03/01/2013 04:13 EST | Updated 05/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Global Standards and International Industries

We often hear the expression "global village", however the many differences from one region to another mean very different legal frameworks from country to country.

This can mean the legality of a product, for instance, may not be consistent from one place to another and a company operating internationally must figure out how to best manage their practices -- from procurement, to manufacture, to consumption -- factoring in the geographical life cycle of that product.

One potential solution to that issue is the implementation of international standards such as ISO9001 (quality), The Global Packaging Standard (packaging hygiene), ISO14001 (environmental emissions), ISO26000 (sustainability), FSC and PEFC (fibre sourcing) and so on.

All of these global standards have one thing in common; they provide an independent set of criteria that are also impartially verified by a certification body. This means customers can rely on third party certification against one set of criteria worldwide and in turn minimize the potential for any of issues management, conflict resolution or audits. Adopting a global standard, such as ISO26000 for sustainability, is one of the most effective ways of operating across multiple markets. It allows the industry, if developed and upheld effectively, to self regulate rather than becoming subject to mandatory regulation.

The value of a global standard must depend on how it is developed. It should ensure balanced criteria that are in fact attainable by the supply chain and meet the needs of the end user. Listed below are some key elements that could apply to the development of any global standard.

Creation of the principles

  • All parties in the supply chain are all represented (associations, certification bodies and auditors)
  • Review of existing criteria in the subject area
  • Offer wider consultation on the draft criteria
  • Content and Mechanism
  • Develop a clear decision-making pathway through the standard
  • Ensure the review mechanism is practical i.e. certification bodies and audits are ready and clear to verify
  • Maximising the Implementation
  • Develop in different languages
  • Pilot in one market before rolling out
  • Set up a technical advisory committee to review appeals etc.
  • Continued training for auditors and companies adopting the standard

These are some elements to consider when a company evaluates the credibility of a particular global standard as having been developed in a balanced way. As none of us has the resources to carry out audits across our complete supply chain, we must rely on credible third party audited standards. If we can trust in certification bodies and third party verification, whether it be quality or sustainability, we can ensure businesses meet current, and hopefully future, legislation and in the process adheres to a standard that our "global village" will agree upon even when the bar is raised as high as possible.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the third largest pulp & paper company in the world. To learn more about APP's community initiatives, sustainability efforts and to take part in conversations about the rainforest, visit Rainforest Realities.

Dr. Elizabeth Wilks is Manager of European Sustainability and Stakeholder Outreach at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), where she oversees stakeholder outreach across Europe including communications with stakeholders on APP's operations and sustainability efforts. For the past 10 years, Dr. Wilks has been an active member of the British Retail Consortium Technical Advisory Committee for the Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials. She has an MA in Strategic Marketing and a PhD in International Packaging Standards for which she reviewed the benefits of self-regulation and developed a model for compliance to complement this due diligence process.