The same disruptive technologies that are changing our lives and revolutionizing virtually every sector of the economy can be used to create a more sustainable world. By setting the standards that frame these initiatives, ISO/TC 207 helps scale solutions to our most urgent environmental challenges.
Just a decade ago, the term “green business strategy” evoked visions of fringe environmentalism and a high cost for minimal good. Recently, however, a new common wisdom has emerged that promises the ultimate reconciliation of environmental and economic concerns.
This new vision sounds great, yet is it realistic? ISOfocus sits down with Sheila Leggett, who began her term in 2018 as Chair of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, building on a distinguished career as a biologist, ecologist, industry consultant and environmental legislator. Having served on Canada’s Natural Resources Conservation Board and, later, the National Energy Board, Leggett’s experience is broad and her knowledge detailed.
The idea that a renewed interest in environmental management will result in a more sustainable world has widespread appeal. It is not surprising that ISO/TC 207 standards are so much in demand. Their standards portfolio, after all, tries to spur innovation and create business opportunities – for the good of all. Here, Leggett gives the lowdown on environmental management, and how a strategy good for the world can also be good for your bottom line.
Sheila Leggett: ISO/TC 207 is system-based, which means it focuses on creating frameworks for standardization, rather than following specific green technologies. All of our work in environmental management systems is done through the lens of sustainable development.
ISO 14034, Environmental management – Environmental technology verification (ETV), is a great example of how experts within ISO/TC 207 identified a market need and developed a standard to meet current and future requirements. This environmental technology verification standard provides independent verification of the performance of new environmental technologies and allows developers to demonstrate performance of their technology to the market.
With so many different technologies in the marketplace, it was agreed that an internationally recognized performance standard would level the playing field for technological innovators, provide credible, independent assessment of environmental technologies, and result in the achievement of sustainable environmental targets. Recently published, this standard has already been adopted by 39 countries.
In my view, the main challenge in making sure the ISO/TC 207 standards are used is raising awareness about this set of standards and illustrating the value from their application. For example, we recently heard from one company that applying the ISO 14000 family of standards to its business has helped it to develop a new product from what was previously considered waste materials. This additional product increased its market base and reduced its waste volumes.
Another challenge we see is that the uptake of ISO 14000 standards is largely dependent on geographical location. We are putting great effort into understanding why this should be the case, and what further actions we can take to encourage broader acceptance. One of our goals, therefore, is to ensure that the standards are applicable globally. We are fortunate to have strong representation from both developing and developed countries within our technical committee, as well as from countries with economies in transition.
From that perspective, the added value of participating in international events such as COP24 is the increased visibility they bring us, by showcasing standards that are directly relevant to the important policy discussions being held. The ISO/TC 207 standards are a set of tools that can be used to provide stability and certainty in the field of environmental management systems. Assessing and controlling the environmental impact of an organization’s activities, products or services is an important area of growing awareness to a broad range of organizations. Gaining exposure for the ISO 14000 standards through a wide range of events also provides us with valuable feedback on the current standards, ideas for future updates and the market need for potential additional standards within the field of environmental management systems.
Over the past two years, we have reviewed and updated our strategic business plan. In the process, we confirmed that ISO/TC 207 standards have a role in the sustainable growth of the economy, including green economy activity.
Our updated plan references – and was informed by – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are designed to shift the world onto a more sustainable path in just over a decade. Of the 17 SDGs, at least 14 are directly or indirectly addressed by the scope of ISO/TC 207’s work in standardization. Part of our vision is that the implementation of the ISO 14000 standards offers a significant and positive contribution to achieving/delivering the SDGs. In setting this as part of our vision, we believe that our strategies will help meet the market demand for sustainable development, which will include greener products and services.
Examples of new areas we have been working on include standards for climate adaptation and green finance, including green bonds. We are excited to be discussing potential collaborations with the recently announced technical committees ISO/TC 322 and ISO/TC 323, which are focused on sustainable finance and the circular economy, respectively. We are also having similar discussions with the International Electrotechnical Commission’s technical committee IEC/TC 111 that looks more specifically at environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and services.
We are fortunate to have a great many countries committed to the objectives and mandate of ISO/TC 207. Spurred on by this positive energy, participating countries put forward their most dedicated experts who generously share their talents and expertise to determine, within the ISO 14000 framework, the areas that most urgently require the updating of existing standards or the development of new work. It is the commitment and dedication of some of the best minds in the field that keep our motivation alive.