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.


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The publication of ISO 14031 and its sister, ISO/TR (Technical Report)

14032: Environmental Management ­ Examples of Environmental Performance

Evaluation (EPE) brings a long and arduous process to a close; one which has

taxed experts from all over the world since June 1993.

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.

International experiences

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

risk.

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