A significant amount of environmental degradation has come from industry. The EPA estimates that industry is responsible for 21% of the United States’ annual carbon dioxide emissions, which is only a component of the overall annual industrial pollution. Standards written for products specify guidelines to establish their durability and purpose. Creation of products can lead environmental degradation at every stage of the product life-cycle, including extraction of resources, production, distribution, use, reuse, and final disposal. The ISO GUIDE 64:2008 sets recommendations for standard writers when drafting product standards, addressing every stage of the life-cycle. It is intended to limit any kind of environmental damage that can occur.
All stages of the life-cycle process can cause environmental damage. For example, the initial stage of the life-cycle is gathering raw materials, which are processed into a product’s components. Not only can the extracted resources be depleted, damaging the local ecosystem, but the tools used for extraction can cause climate and water pollution by energy usage and improper waste disposal. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 recommends limiting any sort of external pollution during this stage.
A harmful practice of environmental policy in the past has been the use of cost-benefit analysis to determine if a policy is viable. In this method, if the benefits of something outweigh the costs, it is seen as having a positive net benefit, making it worthwhile. However, when used to manage environmental health, this can lead to a significant amount of damage. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 instead recommends the use of the precautionary principle. Under this method, if the potential environmental damage from a process is uncertain, then that process should be postponed until more knowledge is readily available.
It is important to think environmentally about all stages of the life-cycle process, and always make sure that a change in one stage of the product’s life-cycle does not negatively affect another stage or introduce another externality. An example the standard gives for this is the replacement of solvent cleaning by hot water and air blowing processes, which results in increased energy use during production. This change, while preventing pollution of water and land from the solvent, would increase the amount of energy used to produce the hot air, which would pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, solving one environmental problem but creating another. ISO GUIDE 64:2008 also recommends recycling of all materials used for products. The main objective of the standard is to encourage continuous use of a sustainable product life-cycle.
There are many challenges that must be faced in the near future for issues related to climate change, resource overuse, and environmental destruction. Standardization of sustainable techniques in production is good place to start for a cleaner planet that is beneficial to both the natural and artificial world.