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Connecting Sustainability to ISO Certification

AICC members have placed Sustainability on top of their list.  Over the past several years, many member websites have attempted to address this concept.  However, in order for such websites to fully implement all aspects of Sustainability, a number of concerns must be addressed.  We seldom have a problem in recognizing what should be done; instead, our problem often relates to implementation.  In the case of Sustainability, a disregard of disciplined tools available is the primary cause of inadequate implementation.

This article addresses certain concepts of sustainability and how such concepts can be fully implemented with available disciplined tools such as ISO standards.

1. What is Sustainability?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) refers to Sustainability as the ability to maintain or develop performance in the long term.  Looked at through a different lens, sustainability has to do with maintaining your business financially, socially and environmentally.

2. Components of Sustainability

Sustainability broadly consists of three components:

  • Business Sustainability (economic/financial);
  • Environmental Sustainability; and
  • Social Responsibility.

Simply put, Sustainability relates to an optimal balance of risk, profitability, social responsibility, and accountability.

3. Sustainability in action

4. Connecting Sustainability to ISO Certification

To achieve and maintain sustainability for continued success, an organization should relentlessly follow certain management disciplines.  ISO has developed Standards for Quality, Environment and Safety, each of which details approaches to achieve long-term sustainable success.

5. Which ISO Standards?

Several members of AICC have developed Sustainability mechanisms.  However, these members are often facing difficulties in utilizing such methodologies.

Two types of ISO Standards are helpful for successful implementation of Sustainability practices: Certifiable standards and Guidance standards.

A. ISO Certifiable Standards:

Certain certifiable ISO standards have benefited the corrugated converting industry, such as:

  • ISO 9001: 2008 Quality Management System (QMS) – focuses on Disciplined Problem Solving, Continual Improvement and Enhancing Customer Satisfaction; allows top management to drive improvement through synchronizing quality management system results with business performance results
  • ISO 14001: 2004 Environmental Management System (EMS) – focuses on Pollution Prevention, Conservation of Energy and Natural Resources; promotes Continual Improvement and Environmental Sustainability
  • OHSAS 18001: 2007 Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) – focuses on Occupational Health & Safety risk assessments related to hazards with participation and consultation to drive Continual Improvement

 B. ISO Guidance Standards:

ISO has developed several guidance standards, some of which have been in cooperation with its partner, IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). The following guidance standards have been useful in successful implementation of Sustainability:

  • ISO 9004:2009 – Managing for the sustained success of an organization: A quality management approach
    • Provides guidance to organizations for achievement of sustained success through a quality management approach. This standard can be used by any organization, regardless of size, type and activity.
  • ISO 31000:2009 – Risk management: Principles and guidelines
    • Identifies opportunities and minimizes threats related to environmental, financial and safety risks.  Risk is all about uncertainty and the effect of uncertainty in achieving set objectives related to safety and environment.
  • ISO/IEC 31010:2009 – Risk management: Risk assessment techniques
    • Provides organizations with guidance on: risks related to societal, environmental, technological, safety and security outcomes; commercial, financial and economic disciplines; and social, cultural and political reputation impacts. This standard can be used to treat particular risks and to select between options.
  • ISO 26000:2010 – Guidance on Social Responsibility
    • Emphasizes a transparent ethical behavior in all decisions related to society and the environment. This standard promotes sustainable development on health and safety and international norms of behavior, and it provides guidance to organizations of all sizes with regards to concepts, principles and practices related to social responsibility

6. List of Sustainability and ISO Standard Connections

Sustainability Components ISO Standard
Business Sustainability ISO 9001; ISO 31000; ISO 31010; ISO Guide 73
Environmental Sustainability ISO 14001
Social Responsibility                       (OH&S) ISO 26000; OHSAS 18001

7. Other Standards relating to Sustainability

Certain certifiable Chain of Custody and US Green Building Council (USGBC) standards also relate to sustainability.

A. Chain of Custody

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
  • Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

B. US Green Building Council (USGBC)

USGBC has developed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an internationally recognized green building certification system.

Some AICC members are requiring their customers to comply with these building certification system requirements.

8. Certification Essentiality

Critical questions:

  • “Do we have to attain certification for all certifiable standards in order to demonstrate Sustainability?” The answer is “No.”
  • “Can we maintain Sustainability without having a discipline in place and have it verified by a third party on a periodic basis?” The answer is “It depends….”

The choice is yours. Answers to these questions depend on senior management’s views as well commitment to achieve and maintain sustainability over the long-run.

9. Customers’ Influence on Sustainability

Major packaging buyers are directly or indirectly influencing AICC members to adhere to specific sustainability requirements (e.g., Walmart’s Sustainability Score Cards system).

Ultimately, the customer is king; our customers sign our pay check.  Our businesses are going to help fulfill customer demands, regardless of how many ISO standards are needed to fully implement measurable Sustainability.

10. The “R”s Connection to Sustainability

Being in the Corrugated Converting Industry, we cannot close the loop on sustainability without talking about “R”s. My top 5 “R”s are: Remove; Reduce; Reuse; Recycle; and Renew.


Sustainability is the ability to maintain your business financially, socially and environmentally. To accomplish total sustainability, practitioners must recognize the tools that are available for effective implementation. Certifiable and Guidance ISO standards along with some customer required tools are specified in this article for senior management review and selection.  Application of the selected tools on continued basis throughout the organization in relentless manner will position any organization on a sustainable path.

 Baskar Kotte is a facilitator and consultant for AICC and its members.  Mr. Kotte has been an associate member of AICC for over 10 years and has assisted several members with ISO certifications (ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001), AIB, Chain of Custody (FSC/SFI/PEFC), Customer Satisfaction Measurement, Operational Excellence, Lean, and Bottom-line Improvement.  Mr. Kotte can be reached at (770) 518-9967 or via email at baskar@qsebackup.atlcreative.co

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