ISO Tackles Packaging and the Environment Reply

Packaging is a major issue in sustainability.  It uses a lot of resources and creates waste when the shipped goods are unpacked.  Packaging also adds to the weight of the shipped goods thus increasing the generation of greenhouse gas emissions for the transportation.  Organizations have been working on this issue for years now.  Each entity has its own way of dealing with the effects of packaging on their sustainability.  The outcome has resulted in the development of parochial views of how to control packaging and packaging waste in their operations.  The development of regulations associated with the use of packaging can affect international commerce by forcing companies to comply with multiple regional and national dictates. 

In an effort to encourage trade and minimize these business disruptions, an ISO technical committee (TC 122) has formed a subcommittee to look at “packaging and the environment.”  This committee has been looking into how the use of resources can be minimized, while maintaining the function of the packaging.  They are also looking into how used packaging can be recovered, reused and recycled.  The starting point for the standard setting process is the European Union “Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive” (94/62/EC).  This directive establishes requirements that are currently used in the European Economic Area.  Included are the following requirements:

  • Packaging and packaging waste weight and volume should be minimized to the amount needed for safety and acceptance of the packed product
  • Noxious and other hazardous constituents of the packaging should have minimum impact on the environment at their end-of-life
  • Packaging should be suitable for material recycling, energy recovery, composting or reuse.

The committee is also considering a number of similar Asian guidelines.  The goal of the effort is to harmonize all standards and guidelines into a series of ISO international standards by 2012.

The United States (U.S.) has been lagging behind in its development of standards related to packaging sustainability.  However, this is about to change.  The U.S. has formed a delegation to work with TC 122.  There is stong interest within U.S. corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in support of this participation. 

International standards would be an important contribution to support the free movement of products in international trade.  It would also help companies that are using sustainability management systems (SMS) to make packaging an important part of their sustainability efforts. If you are a user or receiver of large amounts of packaging, you will need to follow these efforts closely for the next couple of years.

Management by Objectives Reply

By Bob Pojasek, PhD, Senior Program Director, Capaccio Environmental Engineering, Inc.

Most sustainability programs are operated by using a “management by objectives” approach.  Here’s how it works:  companies select sustainability indicators from a list of measures (e.g., the Global Reporting Initiative or GRI list) and then implement a bunch of initiatives to create results.  This seems to satisfy the stakeholders desire to have the company set goals and then measure sustainability progress, however, there is another way to measure sustainability progress. 

By using a sustainability management system (SMS), a company can look at how each of its three responsibilities impacts the stakeholders.  Then, by using a risk assessments method (e.g., ISO 31000), the company can prioritize the most important impacts.  Sustainability goals are set as part of the risk management process and a program is put in place to help the company meet these goals.  In this case, projects have action plans and the effort is coordinated to meet the goals and not just produce results as in the management by objective approach.  Corrective actions and preventive actions are also addressed in a manner that is consistent with the SMS. 

We point out this fundamental difference in how sustainability programs are operated to make a point about continual improvement.  While it is reasonable to start a sustainability effort using a familiar approach such as management by objectives, it is important to move to an approach that makes sustainability part of the way the organization is operated, day-in and day-out. 

There is a SMS in the United Kingdom (BS 8900) that requires the company to create a maturity grid.  A company starts working on sustainability by making sure that it meets all environmental, health and safety, social, and financial regulations.  Once the SMS is in place, the company becomes more proactive and seeks to change its processes in such a way that they avoid the very need for the regulatory activities.  In other words, the process no longer triggers the regulatory requirement.  Some people call this “going beyond compliance.”  By using risk management to minimize regulatory, operational and reputational risks, the company is well on its way to sustainability.

If you already have some management systems in place (e.g., ISO 9001, ISO 14001, or OHSAS 18001), you may be able to add some components to shift your sustainability program from a “management by objectives” program to a program that moves you along the maturity grid associated with your continually improving sustainability program.  It is not sufficient to let the metrics drive the program.  Rather, the metrics should help decide just how well the program is operating and improving.

Sustainability Rankings for ICT Industry Put Vodafone, Nokia, HP on Top Reply

Measuring and driving the sustainability of the information and communication technology (ICT) industry has been a key focus in recent months: Environmental efforts from the industry will not only help reduce waste and energy use from electronics themselves, but can also drive solutions to lower the carbon footprint of the larger society.

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