Are environmental management systems just greenwash?

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Researchers from the European Commission found that the adoption of the ISO 14000 environmental management program was not a “greenwash”, but reflected a move towards more sustainable practices in European and North American companies.

ISO 14000 is designed to help reduce the environmental impacts produced by manufacturing companies and among the sectors that have the greatest impact on the environment is food production.

Global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of freshwater consumption, 80% of deforestation and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of these impacts, the sector must seek to make itself as efficient as possible.

The use of management systems, such as ISO standards, is designed to increase efficiency and help reduce unnecessary waste by harmonizing requirements and making production processes fully efficient.

Examples of standards that can help include management standards to get the most out of their processes are ISO 9001 for quality, ISO 14001 covering the environment, and ISO 50001 reflecting energy consumption. Additionally, the ISO 14051 standard for material flow accounting helps companies reduce waste and emissions while improving environmental performance.

ISO standards for water management are also designed to save valuable resources.

The upcoming water footprint standard, ISO 14046, is intended to help organizations track water use.

ISO is also developing ISO 16075-1, to encourage the reuse of wastewater in irrigation. With 70% of freshwater consumption used for global food production, this could have a significant impact on the environment.

The ISO 14020, ISO 14021, ISO 14024 and ISO 14025 environmental labeling standards can be used by companies to communicate their environmental impact so consumers can make informed choices.

Environmental management systems, such as ISO 14000 and the EU’s EMAS1, are designed to provide a comprehensive approach to reducing environmental impact, and the number of companies using these systems has grown rapidly in recent years. years.

However, it has been suggested that companies could use environmental management systems as a greenwash – that they could adopt these systems purely as a marketing tool, hoping to win over consumers and other market players without having to invest in underlying green practices.

According to research by the European Commission in particular, and in conjunction with previous research, it has been suggested that North American companies are more likely to use ISO 14000 as greenwash than European companies.

In the latest EC study, researchers set out to investigate the motivations for adopting ISO 14000 and whether these differed between European and North American companies.

The researchers used data from the Global Manufacturing Research Group, a multinational organization that conducts standardized surveys refined by experts.

The surveys were sent to 231 companies in three North American countries (Canada, Mexico and the United States) and to 370 companies in seven Western European countries (Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland ), between 2006 and 2009.

Plant managers were asked to rank the company’s progress in implementing ISO 14000, then asked how much investment there was in “chain environmental management”. ‘sourcing’ (ESCM), for example, in pollution reduction, recycling and waste reduction measures.

The researchers then used the investment in ESCM to reflect the true intentions behind the company’s environmental strategy.

The results showed that companies that made more effort to implement ISO 14000 invested more in ESCM.

While this does not mean that environmental management systems are never used as greenwash, it does suggest that, overall, ISO 14000 leads to real environmentally friendly investments.

The research also found that there was no difference in levels of ISO 14000 adoption or investment in ESCM between Western European and North American companies.

The study concluded that this research does not support claims that North American companies are more likely to use ISO 14000 solely as a marketing tool.

Overall, the results indicated that ISO 14000 is a valid system that leads to increased investment in reducing the environmental impact of businesses.

According to the ISO organization, much of what companies and manufacturers do to reduce their environmental impact will be driven by consumer opinion and demand.

“With the constant focus on climate change and health, consumers are increasingly interested in less tangible product attributes such as the ethical and environmental aspects of producing and sourcing a product. “, said the ISO.

“In response to this, manufacturers often voluntarily choose to provide information about the environmental aspects of their products on labeling and in advertising.

“In short, the environmental benefits of a company’s products, such as recyclability of packaging, are part of its overall marketing strategy.

Smart companies make a virtue of necessity by promoting the environmental characteristics of their products.

“Achieving a business advantage through environmental labeling makes sense, especially when companies have invested in improving the environment and have environmental management systems in place.”

The authors of the EC study have now called for the research to be widened to include other European countries and across Asia, but they cautioned that the study only measured investment and they suggested that research is needed to determine the extent to which environmental impacts are actually reduced.

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