workable solutions to technical and economic challenges faced by business, government and society, expanding from technical standards to good management, business and conformity assessment practices as well as into the area
Alan Bryden took up the post of Secretary-General of ISO (Interational Organization for Standardization) on March 1, 2003. He began his career in metrology, notably with the U.S.A.’s National Bureau of Standards (today the National Institute of Standards and Technology). Before joining ISO, he was Director General of the French national standards body, AFNOR. Visit: www.iso.org.