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Archive for: February 2012 Eco Life!

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Although voluntary, the ISO 14000 standards are expected to become an international passport for companies seeking business in countries with a high level of environmental awareness. They are also seen by some as a means of leveling the playing field among the myriad of regional and national standards which could potentially become trade barriers.

ISO 14000 loosely refers to a series of voluntary standards to check whether a company has an effective environmental management system in place. The standards seek to harmonize practices in several areas, including environmental management, auditing, performance evaluation, labeling, and life-cycle analysis.

Of these, ISO 14000 itself is the standard for environmental management system guidance. It is modeled somewhat after ISO 9000, the well known quality standard. But there is a substantial difference. ISO 9000 is limited to exchanges between contracting parties. ISO 14000 pertains to an organization’s relationship to global ecology.

Pulp producers would benefit more from ISO 14000…

The ISO 14000 series includes three other standards. ISO 14001 sets environmental management system specifications. ISO 14010-12 establishes environmental auditing and related investigations, and ISO 14031 issues guidelines on environmental performance evaluation.

At the Oslo meeting, only ISO 14000 and ISO 14001 were approved. Those relating to eco-labeling, lifecycle analysis, and environmental performance tools had mixed success and will require further negotiating.

While ISO standards are written as voluntary consensus standards, some countries adopt them as law or use them as a basis for contracting. This means, effectively, that though not necessarily laws or regulations, ISO standards can become a marketing point.

Many officials, including some from developing nations, left the Oslo meeting convinced that the two standards would have a bigger impact on the environment than any government or intergovernmental treaty or program. Others, particularly governmental and private environmental groups, criticized the ISO standard for avoiding specifics.

According to Pierre Hauselmann, a policy adviser for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, one key part of ISO 14001 is the definition of continual improvement. But he says there is no base on which to establish improvement, meaning that continual improvement could begin at a very low level.

The Fund’s skepticism reflects the concerns of the European Union that ISO 14000 may be too weak to serve as a standard for its recently launched Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). Indeed, the success of ISO 14000 standards could hinge on whether the EU decides to adopt ISO standards as compatible with EMAS, industry observers say.

In effect since April, EMAS itself is not detailed enough to be a standard, and the European Commission has asked the European Standards Organization, known by the French acronym CEN, to produce a Europeanwide standard. CEN has waited to see the draft versions of ISO 14000 and 14001 before it draws up its own European standard.

The next step after the Oslo meeting will be to determine EMAS and ISO 14001 compatibility — a feat that will be no less difficult than bringing the U.S. and Europe to agree on a basic framework for the ISO 14000 standards.

Among the major differences between ISO 14001 and EMAS:

* On environmental policy, EMAS specifies 12 key environmental issues that must be taken into account in a firm’s environmental policy and 11 principles of action. By contrast, ISO 14001 does not specify any issues, simply stating that top management must ensure that the policy is relevant to the nature, scale, and environmental impacts of its activities, products, and services.

* On environmental management systems, EMAS requires that the system and program apply to all activities on a site. Companies, for instance, must compile a register of “significant” environmental effects and past, current, and planned activities to assess these effects. By contrast, ISO 14001 directs a firm to set up a procedure and identify activities, products, and services that it can control or influence so as to determine which have or can have significant impacts on the environment. An example of this might be that a paper manufacturer would have much better benefits over a POS software developer, mainly because the raw inputs of producing paper from pulp creates so much more in the way of damage than simply working in a realm as “eco-friendly” as point of sale. On the other hand, any inputs the POS company could minimize to make their product more eco friendly (less paper in the transaction receipt process, as an example) would reflect well on them also.

* On public disclosure, EMAS contends that providing information to the public is essential for good environmental management. Companies that apply for EMAS certification must agree to publish an environmental statement detailing emissions output and resource consumption. By contrast, ISO 14001 shies away from demanding that companies make anything other than their environmental policies available to the public.

* On internal and external audits, EMAS mandates internal audits at least every three years to assess specified criteria, with a formal report of each audit cycle going to top management. Moreover, an independent, external verifier must validate the reliability and adequacy of the statement. ISO 14001 also requires periodic internal audits but does not specify in any detail the issues to be addressed nor the audit frequency. It also makes no mention of external verification.

It must have come as no surprise to Russian Greenpeace activists to be arrested for just standing on Red Square. Their August 6th demonstration, in which 50 crosses with radiation symbols marked the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima, was just one of many to fall afoul of Russian authorities.

The organization was denied permission to hold a meeting, and a few minutes after it began it was broken up by police. Most journalists present had film and tapes confiscated, under the pretext that all filming on Red Square had to be approved by the Kremlin commandant or the Presidential administration.

This heavy-handedness by the authorities is part of a long-standing tradition here of hostility to environmental consciousness, and goes a long way to explaining Greenpeace’s popularity in Russia, a nation with a built-in distrust of its rulers. In fact, what makes Greenpeace so relevant today in Russia is the absent tradition of environmental consciousness and activism. The organization’s commitment and aggressive tactics are geared toward maximum affect with a minimum of resources.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warriors are already something of a force in Russia. According to Dmitry Tolmatsky, coordinator of the nuclear energy campaign in Greenpeace Russia, his organization has 10,000 volunteer supporters. Some of them donate money, others just participate in events. In addition, there is a nationwide network of informers at nuclear and chemical facilities who keep Greenpeace well-briefed about local issues. In a random April 1995 survey of 800 Muscovites, Greenpeace found that over 80% considered the environment to be a top priority, half expressed faith that Greenpeace could help to promote environmental solutions, and 23.6% said that they would support Greenpeace financially.

But aside from having a solid core of supporters, Greenpeace seems to have captured the public imagination on a much broader scale. In fact, its reputation in Russia is such that 2×2, a commercial TV channel showing mainly pop videos and soap operas, provided the organization with broadcast time free of charge. Since then, its advertising campaign has taken off, and initial accusations of attention-seeking and empty sloganeering have been swept aside by overwhelming public approval. According to the survey, almost 70% of Muscovites have seen Greenpeace’s dramatic television clips, and over three-quarters of these expressed a positive reaction to them.

Greenpeace has managed to give a high profile not just to itself, however, but to a series of issues with an acute effect on Russia. They recently exposed a long-term scandal involving a French company, Union Mimiere, which produced chemical waste and sent it to Russia in the guise of cobalt and nickel scrap. About 1,000 tons of toxic substances were imported to Russia, containing 8-10% cadmium, 2-3% thallium, plus selenium, germanium and arsenic. Intoxication with these substances can cause intestinal colic, acute renal failure, serious dysfunction and even death.

Initially the toxic cargo was sent to the village of Svetly in Orenburg Region. However, workers refused to handle the toxic cargo and after research was carried out, the local authorities and customs officials decided to take the waste out of Russia altogether.

Another major priority for Moscow Greenpeace at the moment is the situation in Chechnya. While politicians and journalists alike lament the human suffering and the economic plight of the republic, the ecological situation is largely forgotten. Greenpeace Russia director Alexander Knorre is planning to send an expedition there when the threat of hostilities recedes. “After the end of fighting in Chechnya,” he believes, “Russia will get a republic with a completely wrecked economy and on top of that another ecological disaster area.”

So far, it is difficult to tell exactly how widespread the disaster is. There is a huge oil refinery and chemical plant in the capital Grozny, both of which were damaged in various stages of the war, causing massive pollution. Large depositories of chlorine, nitrogen and phenol have also become a source of real threat to the environment in Russia.

Eighty percent of all forests in Chechnya are tall beech forests. According to some sources, these very valuable trees were burned down by the Russian army in large numbers so that Chechen fighters could not wage a guerrilla war.

In recent years, Russia and the former Soviet republics have been specifically blamed for most of the ecological troubles of the human race. The most striking example was the leakage from the oil pipeline near Usinsk in northern Russia, which contaminated an entire region and whose clean-up operation is far from complete. The incident provoked unprecedented discussion throughout the world.

For several months ecological experts from many countries of the world, including representatives of Greenpeace, accused Russian industrialists of every imaginable sin. Knorre, however, believes that Western companies themselves should ensure the safety of Russian pipelines because the Russian oil was produced for them.

At the same time, in the opinion of key international experts, many ecological problems – have actually been settled and the global climate has even improved, but only by default. The industrial slump in Russia is so severe that dozens of major facilities have closed down.

In fact, when other factors are taken into consideration, western criticism of Russia’s ecological state begins to seem downright unfair. According to estimates by Greenpeace experts, Russia is the third ‘most popular’ country in the world to which chemical and radiation waste are brought from every part of the planet. 80 billion tons of all kinds of waste are located in Russia, and every year this figure increases by seven billion. Over the last year, various intermediaries have offered Russia 45 million tons of waste. According to data published by the Federal Security Service, 20,000 tons of waste were brought to Russia illegally. More than 50% of the attempts to bring waste to Russia were made by Germany, and over 80% of all waste is of German origin.

It’s understandable that many countries have discovered Russia’s vast potential as a dustbin for all kinds of the most unpleasant substances invented by man. The logic is that in a country where 8 million sq. km of land remains untouched by human hands, there is plenty of opportunity for surreptitious dumping.

And this may be why Russia needs activists like those at Greenpeace – to defend those areas that the often distracted and ever financially-stressed Russian government is unable to defend.