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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

International Treaty

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Michael Silverstein reflects on the soon-to-be implemented international treaty commonly referred to as ISO 14000, and how he believes the new agreement on standards will aid businesses and the environment alike.


CURWOOD: While governments try to come up with international rules of environmental behavior, such as how to regulate bilge that might hold goby fish, private corporations have been developing some standardized environmental rules of their own. Some are part of an initiative from the International Standards Organization, called the ISO or "eye-so" 14000. And, says commentator Michael Silverstein, this private path is an important way to protect the public good.

SILVERSTEIN: ISO 14000 is a generic name for a family of soon to be issued international environmental standards. It is a product of several years' work by national standards setting groups from 43 nations, an ambitious attempt to establish global criteria for environmental management. In years past, many industry, trade, and even environmental organizations have created their own environmental charters and programs. What makes ISO 14000 so unique and so potentially important is its global scope, and the fact that so many previously opposing interests are poised to buy into the concept.

Virtually every Fortune 500 firm, for example, has developed its own environmental systems over the years. ISO 14000 establishes benchmarks to validate these systems. Environment-oriented consumers confused about competing claims when it comes to the greenness of various products will soon have global standards in this regard. The European Union is working to meld its own eco-management and auditing scheme with ISO 14000, while Japan has announced it will adopt 14000 as its national environmental standard for industry. In the US, 14000 is being hailed in many quarters as a timely private supplement to government environmental programs. Indeed, because compliance with 14000 may ultimately be used by banks, insurers and investment analysts to gauge whether corporations are working seriously to reduce their environmental exposure. These institutions may emerge as marketplace regulators, picking up slack left by under-funded government agencies.

Only one major constituency, in fact, has remained largely silent on these standards to date: the environmental community. Here, distrust of any form of corporate self-regulation is so intense that 14000 is being viewed with confusion and even outright hostility. This is most unfortunate. These standards represent the true corporate internalization of environmental values. They are thus the future of marketplace greening. For environmentalists, at a time when the key to reanimating their movement lies in identifying greening with jobs and profits, the alternative to ISO 14000, it will be irrelevance.

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is the president of Environmental Economics. He comes to us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.



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