ISO 26000 – an introduction

ISO 26000 is an International Standard offering voluntary guidance on social responsibility to any organisation regardless of type or size. ISO 26000 contains approximately 100 pages, 27 definitions, 7 main principles, 7 core subjects with a total of 37 issues, and 7 steps for integration. In total the standard offers than 450 recommendations. The table of content, foreword, introduction, outline, core subjects/issues, scope, terms and definitions and bibliography is available in the ISO Online Browsing Platform or can be downloaded here.

The overall goal of ISO 26000 is to help the user/organisation behave in a more socially responsibly way and thereby contribute more to sustainable environmental, social, economic development. This is illustrated in ISO 26000, figure available here in English, Spanish and Arabic.


Many people still speak of sustainability of organisations in terms of only managing impacts on the environment and the local community. Also, many speak of CSR – corporate social responsibility. Some of the concepts stem from for example the concept ‘Triple Bottom Line’ (TBL), launched in 1994 to include business agendas in contributing to environment and development. TBL launched ‘environmental sustainability, social responsibility and economic viability‘, sometimes referred to people, planet and profit.

Much has happened since 1994, especially the UN conferences on sustainable development in 2002 and 2012, and the sustainable development goals in 2015. Today it is common to speak of integrated sustainable environmental, social and economic development. One bottom line, relevant to all types of organisations. It was in this context ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility was published in 2010, aimed at all types of organisations –  not only for organisations focused on making profits. This is clear also in the definition of social responsibility in ISO 26000:

social responsibility
responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour  that
⎯ contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society;
⎯ takes into account the expectations of stakeholders;
⎯ is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and
⎯ is integrated throughout the organization and practised in its relationships
NOTE 1 Activities include products, services and processes.
NOTE 2 Relationships refer to an organization’s activities within its sphere of influence

A brochure was published during the process of developing ISO 26000, giving an overview of the participation and process: “ISO 26000 project overview (in English). Another brochure was published to introduce the finished standard: “Discovering ISO 26000″ (English, Spanish, Arabic). ISO has also communicated on ISO 26000 with its stakeholders through their magazine ISO Focus, examples here in English and in French. There are many books on ISO 26000, some of which are listed in the Countries part of this website. Many films on Youtube, for example this one in Spanish, and there are many presentations available at SlideShare. Much research and academic work has been conducted related to / referencing IS0 26000. “Social Responsibility” is a more common term searched for on the internet compared to ISO 26000.

ISO 26000 relates well to other major SR/CSR/Sustainability initiatives such as UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Global Compact. There are also more detailed linkage documents available, e.g.:

ISO 26000/UN Global Compact

ISO 26000/Global Reporting Initiative G4

ISO 26000/Integrated Reporting Framework 

ISO26000/UN Sustainable Development Goals

ISO 26000/OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

A linkage document between ISO 26000 and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is planned.

It is not possible to be internationally or nationally “ISO 26000 certified” but it is possible to be certified to a few national standards/initiatives that have been taken inspired by ISO 26000. Instead, ISO 26000 seems to be used as it was intended: to guide all types of organisations through structure, approach and terminology. Many companies and organisations have developed their own tools for using ISO 26000.