Environmental challenges in business: Standards as solutions

Nick Blyth, Policy and Practice Lead on Climate Change, Corporate Sustainability and Natural Environment at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), outlines how organizations can address key impacts and dependencies on the climate with a standards-based approach.

The Paris Agreement was adopted on 12 December 2015 at the annual Conferences of the Parties (COP) summit. Signatory countries came together to assess global progress in dealing with climate change and establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Civic society, business and a host of NGOs have all played important roles, contributing to the new international consensus.

COP21 in December 2015 famously led to the signing of the Paris Agreement, which sets out a global plan to limit global warming to well below 2°C. Such global plans are badly needed, and International Standards are an integral part of the solution – crucial in supporting the climate change framework.

Most of the countries in the world signed the Paris Agreement, making commitments not just for governments but also reflecting an unprecedented momentum for action from cities, companies and communities (the so called non-state actors). For these important contributors and for their governments, international standards have a unique role to play. They offer a route for building effective frameworks and tools, all developed through international consensus, and are vital in underpinning the growth of new technologies, new markets and economic transformation.

GHG emissions quantification, monitoring and reporting, and promoting good practice in environmental management and design, are just some of the ways in which ISO international standards help organizations address climate change. ISO has produced more than 600 environment-related standards, including those that help to open world markets to clean energy and energy-efficient technologies and support climate change adaptation and mitigation schemes.

ISO standards are already well developed in climate change mitigation, providing credible, accepted approaches that measure and account for GHG emissions. Along with management system standards, they help organizations to plan and take effective actions to reduce GHG emissions.

However, in addition to addressing the causes of climate change (mitigation) ISO international standards are now supporting actors in addressing and responding to the impacts of climate change (adaptation). A UK-led adaptation principles and framework standard (ISO 14090) is near completion, along with developments assessing vulnerability and risk and a framework for climate actions.

Opportunities, however, are not limited to these climate change specific international standards. A wide range of mainstream standards are in development and, with new developing guidance, these too can be future-proofed to make their own contribution to climate change adaptation and carbon reduction.

As we move towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient society, these new standards will help organizations to adapt, transform, communicate sustainability performance and better allocate resources. Climate change is fast becoming a business reality through carbon taxes, procurement practice, supply chain risks and extreme weather events.

Significant governmental and private sector collaboration is needed to increase the impact of all climate programmes, and a standards-based approach is important to enable and support coordinated international response.