Not using ISO 26000? It is OK!

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Some are not using ISO 26000 and that is OK

In a recent interview in a Swedish sustainability magazine a couple of companies stated

‘We are not using ISO 26000 because taking societal responsibility and solving societal challenges in a way that benefits the company can not be standardized’

It made me think twice. Taking societal responsibility and solving societal challenges?

First of all, do they mean that ‘the business of business is business’ and can not be standardized? Sounds a bit like Milton Friedman and 1970ish. We have evolved since, and modern companies and organisations use standards to build level international playing fields around basics we should not need to re-define. All conpanies and organizations have a social responsibility to contribute when society defines and delivers both current sustainable development and a future global state of sustainability. Contribute to, not define societal challenges. It is a bit confusing when companies speak of “taking societal responsibility” and “solving societal challenges” as it confuses the responsibility of the state and the government. As far as I know there is not one single standard out there, ISO or not, that recommends companies to use the term “Corporate Societal Responsibility”. That is why we need standards, to avoid confusing stakeholders.

We can already see some governments out there not acting on Agenda 2030 but instead referring to ‘great voluntary initiatives by our companies’. It did not work for environmental management during the 80s and 90s and it will not for sustainability management. We need international standards to stop wasting time re-defining basic terms and definitions, structures, roles, and methods. Of course, design, price, innovation, many quality aspects and implementation methods – can/should not be standardized. Each organization and service is unique. But basic social responsibility management can be standardized, even internationally. Social responsibility, not societal responsibility.

Secondly, ISO 26000 did not present any additional requirements. The standard contains 450+ recommendations based on existing international norms from ILO, UN, etcetera, as interpreted and expressed by 450 experts from 100 countries and 40 international organizations. As such, ISO 26000 did not revolutionize the many fore-running companies in the developed economies. There are 15,000 companies using GRI and UN GC and that is great. But there are 2 million companies in the construction sector in Europe alone. We need to speed up and scale up, and for that we need broad standards such as ISO 26000. It has already touched the 1,5 million companies/organizations around the world that are using ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. Many of which are in emerging economies.

Interestingly enough, the three companies that voiced against using ISO 26000 in the Swedish magazine use other standards such as ISO 14001, ISO 9001, ISO 45001 and GRI. Some of them even even offers services related to ISO 14001 and ISO 9001. They all have huge international supply chains through countries with lack of laws and respect for the rule of law.

All companies need/have standards and after the past 15 years today most sustainability/social responsibility standards are more or less the same. It is OK if you are not using ISO 26000, but please use any of the other good standards out there, do not re-invent the wheel or introduce old terms such as ‘corporate societal responsibility’. And if you want to tell the market about your use of standards you can say

‘We are not using ISO 26000 but other standards because several fundamental parts of how to contribute to sustainable development and societal challenges have already been standardized and that benefits our company’

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