The worldwide lockdowns brought about by COVID-19 this year promised hope for the planet in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that was not enough to stop carbon dioxide levels from being higher than ever.
This is hardly a surprise, given that 2020 was marked with some of the wildest weather ever seen. Devastating cyclones and typhoons in South-East Asia, forest fires raging in Australia and California and brutal flooding in Central Africa add to the list of extreme events that 2020 will be remembered for.
While New Zealand recently joined more than 1 800 jurisdictions in making a “climate emergency declaration”, the commitments made by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and start protecting our planet are starting to look a lot like hot air.
On the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement of 2015, it’s not just governments that must take action, but individual organizations too. What can your company do to reduce its environmental impact and contribute to net-zero emissions goals?
Develop a clean green culture
Ensuring an organization’s impact on the environment is top of mind and considered in all aspects of its strategy and processes is a good precursor to positive change. Knowing how you currently impact the environment, whether positively or less so, provides a basis for knowing how resources can be used more wisely and which of the activities you undertake are the worst offenders.
Having sound, objective processes to figure all that out is the basis of an environmental management system (EMS) such as ISO 14001. Through detailing how to identify, manage, monitor and control environmental issues often leads to more efficient use of resources, better waste management, less pollution and even cost reductions.
And an effective EMS takes a holistic approach, so that improving outputs in one department won’t lead to degradation in another.
Calculate your carbon footprint
You can’t change what you can’t measure, yet there are many ways to slice a fish. A methodology that is internationally recognized helps because the figures become comparable and make sense to investors and stakeholders when reading your annual reports.
One such tool is the ISO 14064 series of standards. Aligned with the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol and compatible with most GHG programmes, the three-part series gives specifications for the quantification, monitoring and validation of greenhouse gas emissions.
It is complemented by ISO 14067, which specifies the principles, requirements and guidelines for quantifying and reporting the carbon footprint of products.
Taking concrete action
Even when an organization is clear on how it is faring in terms of environmental impact, it is sometimes hard to know what concrete actions there are to take. Having a framework and set of guiding principles helps companies to identify actions that will not only be effective, but make sense in the context of everything they do.
Standards like ISO 14080, Greenhouse gas management and related activities – Framework and principles for methodologies on climate actions, help because they assist the company to develop its own consistent and comparable methodologies in the fight against climate change. This then helps it identify, evaluate and justify actions and processes that can help meet its objectives.
ISO 14080 was developed with the input of key organizations, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the World Bank, to make sure they are aligned with international commitments and objectives.
Become more energy efficient
The type and quantity of energy an organization uses can have a huge impact on its carbon emissions output. But where to start?
Having some good policies in place for the efficient use of energy is a good place, but it needs to have clear objectives that are measurable and a way of generating data that is reliable. It also needs to be constantly reviewed for improvement.
If that all sounds a bit overwhelming, clear processes and guidelines on how to put that into action might help. ISO 50001, for example, details how to establish an energy management system that covers such policies, measurement and continual improvement. It is also a way of demonstrating to staff, clients, investors and other stakeholders how seriously you take energy efficiency, and that you have sound policies in place.
Invest in a cleaner, greener future
Transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and thus creating a more sustainable future, is essential but not cheap, and is going to require a lot of public and private investment. Some of that investment will be issued as debt obligations sold to investors in the form of “green” bonds. Ensuring the issuers of such bonds are creditworthy and evaluated for their ability to deliver the environmental promises they make is key.
ISO is working on a series of internationally agreed standards to help boost this market by clearly defining what green bonds really are, specifying the requirements for nominating projects and assets for funding, specifying eligibility, use of proceeds and disclosure requirements and describing assurance options.
The standards, known as the ISO 14030 series, are intended to be used by those issuing the debt obligations, underwriters who market them, investors who make their decisions based on the creditworthiness of the issuer and the environmental benefits, and policy makers when developing laws in this area.
But this is just a tiny taste of what ISO is doing in this area. We currently have 732 standards contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Climate Action.