Standard to deliver
On 15 November 1999, the ISO Central Secretariat in Switzerland finally released the new ISO 14031 standard, entitled Environmental Management Environmental Performance Evaluation Guidelines. Matthias Gelber, technical director of 14000 & ONE Solutions Ltd and member of ISO TC 207, SC 4, the committee which developed the standard, casts some light.
As a guideline, ISO 14031 has not been designed for certification purposes. Rather, the increasing importance of the verification of environmental data as part of environmental reporting, eco-labelling and carbon emission trading might foster the consideration of ISO 14031 principles during such verification processes.
Organisations such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which develops guidelines for sustainability reporting as part of a global consultation process, and the WBCSD with its work on Eco- Efficiency Indicators, have all drawn on the framework of ISO 14031. In Taiwan, the government is using EPE for industry sector assessment, resource efficiency measurement and self-auditing/ analytical tools for industry. Comprehensive ISO 14031 pilot projects have been conducted, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia, and recently the DTI has approved an ISO 14031 pilot project as outlined at the end of this article.
EPE is defined in the standard as a 'process to facilitate management decisions regarding an organization's environmental performance by selecting indicators, collecting and analyzing data, assessing information against environmental performance criteria, reporting and communicating, and periodically reviewing and improving this process'.
What, then, is ISO 14031 actually about? Some key features: ISO 14031 describes a plan/do/check/act approach; it does not set absolute performance requirements; and, designed as a management tool for use within an organisation, it has three distinct indicators: MPIs (Management Performance Indicators), OPIs (Operational Performance Indicators) and ECIs (Environmental Condition Indicators).
Like ISO 14001, 14031 focuses on activities, products and services that an organisation has control over or influence on. It recommends the consideration of the views of interested parties for the purpose of the selection of indicators. And, notably, it talks about 'should' in the context of internal communication, and 'may wish to include' in the context of external reporting and communication.
The focus of the standard has been reflected in many of the case studies published in ISO 14032. A Malaysian rubber glove manufacturer, for example, which used ISO 14031 as a starting point for an EMS, organised its selection of indicators around its key interested parties, which included the Department of the Environment, export markets, water treatment plant operators, top management and the local community. Understanding the views of these parties critical to the success of the company helps an organisation to add value to the business and at the same time fulfil its environmental obligations. Some companies used MPIs to track EMS implementation or continual improvement of EMS and the related impact on operational performance improvement and environmental condition indicators.
Most of the German EPE pilot project companies found the product related indicators to be very useful in the management of environmental and business objectives, driven by the needs of their customers. DTI sponsored pilot project In the UK, the DTI has provided funding for the first stage of an EPE research project, which aims to develop EPE methodology in line with ISO 14031 and to investigate effectiveness across organisations of differing scale, significance and function, while developing reliable methodologies and testing alternative applications for the principles outlined in the guidelines. The project, managed by 14000 & ONE Solutions Ltd, will take a practical approach, working closely with 10 UK companies ranging from large multi-nationals through to small and medium sized enterprises, between them supplying a diverse variety of products and services. Seven of the companies involved in the project will be suppliers to one principal participant.
In addition to assessing the ISO 14031 approach in enhancing the
effectiveness of existing formal environmental management systems (e.g. as
specified under ISO 14001) and in the development of reporting practices,
the project has identified a number of alternative applications or
conditions under which to test the guidelines, including supply chain
management, benchmarking environmental performance either internally or by
external stakeholders, and to provide reliable indicators of environmental