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Thinking It Through: Ecodesign in ISO 14006:2011

The famous Native American law which challenges a nation to think seven generations ahead before taking an action is known as the Great Law of the Iroquois.  Under this law, it’s appropriate to imagine your family 200 years down the road — and then determine whether the decision you’re about to make benefits your children seven generations into the future.

That longterm vision is like a lighthouse beacon, lighting the way through the storm of tight timeframes, unsympathetic management and customers who are demanding more but paying less.  To sustain a vision in industry, standards are often employed to keep organizations on track.

The new international standards for environmental management

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has published a new standard in the ISO 14000 family designed to help organizations reduce the adverse environmental impacts of their products and services.

Similar to principles of green chemistry and related to Design for Environment (DfE), ISO 14006 standards aim to improve product quality in an environmentally positive way.  The basic idea is that every product or service has an impact on the environment during all stages of its lifecycle, from extraction of resources to end-of-life treatment.

The newly published ISO 14006:2011, Environmental management systems – Guidelines for Incorporating Ecodesign, gives guidance on incorporating so-called “ecodesign” into any environmental management system (EMS), quality management system (QMS), or similar management system.

The goal of ecodesign is to integrate environmental considerations into the design and development of products and services so as to reduce negative environmental impacts and continually improve the environmental performance of a product or service throughout its lifecycle.  The result: cleaner products and services and a greener planet.

Quality assurance tools exist to guide companies through the sometimes complex compliance processes.  Not just software but good old fashioned management consultants both typically work with ISO standards.  Sometimes a tool or a third party can be just the right energy, the wind in the sails that propels a management system forward – while the lighthouse illuminates the way.

ISO 14006:2011 for environmental management systems

The new ISO 14006:2011 standard aims to help organizations establish, document, implement, maintain and continually improve their management of ecodesign as part of an environmental management system or EMS. It applies to those environmental aspects of an organization’s products and/or services over which it has control or influence.

Integrating ecodesign into product development offers advantages.  Like DfE, designing with the environment in mind using an ISO standard can provide benefits such as:

  1. Economic benefits, e.g. through increased competitiveness, cost reduction and attraction of financing and investments
  2. Promotion of innovation and creativity, and identification of new business models
  3. Reduction in liability through reduced environmental impacts and improved product knowledge
  4. Improved public image
  5. Keener employee motivation based on vision and inspiration

Martin Charter, Convenor of the working group responsible for ISO 14006, said, “The new standard has been developed to help organizations implement ecodesign in a flexible and practical manner. The goal is for organizations to use these principles in order to design and develop more advanced, profitable and sustainable goods and services.”

Like most ISO standards, 14006:2011 is made to be applicable to any organization, irrespective of size, geographical location, culture, or complexity of their management systems, and no matter how simple or complex the product or service.

ISO standards light the way

The new standard can be useful for organizations without a formalized environmental management system or quality management system but are interested in reducing the adverse environmental impacts of the products they make and/or sell. But the standard is primarily intended to be used by organizations that have implemented an Environmental Management System according to ISO 14001 –whether or not they have a Quality Management System according to ISO 9001.

The new ISO guidance can be purchased online. But even if we don’t all buy it, we should all be aware of it.  Standards act as something of a beacon for industry, an indicator of the general direction of the next wave of ships and shipments.  They are navigational instruments.  This new one, the 14006:2011, shines a welcome light on the design stage of manufacturing.

For over a decade, Chris Nowak has been immersed in the business of environmental management, regulatory compliance and manufacturing material disclosure process.  Nowak serves as Director at Actio Corporation.

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