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National Town Meeting Links Thousands to Sustainable Future

By October 26, 2008 No Comments


National Town Meeting Links Thousands
To Sustainable Future
>Sessions Include Growing Interest in ISO 14000, EMS
Published In International Environmental Systems Update, June 1999


Presenters and sessions at the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America clearly indicated that the United States and the entire world are on the road to sustainability. Experts agreed that defining and achieving environmental sustainability will be an important goal for everyone in the 21st century, and if current trends continue, the need for environmental management systems including ISO 14001 could increase dramatically.

Working together, we can create an America that is better, said Vice President Al Gore during the town meeting’s keynote address. New prosperity is being built on new innovations, creating new opportunities while protecting the environment.

Gore stated that sustainability was reflective of some of America’s oldest and enduring values, referring to America’s agrarian past and the respect the forefathers had for passing on to future generations an America that was better than they inherited. He spoke of revitalizing democracy so that America is more sensitive and caring about future generations.

Gore was joined by more than 3,000 people who attended the four-day event May 2-5, with tens of thousands brought in by satellite links from around the country for keynote events and panels. The program, sponsored by the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF) and the President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), included not only the vice president, but also speakers from both houses of Congress, members of the U.S. Cabinet, federal agency department heads, captains of industry and leaders of major environmental organizations.

While sustainable development was the major focus for attendees, most agreed that ISO 14001 could play a considerable role in achieving long-term goals with economic and environmental stability. That concept was underscored by the release of the PCSD’s final report to the president during the meeting, stating that the usage of EMS’s and ISO 14001 will be important for environmental sustainability in the new millennium. The final PCSD report is the culmination of a six-year effort by the council since President Clinton formed it in 1993.

But the report also states that some key differences remain between ISO 14001 and the latest recommendations of the PCSD. Although many elements of ISO 14001 and the PCSD recommendations are similar, goals relating to aspects and impacts may be widened significantly to attain sustainability as a goal. The report also says that in the future, EMS’s may experience an expansion to include more stakeholders, such as workers and the community, to help set sustainable environmental performance as an ongoing goal.

In addition, the PCSD’s report included recommendations for what a new model for an EMS might encompass and what role third party auditing will play in evaluating EMS performance.

Healthy Communities, Healthy Economies

Carol Browner, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Rodney Slater, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, co-chaired an opening session during the town meeting to discuss how communities can work together to protect public health and the environment, while simultaneously revitalizing local economies and improving the quality of life for residents.

Browner said that 150 ballot initiatives for the environment passed in the last year resulting in $7.5 billion in local spending to create green spaces all over the nation. She emphasized that brownfield development would continue to be a high priority.

Slater discussed climate change and environmental forecasting projects at DOT, stressing that 25 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases stem from the transportation sector of the economy. Slater emphasized the need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) was optimistic about the future of environmental sustainability and the PCSD’s work, stating that more environmental progress has been made in the last 30 months, 30 weeks and 30 hours than in the last 30 years.

Blumenauer declared, “We need a generation of environmental protection that is results-driven, performance-driven and the needed tools to do it.”

Competitive Advantage and Sustainable Development

A CEO forum also was held here, chaired by Scott Schuster of Business Week, where a number of top industry executives discussed sustainability and what it meant for them.

Because the environment is important to customers, it is important to GM, said General Motors Vice Chairman Henry Pearce. He added that GM hopes to close the loop and attain 100 percent waste-free manufacturing for product development at the organization.

William S. Stavaropoulos, president and CEO at the Dow Chemical Corp., said, [Environmental, health and safety] performance is part of the compensation system for management at Dow and that they bring in outside folks to examine their EHS systems. Stavaropoulos stressed the need for sound risk assessment and product stewardship at his organization.

Implementing ISO 14001 Worldwide

Additionally, the town meeting provided an opportunity for companies in the private sector to discuss their various ISO 14001 experiences and how it has assisted them with operating sustainability. Joe Cascio, chairman of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for ISO 14000, moderated a learning session for meeting participants concerning two major industry leaders experiences with ISO 14001 so far.

Wayne Balta, director of IBM Corporate Environmental Affairs, said that ISO 14001 was of great value to IBM in myriad ways, including:
_ integrating environmental concerns into the business;
_ establishing a system that is not single person dependent;
_ continual improvement;
_ response to customer inquiries about the environment; and
_ establishing IBM as an environmental leader.

When asked about the future role of ISO 14001 for IBM to achieve sustainability, Balta said, Sustainability covers much more than environmental issues, but we do plan to use ISO 14001 as a tool for achieving environmental sustainability at IBM.

Balta added that the formal structure of an ISO 14001 EMS helped IBM eliminate redundancies in the organization, and that the fees for implementation and certification were modest.

Balta also said that while some may be concerned that ISO 14001 is no guarantee for environmental improvement, IBM’s experience with the standard provided discipline and focus, leading to improved environmental performance. He said when environmental performance improved for IBM, business did as well, and the marketplace would continue to reward better environmental performance.

Tim O’Brien, director of the Environmental Quality Office at the Ford Motor Company, reported on his project of implementing an ISO 14001 EMS in all of Ford’s manufacturing facilities around the world. The automaker giant launched the effort in 1996, and completed it on schedule by the end of 1998.

From a sustainability perspective, O’Brien said that ISO 14001 increased business environmental synergy, stating that all waste is cost and is unprofitable product. He noted that ISO 14001 helps to identify and minimize those factors for Ford, and added that the standard helped the company develop tailored objectives for environmental sustainability.

What makes sense for the environment, as well as business, is sustainability, he said, adding that the challenge is to ensure that both business and environmental objectives are met not one more than the other.

According to O’Brien, Ford’s ISO 14001 program has brought significant benefits to the company. The standard has improved management attention to environmental issues by linking part of a performance review to ISO 14001 and produced cost savings, including a:
_ 46 percent increase in enhanced compliance;
_ 67 percent more responsible problem resolution;
_ 61 percent improvement in problem prevention;
_ 85 percent improvement of greater environmental awareness; and
_ $3.5 million saved in water usage.

O’Brien said that Ford is starting to request suppliers to become ISO 14001 certified, and, so far, ISO 14001 has shown excellent results for a program just implemented.
Regulatory Perspective

Russell Harding, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, provided a regulatory perspective to the industry ISO 14001 panel. He said the United States was experiencing a second wave of environmental protection, and added that he was enthusiastic about ISO 14001 and its future, and its ability to strengthen partnerships with the business community.

Harding also informed attendees about the Michigan Clean Corporate Citizen program. The new state initiative includes three pillars: good compliance with environmental regulations; an EMS (ISO 14001 or some other model) and a commitment to pollution prevention. He stressed the power of the marketplace in the future as a driver for environmental improvement.

Additionally, Harding addressed the challenge of the need to protect companies environmental self-audit privileges so they would continue to implement EMS’s voluntarily, yet balance that against the public’s right to know. He hoped that we were not so steeped in a command-and-control regulatory paradigm that is too hard to shake, and also hoped that the rhetoric that pits voluntary measures against regulatory requirements could become constructive. In the future, he believed that regulators would measure environmental programs effectiveness rather than dictate outcomes.

Sustainability’s Future with ISO 14001?

Although the President’s Council on Sustainable Development has finished its work, its report is clearly in the hands of leaders and the public.
Environmental management is mentioned prominently as a means to achieve environmental sustainability goals. The challenge for those of us in the international standard community will be translating the recommendation of the President’s Council into everyday business practice, not only for ourselves, but to protect and enhance the generations yet to come.

Environmental management is mentioned prominently as a means to achieve environmental sustainability goals. The challenge for those of us in the international standard community will be translating the recommendation of the President’s Council into everyday business practice, not only for ourselves, but to protect and enhance the generations yet to come.

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