Tougher Than It Looks

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

When standards makers started working on ISO 16759 for quantifying the carbon footprint of print media, there were two primary reference documents: PAS 2050 and a working draft of what was supposed to become ISO 14067. Both documents were written to help companies quantify and calculate the carbon footprints of products and services and are closely aligned.

The snag is that ISO 14067, having failed in the final stages of voting, will not be published as an international standard. It has instead been approved as a Technical Specification and is expected to be published shortly. The difference between the two is that fully compliant implementation of a standard can be confirmed by third parties, such as certification bodies; it can be mandated for instance for safety or quality control. A Technical Specification is a document companies can follow if they choose; it’s unlikely that customers will demand it.

So on the basis of ISO 14067’s rejection should we worry about ISO 16759’s vote due to close in a couple of weeks? Maybe, but it is important to keep in mind the reasons why the latter was not popular. Perhaps the most important of these is that ISO TS 14067 is nonspecific and can be applied to whole categories of activities. This means that in the view of some countries it might have negative implications for trade in developing countries. The authors of ISO TS 14067 also strove to reflect the interests of all products and services, which is partly why the document has been in development for over four years. And ISO TS 14067 has a complex set of communications options, including labels and claims that were considered to place heavy burdens on the companies trying to implement it.

As a Technical Standard ISO TS 14067 is available to any organisation that wants to use it. However it is not a standard so it is essentially toothless. This could be seen a step backward for those of us who are trying to encourage industry and service providers to improve their environmental impact, starting with carbon footprinting. Equally publishing ISO TS 14067 at least gets this document into the public domain. The document reflects a tremendous amount of work done by committed professionals from all over the world, so it should have some value in the marketplace. That value is in its completeness and the extent to which it reflects the needs of generic carbon footprinting methodologies.

Different areas of industry, from agriculture to exhibitions can use it as a starting point for a sector specific implementation. That might help industry to reduce overall carbon footprints and improving grass-roots business efficiency.

– Laurel Brunner

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