The New York Times (6/12, B3, Bhanoo) reported many of the soccer teams at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa “are wearing jerseys made almost entirely from plastic bottles rescued from landfills in Japan and Taiwan.” Although “many might view [this] as a gimmick,” the move is “also part of a broadening effort by the company to incorporate sustainability, or environmentally responsible practices, into its product design. Around the globe, a growing number of manufacturers are including more recyclable or biodegradable components into products.” The Times noted, “Companies making changes run the gamut – there are furniture makers, carpet manufacturers, clothing retailers and makers of shampoos and household cleaners. And with big-box retailers like Wal-Mart joining in, industry analysts say the sustainable philosophy is no longer viewed as the province of high-end sellers like Nike or Herman Miller, the furniture maker.”
After over five years and nearly 2,500 written comments, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has announced that it will release a final draft of ISO 26000 (international standard for social responsibility) for a two-month vote (August and September) by ISO member countries. Following the vote, it will become published as a full-fledged ISO International Standard by November, 2010. This new standard will be in the form of a guidance document like ISO 14004 (environmental management system guidance). You will not be able to certify to this standard. Instead, by using the information in the document, your company will be able to convert an ISO 14001 (EMS) into a sustainability management system (SMS).
So what does this mean to you? While the standard refers to “social responsibility,” it is really outlining what most people are calling “sustainability.” They have taken all of the three responsibilities of sustainability and divided them into manageable “core subjects.” For example, there are core subjects on environment, consumer issues, community involvement, labor practices and a number of other social and economic topics. The current draft has one of the best set of consensus information on each of these topics and how they can relate to a sustainability program. Like other ISO documents, this standard is not prescriptive. The guidance clearly states that companies can select the core subjects that pertain to their operations and determine what each should cover. If you wish to start with environmental sustainability, that is fine. Social and economic core subjects can be added at a later time.
Next, the ISO 26000 guidance addresses a set of principles that should be considered when planning, implementing and maintaining a sustainability program. This is very helpful since guiding principles are very important in adapting the program to take advantage of the company culture. Companies that have already implemented sustainability programs can strengthen them using this new standard.
Finally, the ISO 26000 document provides guidance on how to integrate sustainability throughout the organization. This is very important to implement a corporate sustainability program at the facility level and make it part of what every employee does every day.
We will be posting more blogs on this topic. Since this guidance already exists in draft form, there is little need to wait until the final publication to start creating an integrated SMS for your company.