Does Certifying To ISO 14001, R2, RIOS or e-Stewards Make Your Organization “Green”?

Today, companies often make the statement that they are “green”, but what does that really mean? Does it mean they recycle their paper shredding and plastic bottles, or that they participate in voluntary eco-friendly activities and fundraisers?  Is being “green” a philosophy, a set of measurable actions or merely a catch phrase? In many cases, it’s all of the above and the peddling of green products, green marketing and recycling is now its own billion-dollar growth industry.

In the world of quality management and corporate procurement, measurement is the key challenge when a company says they’re green.  Any company can make sweeping statements and proclamations about their eco-initiatives, but how do they measure and continuously improve these efforts?  An organization can do so by certifying to a quality standard like ISO 14001.   As discussed in previous installments, it is an environmental management system that is independently audited by a third party.

We’ve been asked by several of our clients about other environmental programs related to recycling like R2, e-Stewards, etc.  Many are confused by all of these standards and initiatives, especially when doing business in states like California, with heavy regulatory requirements.  These standards only apply to recyclers.  Even though most of you are not recyclers, you may deal with recyclers in your own supply chainLet’s briefly outline the top 3, since recycling standards are front and center in the effort to be seen as green:

R2R2 is better known as Responsible Recycling (R2) PracticesSupported by the USEPA, it’s a set of guidelines for accredited certification programs to assess electronics recyclers’ environmental, worker health and safety and security practices.  Voluntary R2 practices include general principles and specific practices for recyclers disassembling or reclaiming used electronics equipment including those electronics that are exported for refurbishment and recycling.  The standard applies to actual recyclers and the number of R2 recyclers is really quite small.  R2 is based on the “plan-do-check-act” model for continual improvement, like ISO 9001 and other ISO based standards.  ANAB requires that CBs (registrars) who certify companies to R2 be qualified to certify companies to ISO 14001.

e-Stewards: The e-Stewards Initiative is a project of the Basel Action Network (BAN), which is a 501(c)3 non-profit, charitable organization, based in Seattle, Washington.  BAN has designed and developed a system by which recyclers, refurbishers and processors may obtain independent third-party certification of their conformance with the e-Stewards standard.  A representative of BAN informed us that the USEPA also recognizes e-Stewards. The e-Stewards program acknowledges the value in ISO 14001, as its own certification “requires a certified ISO 14001 environmental management system that builds in occupational health and safety requirements specific to the electronics recycling industry”.  Again, this standard is related to actual electronics recyclers and there is currently some dispute between the e-Stewards standard and R2 regarding hazardous materialsRead more >

RIOSThe Recycling Industry Operating Standard (RIOS) is managed by (ISRI) The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. and is another standard for recyclers.  It is an integrated management system standard that combines the management of quality, environmental, occupational health and safety (QEH&S) issues into a single unified system.  Developed specifically by and for the scrap recycling industry, RIOS provides a framework for recycling facilities to use to achieve measurable, continual improvement in their QEH&S performance, without the need to spend time and money in developing and implementing three different systems.  This system is also not without criticism.  With RIOS, there appears to be a conflict with R2 and e-Stewards regarding “voluntary” efforts (vs. those that are audited) and the terminology used.  Read more > This recycler outlines the value of certifying to R2, RIOS and ISO 14001: read more >

So what do you do if you’re not a recycler, but are asked about these standards, regarding your own suppliers? We suggest that you consider responding with a statement that you’re not a recycler (more specifically that you’re not an electronics recycler), but that in compliance with your own QMS/EMS, you send materials to recyclers that can provide documentation that they use an environmentally responsible disposal method, like the 3 outlined above (if applicable).  You may even choose to list these recyclers in an RFP.  Specific to your quality management system, we also suggest that you consider adding in the control of outsourced processes section of your ISO 9001 or TL 9000 QMS, that you attempt to use these certified recyclers, when possible.

What if you’re not yet certified to an environmental QMS?  Then, we encourage you to obtain a dual certification to ISO 9001 & ISO 14001 or TL 9000 & ISO 14001.  Doing so, will give you the framework to respond to these requests, while realizing the many other benefits of ISO 14001, outlined in the previous installments of this series.

As an organization, do any of these initiatives or standards certify that you’re actually “green”? Next time we will conclude our 5-part series, by helping you to determine what being green means to your organization and how certifying to an EMS may be a very profitable answer to this challenge.  If you need immediate help contact