Why are ISO Standards Useful for a CSR Strategy?

A standard is by definition a norm established by an accredited organisation due to the reliability and impartiality of its evaluation process. ISO standards are a series of official documents regularly reviewed and edited by the International Organisation for Standardisation. To this extent, these steering tools should be considered when rolling out a CSR strategy. They represent a relevant guide to gear company initiatives.

Indicators to measure the responsibility levels of a strategy

Since its creation in 1947, the International Organisation for Standardisation has published more than 21 700 applicable standards in a large spectrum of contexts. CSR was not taken for granted in this process and therefore the ISO 26000 norm was published in 2010. It gives social and environmentally conscious businesses the ability to follow guiding principles that will help them reduce their carbon footprint on their ecosystem. Since this standard contains recommendations and not requirements, it does not grant access to a certification.

However, one of its main assets is that it can be applied by any organisation, regardless of its size or industry. It highlights the importance of certain practices such as taking stakeholders into account when making strategic decisions or also identifying the impact and consequences of these decisions on the company’s ecosystem.

Other standards can be of interest to businesses within specific industries such as ISO 20121 which aims at promoting sustainable development in event-based activities. Some are specific to one dimension of corporate social responsibility such as ISO 14001. The latter aims at defining a global framework for business environmental policy.

All these documents guide strategic decision-making to lean towards an understanding of business in harmony with the common good. Therefore, they represent tools to take into account in a CSR policy. However, it is necessary to underline that they face certain limitations that must be addressed.


An indicator that does not take into account the company’s actual impact on its ecosystem

Certain studies point out clear limits to ISO standards and specifically ISO 26000: although a standards-based framework can guide a company’s approach, implementing initiatives can differ in practice from one company to another. In addition, integrating the standard requires consequent time and effort to adapt to the stakes of the organisation’s industry, business and geography”. Consequently, the results and therefore the benefits for the ecosystem are heterogeneous and must be considered on different time frames depending on the organisation.

The example of ISO 14001 also illustrates that performance is not taken into account by certification organisations and, in fact, only strategy is, which does not enable an assessment of the effective impact of an organisation on its ecosystem.

Despite clearly identified limitations, a relevant approach to make the best of these guidelines remains to draw inspiration from several standards rather than relying on a single one. This way, it will be possible to develop an approach based on several standards and initiate a more ambitious CSR policy, especially by combining ISO 26000 with ISO 9001 (regarding quality management) and ISO 14001. Moreover, to evaluate the performance of this strategy, partnering with CSR certification labels can be considered, and represents an excellent complement to ISO 26000 to roll out an efficient CSR policy. Nevertheless, this certification label must be reliable, based on relevant criteria and specifications as well as on a clear, transparent and flawless evaluation process.

In other words, if ISO standards are a good tool to develop a CSR strategy, they fall short when it comes to carrying out an efficient CSR policy. To do so, feel free to rely on other resources such as certification labels.

20 January 2021 – 6 min read