All definitions of sustainability agree that a balance must be maintained between environmental, social and economic needs, satisfying current and respecting future requirements.
Therefore, the pillars of sustainability are – environmental, social and economic. These three are related and must be addressed in a balanced manner.
How can an organization undertake the road to sustainability? A possible response could be to balance the three pillars, but a framework is required. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could provide this framework, using the ISO standards as tools, especially if your organization already works with some of these standards.
UN members adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to achieve “peace and prosperity for people and the planet” by 2030. The agenda includes the SDGs, which are an urgent call for action by all countries.
There have been decades of work to reach the current SDGs. We could say that everything began in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Brazil, where more than 178 countries adopted Agenda 21, a comprehensive global action plan for sustainable development. This continued until 2015 when the UN General Assembly initiated negotiations that culminated in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The 2030 Agenda contains the SDGs that represent an action plan to address major global challenges, including poverty and climate change. The SDGs are not legally binding, but provide a framework to inform their impact and push capital to contribute to their achievement.
The SDGs can help to shape, communicate and report an organization’s strategies, objectives and activities.
They can also be used to identify future opportunities and enhance the value of corporate responsibility and interest group relationships, including regulatory requirements, using common language and shared purposes.
ISO has published more than 22,000 international standards and related documents, which constitute internationally recognized guidelines and frameworks based on international collaboration.
Standards and documents support the three pillars:
Facilitating international trade, enhancing a country’s national quality infrastructure and supporting sustainable trade practices. The standards range from efficient agricultural methods to anti-bribery management systems.
Helping countries and communities to improve their citizens’ health and well-being. The standards address various social welfare areas, including healthcare systems, social inclusion and accessibility.
Supporting organizations and countries to manage their environmental impact. The standards cover numerous aspects, such as environmental management systems (EMS) implementation, measuring and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use, and promoting responsible consumption.
ISO standards cover nearly every issue, from technical solutions to management systems for organizing processes and procedures, provide a strong foundation for innovation and are essential for helping governments, industry and consumers to contribute to individual SDGs.
While there is no specific standard on the SDGs, there are numerous ISO standards that match each of the goals.
ISO is identifying the SDGs that each standard contributes to. For each SDG, it has also identified those standards with the most significant contribution. This information is available on www.iso.org.
Here are two tables that illustrate how ISO matches SDGs to standards.
Table 1: SDGs and the major standards that could contribute to each individual SDG and the number of standards that ISO identifies for that specific SDG.
Table 2: The best-known (and most used) standards, with reference to the SDG that they contribute to.
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We can perform audits across the vast spectrum of ISO and other regulatory standards.