An expert’s perspective in standardisation – by Martin Baxter, Executive Director of Policy at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)
My role at IEMA puts me in a fortunate position – I have a passion for the environment and I’m able to contribute to making positive environmental change. By working through standards bodies, such as BSI British Standards (BSI) or the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), – helping to establish common standards, tools or methods that will reduce the environmental impacts associated with products, or in the ways that companies operate – your contribution and the difference you can make can be magnified many times.
As the UK head of delegation for the suite of standards in the ISO 14000 environmental management systems (EMS) series and a member of the ISO working group revising the ISO 14001 EMS standard, my work in standards centres around environmental auditing, labels and declarations, performance evaluation, life-cycle assessment and GHG management.
With more than 250,000 organisations in 155 countries around the world being ISO 14001 certified, it’s on a scale that’s difficult to match and provides a great opportunity to catalyse environmental improvement.
However, to be truly effective, it’s not just about knowing the subject area – it’s about maximising your impact from the time you commit.
Understanding the Process
The standards making process comes with its own language and terminology. It’s important to understand these so that you can channel your inputs at the right time to best effect. Box 1 below sets out ISO’s key principles for developing standards.
|Box 1 – Key Principles in Standards Development|
|1. ISO standards respond to a need in the market: ISO does not decide when to develop a new standard. Instead, ISO responds to a request from industry or other stakeholders such as consumer groups. Typically, an industry sector or group communicates the need for a standard to its national member who then contacts ISO.|
|2. ISO standards are based on global expert opinion: ISO standards are developed by groups of experts from all over the world, that are part of larger groups called technical committees. These experts negotiate all aspects of the standard, including its scope, key definitions and content.|
|3. ISO standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process: The technical committees are made up of experts from the relevant industry, but also from consumer associations, academia, NGOs and government.|
|4. ISO standards are based on consensus: Developing ISO standards is a consensus-based approach and comments from stakeholders are taken into account.|
National and international standards are developed through a ‘consensus’ building process and no one member of the standards committee has a veto.
Developing consensus is not without its challenges. English is used as the working language – for drafting text, commenting on various drafts, and in meetings. As there’s no translation or interpretation available, English-speaking country representatives need to work hard to support international colleagues – editing their amendments to text, acting as a ‘thesaurus’, giving them adequate time to think about the meaning etc. This is an important part of building trust.
The standards making process has a number of different stages – progressing from the proposal, preparatory and committee stages to the enquiry and approval stages and finally to publication. The most intensive period is in the reparatory stage – this is where the text of the standard is prepared and as an expert, where you have the opportunity to make the biggest impact. The consultative processes are also important as these give the broader community of users time to comment on drafts so that, when it comes to balloting for approval there is widespread support.
Agreeing a standard shouldn’t be the end of the process, it’s what happens in practice that is the test of whether your hard work makes a difference. So use your networks and all available communication channels, it’s in everyone’s interest.