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 Origins of the ISO’s Work

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PostSubject: Origins of the ISO’s Work   Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:15 am

The ISO is a federation of non-governmental organizations established in 1947 to develop international standards, improve international communication and collaboration, and facilitate the exchange of goods and services. The federation is currently comprised of close to 100 national standards bodies (member bodies) from countries representing approximately 95 percent of the world’s industrial production.

The headquarters of the ISO secretariat is in Geneva, Switzerland.2 The ISO's involvement in establishing environmental standardsbegan in 1991 after organizers for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992) asked whether or not ISO would be attending the conference and whether it was involved in any environmental activities. As a result, the ISO established a Strategic Advisory Group on the Environment (SAGE) in 1991 to assess the need for international environmental management standards.3 SAGE recommended that ISO proceed with an environmental standard by 1992 and that a technical committee be established to carry it through. On June 1, 1993, ISO's Technical Committee 207 (TC 207) held its first plenary meeting.

TC 207 was directed to establish environmental standards in five areas of environmental management:
- environmental management systems; environmental auditing and related
- environmental investigation; environmental labeling; environmental performance evaluation; and life-cycle assessment.

Consequently, TC 207 was divided into five subcommittees (SCs) for each category of standard and one SC to cover the terms and definitions of the standards. In addition, a working group, which reports directly to TC 207, was formed to deal with the environmental aspects in product standards. The five SCs have two or more working groups (WGs) that report to them (unlike the WG on product standards previously mentioned which reports directly to TC 207).

The key factor that has propelled the ISO 14000 series of standards forward throughout the early 1990s is the increase in national environmental standards. Examples of these standards include some two dozen eco-labeling schemes worldwide (see Annex 1), the British Standards Institute’s BS 7750 (Specification for Environmental Management Systems), the Canadian Standards Association’s Z750 (A Guide for a Voluntary Environmental Management System), and the EU EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme). Other similar environmental management standards have been developed by the French Standards Association, the South African Bureau of Standards and the Spanish Standards Association.

With the proliferation of environmental standards, concerns have been expressed that these standards would fragment international markets and unduly favor the companies of the countries or of the regions where these standards were developed, unless they were developed by authoritative and broadly based international bodies. The ISO was to serve this role.
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