Will ISO 26000 Change The World?

After six years of consultation and development, Geneva saw the launch of ISO 26000 yesterday.

ISO 26000:2010 Guidance on social responsibility to be exact. Please note the word ‘Guidance‘, that is, this is not a certifiable standard.

In an industry already accelerating toward burgeoning crowds of standards, rankings and frameworks, all of undulating degrees of credibility and usefulness, it feels to me like this new kid on the block will receive a subdued welcome.

According to ISO the aim is to “provide harmonized, globally relevant guidance for private and public sector organizations of all types based on international consensus among expert representatives of the main stakeholder groups, and so encourage the implementation of best practice in social responsibility worldwide.” Which sounds decidedly like death either by committee or all-things-to-everybody-syndrome to me.

I’ve watched the development of ISO 26000 over the six years it has taken to gestate and I hoped and wanted it to help breach the gap between Corporate Social Responsibility and the small business (SME) world. It claims to be relevant to all activities in all locations and of all sizes, although I’ll bet against a multi-stakeholder approach practically appealing to a typical small business entrepreneur. I had even more hope when an interesting mapping exercise carried out back in 2008 that produced ‘How Material is ISO 26000 Social Responsibility to SMEs‘. A poor sample of only 59 small business were engaged for that particular project and whilst it arrived at some accurate conclusions it missed a number of relevant key issues. The problem is that the gap between academic research and the grassroots entrepreneur is as wide as ever, and not enough people in the mix with the skills to authentically translate language and intentions between the sides.

I do offer sympathy for anybody aspiring to tackle the seemingly simple world of SMEs. The scope for variance between micro, family run, small, social enterprises and medium size organisations can be staggering. Multiply that complexity with the agenda that is social responsibility and you are asking for a headache, but we must continue to improve.

ISO 26000’s biggest strength is its biggest weakness. By taking such a holistic approach it runs the risk of being too diluted to offer tangible value beyond what support already exists. Now that it is free to roam in the brutally real world of businesses it will fascinating to see how it morphs into a productive role amongst the CSR family of tools.

Without doubt it has huge value in offering a truly holistic reference perspective for those at the beginnings of a strategic approach to socially responsible business operation.

Watch the You Tube interview video, visit the ISO 26000 website, read it for yourself and tell me how you think ISO 26000 will change the world?

Image & video sourced from ISO http://www.iso.org

9 thoughts on “Will ISO 26000 Change The World?

  1. Greg Stevenson

    It will change the world by making a lot of consultants a lot of money. Typical SME owners will be guilt-ed into doing something in the CSR space. In recessionary times they have eliminated management and administrative positions in favour of essential positions that can show a measurable benefit. Rather than taking those people off task and immersing them in ISO26000 the temptation will be to outsource it using consultants. Even though total commitment from the top will be required to implement ISO26000, consultants will still take the fees from less committed individuals. It will become a gravy train. If a few thousand years of religion can’t make individuals make wise, values based decisions in their lives outside of work, let alone at work, ISO26000 will struggle also. There is another piece to the puzzle required.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Greg

      I too share your concerns about the consulting fraternity attempting to use ISO 26000 as another service to sell.

      I’m less worried about the SME community. Most entrepreneurs are pretty savvy and won’t be offering to pay fees for something that doesn’t provide a very tangible return, I know – that’s my day job.

      ISO 26000 like the CSR / sustainability agenda is about demonstrating value for money (and society and the environment) in whatever form it takes. It’s about understanding your company’s place in a complex system and how you can use this knowledge to offer greater value to your stakeholders in return for reward.

      I really want to like the new guidance standard but I’m not convinced it will gain the mass acceptance we need it to have. It may even be a branding problem.

      Maybe it could be a fantastically productive tool and the problem is the culture of committees that created it needs dusting off and give it a bloody good make-over to sell it to the widest SME audience?



      1. davidcoethica Post author

        Now I’m intrigued.

        There is definitely a need for peer to peer selling of a entrepreneurial position for CSR and would love to know more about your work when you’re ready to tell the world.


  2. sueli

    I don’t believe it will change the world. At the end the business case for sustainability has to be closely linked to the organization strategy, adding value, reducing negative impacts and leveraging the positive ones. Results, results, results that is what everybody is looking for. Great article tough, thanks for sharing.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Sueli

      Change manifests itself in many ways. A few changes are substantial and obvious but the majority are incremental and often overlooked. I believe ISO 26000 is definitely no overnight game changer, but it is an important incremental step forwards.

      It will stimulate further additional change and improvement just because it exists and will cause thought it other guidelines, standards etc.



  3. primesoftnz

    If you want to know more follow the link associated with my reply. Sorry I noticed I had made a typo on the website link for the previous comments. Fixed now I hope. I’m after a company of greater than one hundred employees to be an early adopter of some pretty radical pragmatic technology. Any help finding that early adopter is appreciated.


  4. joe Recchie

    I am encouraged by the development of ISO 26000 and agree with Dave that “huge value in offering a truly holistic reference perspective for those at the beginnings of a strategic approach to socially responsible business operation”. I have operated small businesses for 30 years, and like many of my peers, have tried to operate in as intentionally as possible with regard with a recognition of environmental stewardship, and social awareness. This framework gives small organizations an important reference point. A small group took a large environmental brownfield site through LEED platinum certification by studying the framework (much like the ISO 26000 framework and did so without consultants. I don’t think this is so much an income source for consultants as it is a guide for internal and group interaction. I am anxious to use it with my peers and look forward to a more rigorous certification process as I remain concerned about loose advisory frameworks both as to their potential for corruption and their potential for irrelevance over time.



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