Environmental Standards Development - Why You Should Be Involved

by Susan L.K. Briggs

At the last meeting of the U.S. technical advisory group (TAG) on environmental management in Washington, DC, in August, attendees discussed the important issues being decided at the subcommittee meetings of International Organiza-tion for Standardization (ISO) technical committee (TC) 207.

A resounding theme behind each report was the shrinking number of U.S. delegates attending those meetings, compounded by the inability of the TAG to recruit delegates to take on new work items.

Ultimately, if trends continue, the ability of the United States to put forth its position and to influence the outcome of these projects could be jeopardized.

Issues Now Before the TAG

Several important issues are now before the TAG:

  • Work on a new guidance standard on phased implementation of an environmental management system (EMS) is underway, with the first committee draft planned for this spring. Some fear this standard could open the door to phased verification, which will increase costs for organizations.
  • Final edits are being made to ISO 14065, Greenhouse Gases—Require-ments for Greenhouse Gas Validation and Verification Bodies for Use in Accreditation or Other Forms of Recognition. Industry representatives will be evaluating the potential impact the new greenhouse gas standards could have on their businesses.

Projects on the near future calendar include:

  • The EMS and QMS auditing standard, ISO 19011, is due for review and will likely result in a vote to revise. Originally written by a joint working group with an equal vote by members of both TC 176 on quality management and TC 207 on environmental management, new ISO rules might prevent the balloting of both TCs.
  • Revisions of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004, the two standards on EMSs, have been fast tracked for revision in 2008 to coincide with the revision of ISO 9001. The goal is better alignment between the two. This, coupled with lingering agendas to develop a single management system standard, portend significant challenges for a few years to come. This next revision also opens the door for incorporating new requirements into ISO 14001, something that was technically not within the scope of the 2004 revision.

Possible New Projects

Although not on the docket yet, there are moves to start other projects:

  • A push is underway to revise the environmental performance evaluation standard, ISO 14031, perhaps, in part, to strengthen performance requirements that are not likely to get into 14001.
  • A new work item proposal to develop an ISO standard on health and safety management systems has been drafted and is expected to be balloted in the near future. Since many of the existing health and safety management system standards use ISO 14001 as their framework, there will be reason for the TAG to TC 207 to monitor the progress of this new ISO work item.

U.S. Vested Interest

Clearly the United States has a vested interest in influencing the decisions and documents that will result from these initiatives. Although it might not now seem as compelling to U.S. industry, regulatory bodies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and practitioners as it did when these documents were first drafted, the potential impact of these projects could be just as counterproductive if they are not guided appropriately.

Yet the U.S. TAG has dwindled in size in recent years, with its current membership at about half what it was in 2003 (see Figure 1) and only one-tenth of what it was in 1996. Likewise, the number of U.S. delegates participating in international meetings has diminished. Meetings once attended by U.S. delegations up to 30 strong are now attended by delegations half that size, and in some cases by a single person.

More important than the numbers themselves, the success and vitality of the TAG is dependent on keeping abreast of environmental practices and expectations in the United States. This will allow the U.S. TAG to incorporate new thinking and the diverse views of parties with interests in environmental management, and to develop consensus on U.S. positions that can be skillfully and persuasively negotiated at the international forums where ISO standards are developed.

Membership Recruitment

That is why the TAG resolved to reinitiate membership recruitment. Several strategies were formulated to raise awareness and inform key target groups of the major issues currently being tackled by TC 207.

Prospective members from industry, trade associations, government agencies, academia, professional groups and NGOs, as well as past members of the TAG and current users of ISO 14000 standards, will be targeted.

The goal of the communications will be to impress on these stakeholder groups the value in actively participating in TAG activities and voicing their views. By doing so, they can avail themselves of the opportunity to establish U.S. positions that support their interests and shape the international standards that will influence the way they do business globally.

ISO says its standards add value to all types of businesses and organizations. They contribute to making the development, manufacture and supply of products and services compatible, consistent and safe. In turn, this makes trade easier between countries and establishes a baseline for fair competition.

Anyone with a material interest in environmental management is welcome to participate in the U.S. TAG to TC 207. Members are expected to attend two meetings domestically each year and vote on issues presented to them. Those with technical expertise, persuasive negotiating skills and interest are selected by their fellow TAG members to represent the United States in the international activities of TC 207. Travel expenses are the responsibility of members or their organizations.

Value to Organizations

Organizations often do not initially understand the value of participation in standards work, but once they become involved, they recognize and are able to leverage the benefits:

  • Competitive intelligence.
  • Networking.
  • Skills development.
  • Prestige.

Competitive intelligence: Members of the TAG will see the drafts of standards and other related documents before the general public does. Having advanced knowledge of the direction and details of the yet to be published standard can be business critical information. Members have the opportunity to comment on the proposed requirements and issues, ensuring their organizations’ views are incorporated into the U.S. position.

Networking: Members of the TAG cross all sectors of the economy and represent large, medium and small organizations, including government agencies, business, trade organizations, universities and research institutions. Working with representatives from these organizations can provide opportunities to make new contacts and understand and learn how different organizations do business and solve environmental problems.

Skills development: The people in these groups are welcoming and hard working. If you become involved, they will assist you in understanding the intricacies of how standards are developed.

The TAG members are constantly perfecting their skills related to writing complex technical documents with a culturally diverse group of people in a limited amount of time.

By reviewing and participating in the discussions about the standard at each stage of its development, not only will you understand the technical detail, but you will also become savvy about the embedded nuances in the language and the varying ways in which different countries interpret and use standards.

Participation in the meetings themselves strengthens your presentation and negotiation skills. Since work continues outside formal meetings, members will build skills in writing, communicating and working in virtual teams. These experiences add value to both individuals and their organizations.

Prestige: Being an insider in the standards development process is an impressive role that will be appreciated by your company, clients and competitors. Having your organization intimately involved with international and national standards development highlights your company’s position in the global economy and showcases the expertise your company brings to the table.

ANSI Guided Standards Development Process

The process to create voluntary standards in the United States is guided by the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI’s) principles of consensus, due process and openness. By its very nature, the process depends heavily on data gathering and collaboration among a diverse range of stakeholders.

ANSI ensures access to the standards process is made available to anyone directly or materially affected by a standard under development. This access includes broad based public review and comment on draft standards as well as an appeals mechanism. The process also prevents industries from developing standards that would give them an unfair edge over their competition.

The process stipulates automatic review and revision at regular intervals so the best and newest ideas are incorporated. Thousands of individuals, companies, government agencies and other organizations—such as labor, industrial and consumer groups—voluntarily contribute their knowledge, talents and efforts to standards development.

ASQ is a member of ANSI and is accredited by ANSI to be a standards developing organization. ASQ is committed to supporting the committees responsible for developing standards in the fields of quality management, environmental management, dependability, statistics and social responsibility, according to Allyson Extence Baue, ASQ standards development coordinator.

To maintain this level of commitment, ASQ encourages active participation by professionals and organizations that can bring their knowledge and expertise to the national and international standards development process. Individual participation is the cornerstone of this voluntary system, says Baue, because it enables the participant’s organization to maintain its competitiveness and provides peer recognition as an industry leader.

If you or your organizationwant to take advantage of that advanced knowledge of draft standards, expert know-how in standards development and direct involvement in the process to ensure your organization’s views are represented, e-mail the ASQ standards team at standards@asq.org or call 800-248-1946 x7474.

SUSAN L.K. BRIGGS is director of environment, health and safety for Textron Systems, Wilmington, MA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in natural science and statistics from Harvard University. Briggs was a U.S. expert on the ISO technical committee (TC) 207, subcommittee 1, working groups revising ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 and currently is the vice chair of the U.S. technical advisory group to TC 207 and chair of subtag 1. She is a member of ASQ and an ASQ certified quality engineer, auditor and manager.

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