Guide for Addressing Environmental Issues in Product Standards (ISO GUIDE 64:2008)

Natural climatic shift has driven the Earth through many geological epochs. It has often been accepted that we are in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), an era that began 11,700 years ago after the end of the Pleistocene (the “Ice Age”). The shift between these periods marked significant change, in which entire landscapes were altered and many different species suffered extinction. Similar environmental changes have been occurring for the past several hundred years. From these changes, certain groups believe that we should acknowledge that we are no longer in the Holocene, but in the early "Anthropocene". This refers to how the Earth has been directly altered by humans through processes of pollution, habitat destruction, and unsustainable extraction of natural resources. Whether or not our nomenclature should change, there have been some indisputable human-driven impacts. Even though a significant amount of damage has been done to nature, we still live in a society that requires the use of many materials and processes that have been responsible for environmental destruction. ISO GUIDE 64:2008: Guide for Addressing Environmental Issues in Product Standards confronts the potential for environmental damage in the creation of products.

A significant amount of environmental degradation has come from industry. The EPA estimates that industry is responsible for 21% of the United States' annual carbon dioxide emissions, which is only a component of the overall annual industrial pollution. Standards written for products specify guidelines to establish their durability and purpose. Creation of products can lead environmental degradation at every stage of the product life-cycle, including extraction of resources, production, distribution, use, reuse, and final disposal. The ISO GUIDE 64:2008 sets recommendations for standard writers when drafting product standards, addressing every stage of the life-cycle. It is intended to limit any kind of environmental damage that can occur.

All stages of the life-cycle process can cause environmental damage. For example, the initial stage of the life-cycle is gathering raw materials, which are processed into a product’s components. Not only can the extracted resources be depleted, damaging the local ecosystem, but the tools used for extraction can cause climate and water pollution by energy usage and improper waste disposal. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 recommends limiting any sort of external pollution during this stage.

A harmful practice of environmental policy in the past has been the use of cost-benefit analysis to determine if a policy is viable. In this method, if the benefits of something outweigh the costs, it is seen as having a positive net benefit, making it worthwhile. However, when used to manage environmental health, this can lead to a significant amount of damage. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 instead recommends the use of the precautionary principle. Under this method, if the potential environmental damage from a process is uncertain, then that process should be postponed until more knowledge is readily available.

It is important to think environmentally about all stages of the life-cycle process, and always make sure that a change in one stage of the product’s life-cycle does not negatively affect another stage or introduce another externality. An example the standard gives for this is the replacement of solvent cleaning by hot water and air blowing processes, which results in increased energy use during production. This change, while preventing pollution of water and land from the solvent, would increase the amount of energy used to produce the hot air, which would pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, solving one environmental problem but creating another. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 also recommends recycling of all materials used for products. The main objective of the standard is to encourage continuous use of a sustainable product life-cycle.

There are many challenges that must be faced in the near future for issues related to climate change, resource overuse, and environmental destruction. Standardization of sustainable techniques in production is good place to start for a cleaner planet that is beneficial to both the natural and artificial world.
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