ISO meets Social Responsibility – Welcome ISO 26000

As a quality trainer it’s hard not to get excited about the idea of a new standard in the ISO ecosystem.  Like it or not ISO 26000 has arrived, which provides guidance for companies pursuing social responsibility efforts, one of the three triple bottom-line elements of sustainability programs.  I have read several blogs and tweets today about this new guidance (see both Mark Starmann’s post and David Connor’s post on WordPress).  A few thoughts come to mind based on conversations with colleagues and customers, and in the end the sustainability profession will render its verdict.

On an aggregate, it is problematic to attempt to guide different organizations into the “one size fits all” approach to sustainability planning frameworks.  GRI G3 is hugely cumbersome, but nevertheless well-framed and well-articulated in terms of what elements existand how to accomplish these elements in standing.  Often I will use GRI G3 as a sample of elements, or the over 200 various strategies of the ICLEI approach for public sector organizations, to provide a “shopping list” of elements which could be material to an organization.  What ISO 26000 attempts to do is to bring these various frameworks into a recommended “lowest common denominator” approach which can be used in the area of social responsibility planning and execution.

ISO 26000 does come with some risks of mis-interpretation.  As one colleague who has monitored the development of the guideline suggests, regardless of the intent of the guideline, human nature and commercial forces may supersede well intentions:

“…Officially, it is a guidance and not something that is auditable. This was a major point of distinction for ISO. I have been saying for 2 years that it is an irrelevant distinction that the market will see it as a standard and audit companies will create audits around it. “

For now, practitioners in the social responsibility area will need to observe the roll-out of the guideline and the roll-in of its relevant importance in SR practices and as elements of existing sustainability programs.  2011 should be an excellent bellwether for 26000.


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Filed under Compliance, Operations, Risk Management, Strategy, Supply Chain Management, Sustainability

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