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Rethinking Rio+ 20 - How ISO contributes to sustainable action

by Rob Steele on
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ISO Focus+, 1/2012
In 1992 the idea of sustainable development was placed on governmental and business agendas at the first “ Earth Summit ” – United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. To mark the 20th anniversary of this conference and the run-up to the third “ Earth Summit ”, otherwise known as Rio+ 20, it is only fitting that this first issue of ISO Focus+ for 2012 be devoted to sustainability.
Long before it became fashionable to be “ sustainable ”, ISO had already begun preparing the ground by setting up Strategic Advisory Groups, organizing international conferences, and devoting its 2005-2010 Strategic Plan to the theme of sustainable development. In the two decades between the summits, ISO’s portfolio of standards has not only increased to foster growth, support innovation and provide a solid base for economic sustainability, but also to broaden the scope of its work in the area of social and environmental performance translating the global desire for a sustainable world, into practical actions that achieve positive results.

Today, ISO’s portfolio of nearly 19 000 standards provide business, government and society with solutions in all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, environmental and societal.

ISO standards are crucial to sustainable development, as they are a key source of technological know-how, including for developing countries and economies in transition. They are invaluable in helping countries develop their economies and build capacities to compete on global markets.

The majority of ISO’s catalogue of standards build economic confidence and efficiency, a key factor in any discussion on sustainability.

At the environmental level, standards support good environmental practice and information, energy efficiency and the dissemination of new, eco-friendly and energy performance technologies.

At the social level, standards contribute to consumer protection, safety at work, healthcare, security and other social interests which may require technical or management standards for related products and services.

It is clear that International Standards provide one of the most effective and pragmatic ways of bridging the gap between regions, countries and people to work together towards mutually beneficial goals.

We have a common mission in the development and dissemination of standards that can help to improve the lives of people everywhere, protect our environment and provide vital support for economic growth.

In this ISO Focus+ issue, leaders from four international organizations which contribute to the world’s sustainable development agenda and participate in the ISO system, share their views. In their respective commentaries, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) underline the unique role that ISO holds on the world stage and the importance of ISO standards as a base of practical solutions for sustainable action.

ISO is continuing to seek ways to demonstrate how we can help provide technical solutions and guidance to achieve long-running sustainability both in the standards we develop and the increasingly complex linkages between traditional industrial sectors and with new partners in the sustainability debate. For example, we are developing a guide for addressing sustainability in standards that technical committees will be encouraged to use for the benefit of all, regardless of industry sector.

Let me conclude my comment by emphasizing the importance of a global strategy, a strategy based on commitment that will move us from a theory of development, to one of practical and concrete actions, where performance translates into results.

At the start of 2012, I think that the much-awaited Rio+20 Conference could act as a catalyst for action. International Standards can and are already providing a pragmatic way to help to realize the hopes and aspirations of those involved in the sustainable development agenda. Linking economic growth and sustainability to meet the needs of both developed and developing economies is needed in these uncertain times, and to this must be added environmental sustainability and societal equity. It is not a matter of “ OR ”, it is a matter of “ AND ”: we need economic AND environmental AND societal sustainability. Perhaps 2012 will be seen as a time for less talk and more action that is pragmatic and the result of consensus, such as that provided by International Standards.

My warmest wishes to all for a happy, healthy, successful and sustainable year.

Rob Steele
ISO Secretary-General (Chief Executive Officer)
ISO Central Secretariat
(2018)