International Standards have a part to play in solving problems related to many of today's key issues, as demonstrated by recent ISO (International Organization for Standardization) decisions on such diverse subjects as climate change, occupational health and safety, customer complaints handling, and personal financial planning.

On climate change, there are growing expectations of the contributions that ISO's voluntary technical standards can make to mitigating the pollution held to cause the problem. Some 20 of ISO's 187 technical committees develop standards relevant to the issue: from environmental management systems (ISO 14000) to standards specifying levels of air and water quality, and of vehicle emissions - and how to analyze them.

ISO has now decided to set up an ad hoc group to coordinate these activities. The participants will be chosen by and report to ISO's Technical Management Board (TMB), which oversees the organization's standards' development activities.

The ad hoc group will also provide a focal point for ISO's relations with the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Climate Technology Initiative (CTI) of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). ISO signed a pledge of support to the CTI at the latter's 1997 conference in Kyoto, Japan.

TMB Chairman, Mr. Ross Wraight, summed up what kind of concrete support ISO has to offer: "The pollution held to be a chief cause of climate change knows no frontiers and ISO's experience in developing international consensus on test and analysis methods can be used to allow meaningful measurement of the extent of the problem, and the effectiveness of actions to combat it.

"ISO also has to offer its ISO 14000 environmental management system standard which is a tool to help organizations go beyond mere compliance with environmental regulations to achievement of continual improvement of their environmental performance - while at the same time having a positive impact on business results.

"Lastly, ISO can respond quickly to the need for standards for new technologies that mitigate climate change. By developing a global consensus on climate-friendly technologies, ISO can contribute to their rapid and widespread deployment by business and industry around the world."

On occupational health and safety (OH&S), ISO has re-opened the issue of whether or not to develop management system standards to help organizations meet their responsibilities. ISO's national member institutes are currently voting on a BSI (British Standards Institution) proposal that ISO establish a technical committee to transform BS 8800, the British "non-certifiable" OH&S management system guidelines into an ISO standard. Voting ends on 18 April 2000.

After analyzing the results of an international conference in Geneva in 1996 to test stakeholder views on the issue, ISO decided not to go ahead with new work on OH&S management system standards at that time. However, at the national level, a number of ISO members have standards or work in this area which has been welcomed by industry in their respective countries.

Another recent ISO decision is to initiate new work on standardizing customer complaints handling, which could be considered as a "plug in" component of an organization's quality management system. Both ISO's Australian and British member institutes have had very positive experience with national standards addressing this issue and COPOLCO, the ISO committee on consumer affairs, has recommended that the organization initiate work in this area.

The TMB has asked ISO/TC 176, the technical committee responsible for the ISO 9000 quality management standards, to accept responsibility for developing a new work item proposal on complaints handling.

ISO has also received a proposal from its American member, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) to establish a new technical committee to develop standards covering personal financial planning. This is the process of determining how an individual can meet life goals through proper management of personal financial resources. As individuals become more responsible for their own financial security, and international markets and events have greater impact on that security, the need for qualified financial planners has grown.

The standards, as envisaged by ANSI, would include the certification of personal finance advisers based upon elements of education, examination results, experience and ethical conduct, and standardization of the personal financial planning process. ISO is circulating the proposal to its national member institutes for them to vote whether or not ISO should launch this new work.