Historic development of Standards
In the 1960’s and ’70 quality standards were first developed as military standards, which ultimately led to the widely adopted quality standard published by the International Standardization Organization (ISO) in 1987 with ISO9000:1987 as its first version (The British Assessment Bureau 2015). In the early 2000’s, the environmental standard ISO 14001 started to gain the interest form many thousands of businesses (ISO 2013), followed by standards for Health & Safety with OHSAS 18001 reaching over 90.000 certified companies in 2011 (T.R. Fisher 2015). The standards for Quality, Environment and Health & Safety are Management System Standards (MSS). Given the ongoing growth of MSS, more and more business owners understand the importance of Quality, Health, Safety and Environmental (QHSE) aspects in the establishment of sustainable business (figure 1) and many clients and local governments require the formalization of the integration of MSS in the organization with the certification of the management systems (interviews with QHSE-managers).
Trends in Management System Standards
The growing number of certificates is a reflection of the tendency that businesses tend to change from being profit driven to a more sustainable approach. The growing importance of environment and health in sustainable businesses can be explained because organizations are under increasing pressure from both outside and within to apply the principles of sustainable development to their operations (Rocha et al. 2007).
There is a trend to implement Integrated Management Systems (IMS) (Krsmanovic et al. 2014). An IMS exist when two or more MS are linked in such a way that the independence of one or both of the systems is lost (Douglas & Glen 2000).
The introduction of the High Level Structure (also referred to as common framework or Annex SL) for ISO standards, first applied in 2012, ensures compatibility between MSS’s (IRCA 2014). The latest versions of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 that were released in September 2015 are based on this HLS.
Working with Management Systems
Management systems were first applied on the work floor in the form of printed operating manuals containing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in combination with checklists and forms. The digital revolution made it possible to make these manuals accessible in the organizations intranet. Many companies use a static manual (a single document) on the company server as their IMS. Larger organizations with an own IT-department often have developed a custom made IMS (interviews with QHSE-managers). The HLS facilitates the development of dynamic IMS software that makes sustainability certification more accessible for small and medium size organizations.
The IMS is validated with a combined audit, in order to safe costs. Inadequate audit methodologies (Krsmanovic et al. 2014) and lack of specialized auditors (Simon et al. 2012) have been mentioned as a problem in IMS implementation. However, this autumn, auditor training on IMS is being offered by national standardization institutions such as INTECO for Costa Rica or NEN for the Netherlands.
Experiences with Integrated Management Systems
A study from Spain shows that benefits from implementing an IMS that are being experienced are related with internal cohesion benefits, better use of systems, strategic benefits and system performance benefits (Simon et al. 2012). Benefits of IMS can be categorized as operational, financial and marketing benefits. In the decision making process to implement IMS regulatory requirements can be a driver too (Asif et al. 2008).
In developing countries research on experiences with IMS exist in China and India. Avoiding overlapping multiple MSS, and avoiding excessive paperwork and high costs, and financial-, environmental- and social performance improvement are reasons that integration becomes necessary for many organization irrespective of size or sector (Khanna et al. 2010).
A Standard for Sustainability?
The popularity and acceptation of the new (or updated) ISO standards are hard to estimate. The updated standards for Quality- and Environmental Management Systems were recently published and the new Standard for Health and Safety (ISO 45001) is expected in October 2016. It is likely, that these standards ultimately will merge into one standard for sustainability, but before that may happen, other standards may become more widely accepted.
There are a number of national and international standards that certify sustainability; Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz Certified, Organic, trustea, B Corporation, certificates for sustainable construction or tourism and many other local initiatives that provide (self-) certifications. Each with their specific niche or limitations. The big question is which standard will grow to become the authority certificate for sustainability.