ISO Standards Translate Good Intentions Into Results: A Focus On Rio+20

This week people descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to attend Rio+20, the United Nation’s Conference On Sustainable Development.  Sounds great because “sustainability” is a good thing, right?  Unfortunately, in the events leading up to primary conference which ends tomorrow on June 22nd, the US and other emerging, large economies took a little bit of a beating by being portrayed as entities that live beyond their “environmental means” as outlined in the Inclusive Wealth Index, presented by the UN.  We featured this breaking story on our Twitter feed.  You can (read about it here).

Certainly there will be disagreements about how individual, sovereign nations deal with sustainability and environmental challenges vs. how to integrate these approaches into a singular, global framework with other countries.  This United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) was organized pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 64/236 (A/RES/64/236).

The priority of Rio+20 is to focus on 7 key areas: decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.  These 7 priorities are packaged neatly in 2 themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.  In this modern time–what organization, company, city, state, nation or individual isn’t already focused on these priorities, right?

Well brace yourself, because what comes out of Rio+20 can impact us here in the United States in a big way.  The Rio+20 Conference was envisaged as a conference at the highest possible level and includes heads of state and representatives of world governments.  The conference will result in a focused political document.  How we will be bound by that political document is unknown.

At the end of the week everyone will go home to his or her respective countries and companies.  They will come down from the high of being in Rio and be faced with the elephant in the room—the realty of implementation.  How do we implement and measure these environmental, sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals or edicts?

For the purpose of our article this week, we want our clients and readers to focus on the “wheel”.  Let’s not reinvent the wheel.  We hope that ISO standards will be considered as a key tool in the Rio+20 tool chest.  There are varied approaches to these complex issues and thousands of ISO standards already exist to help organizations manage these challenges.  However, “enviro-entrepreneurs” are always coming up with new “green” techniques, standards, certifications, regulations, etc.  Many of these are proliferated through NGOs and they often compete with each other.  In reality, if an organization of even the smallest size (less than 5 people) implements ISO 14001 (the environmental management standard), they will be addressing most of these issues in their own way, at the micro level.  If we all don’t do our part to participate at the micro level, then a macro resolution may be forced upon us someday. did a great job of trying to bring attention to their role as a solutions provider in this global quest for sustainability by publishing a document prior to Rio+20 (you can access it here)Forging Action Into Agreement: How ISO Standards Translate Good Intentions About Sustainability Into Concrete Results logically explains how the 19,100 ISO standards and guidelines already provide solutions in all three dimensions of sustainable development-environmental, economic and societal.  They further clarify that what makes ISO so effective is that it provides a non-political, non-partisan platform where “standards are developed with open, transparent processes by representatives of the people who need them, implement them, are affected by them–and who can review and continually improve the results of their implementation.”  We couldn’t phrase it any better.

So let’s hope that when it comes to translating good intentions into actions that the big brains at Rio+20 don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel.  Simply put, implement existing ISO standards in your organization.  No matter how small you are or even if you’re a service organization, begin with implementing ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 and you’re on your way to being an individual contributor to this global effort while radically improving the efficiency and productivity of your organization.  Yes, good intentions can be executed along with realizing tangible results in your bottom line.  They can be mutually exclusive!  For more information on implementing ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and TL 9000, the telecom (ICT) quality management standard, e-mail