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Environmental management and organisations
Environmental management and organisations

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15.1 Voluntary approaches

The main feature of voluntary approaches to environmental management is self-explanatory – it is voluntary unless required by legislation or some form of regulation. You might like to think about the voluntary aspects of your own behaviour. For example, you do not have to recycle a drinks can – you could put it into general waste – but you might want to recycle it or feel a social pressure to do so. For the most part, an organisation has a similar choice – in most cases, it does not have to adopt a standard or be bound to a set of new rules governing its practices, although it may feel it is under political, economic or social pressure to do so.

Voluntary approaches are generally further divided into two categories:

  1. those where there are no third-party checks and are essentially industry or stakeholder consensus on how to implement a tool – e.g. the ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility
  2. those with third-party checks and audits, including some standards – e.g. the ISO 14001 standard on environmental management.

Voluntary initiatives cover a range of approaches:

  • voluntary schemes – e.g. social accountability reporting
  • technical standards – e.g. those produced by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  • self-certification – e.g. the Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS).

Social accountability reporting has developed in response to concerns about, for example, worker rights and child labour involved in outsourced manufacturing and production processes, particularly in countries where such rights are much less developed. Social concerns are often joined with environmental reporting as part of a ‘corporate social responsibility’ report. The international non-governmental body Social Accounting International [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] has established standard SA8000 as a comprehensive corporate social responsibility registration system.

Technical standardisation is usually carried out by national, regional and international standardisation bodies that facilitate the writing and publication of agreed standards produced by technical experts and industry representatives. The original goal of technical standardisation was (and remains) the removal of needless technical diversity. However, over time this has evolved into also capturing best practice (codes of practice) as well as providing technical support for legislation. Examples of technical standardisation include the standards developed and set by the British Standards Institute and the International Organization for Standardization.

The development of self-certification standards has reflected the desire to capture best practice amongst organisations. The original intent was to define processes within an organisation that would help ensure consistent delivery of services and products. However, with the development of British Standard BS 7750 Specification for environmental management systems in 1992, the emphasis has shifted to improving and extending organisational practices in advance of establishing best practice.

Let us now look at one aspect of voluntary approaches, which has gained prominence in many organisations: corporate sustainability reporting.