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Journal of Cleaner Production 13 (2005) 631e643

Strategic sustainable development1 using the ISO 14001 Standard
Jamie P. MacDonald)
Sustainable Development Research Initiative (SDRI) in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES), University of British Columbia, 1924 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2 Canada Received 13 February 2002;accepted 6 June 2003

Abstract The ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Standard has become a wide-spread administrative tool in the field of corporate responses to sustainability. As a framework for the administering of sustainable development in firms, ISO 14001 in itself does not speak of strategic planning for sustainability, nor of upstream solutions of problems at their source.Furthermore, confusion exists with respect to where ISO 14001 fits in relation to a complex array of tools for sustainable development. This research proposes the integration of a ‘‘backcasting’’ method that embodies a five-level approach to planning in complex systems, with the ISO 14001 planning process requirements. The result is a strategic planning framework that focuses on the minimum requirements for asustainable society and embeds them in a process to assist firms in their sustainability initiatives. Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Strategic sustainable development; Sustainability; The Natural Step Framework; ISO 14001; Environmental Management Systems; Backcasting

1. Introduction ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) have emerged as a leading management toolto address environmental degradation at the firm level, and rapid adoption is occurring worldwide as evidenced by the exponential increase in global registrations to the Standard. Reasons for adopting the Standard range from compliance and consumer pressure to the potential for cost savings and a healthier environment. Although this trend is encouraging, and while the implementation of ISO 14001 isa good start, the subsequent concrete work within corporations often focuses on identified downstream effects from nonsustainable activitiesdi.e., ‘‘aspects’’drather than identifying the underlying principles behind these aspects. Consequently, the work often relies on vague guiding
‘‘Strategic Sustainable Development’’ was coined by authors of a seminal study [12] that underpins this paper. )Tel.: C1-604-742-0388; fax: C1-604-822-9191. E-mail address: URL: 0959-6526/$ - see front matter Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2003.06.001

principles of ‘‘continual improvement’’ without the identification of ultimate objectives that comply with basic principles for sustainability. For this reason, it is difficultto facilitate comprehensive planning and elevate sustainability higher on the corporate agenda [1e7]. Compounding these factors, the presence of many tools has created confusion with respect to how each relate to one another and when each should be used in planning. Given the popularity of ISO 14001, and the fact that the Standard provides a comprehensive and logical administrative vehicle, canthe system be made more effective in helping firms move systematically toward complying with basic principles for a sustainable society? Recent studies in this area have focused primarily on superimposing basic principles for sustainability at various points in the ISO 14001 implementation process, mainly during policy setting, target setting and staff training [3,4]. The goal of these efforts was tocombine a process (ISO 14001) with a set of basic principles for sustainability, effectively giving the ship a compass. While this is a first step conceptually, a set of principles does not necessarily help managers take more concrete steps from a strategic planning perspective, particularly


J.P. MacDonald / Journal of Cleaner Production 13 (2005) 631e643

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