IWA 42: Restating the obvious or a crackdown on greenwash?

2nd February 2023


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) launched its new IWA 42 Net Zero Guidelines at COP27.

Billed as a common reference for net-zero guidance, it is essentially a rulebook on terminology and actions. While it took decades for scientists and other observers to convince the rest of society that human-created carbon emissions were having a detrimental impact on the environment, most politicians and business leaders now claim that they are directing their resources towards net zero.

Often these claims are genuine but some are patently not true and it has not always been clear which are which. Investors and consumers can find it difficult to sift through the position statements and be certain they are allocating their finances in ways that truly align with the outcomes they want to see.

In response, several overarching initiatives have sprung up; a quick internet search for ‘net-zero initiative’ reveals a number of partnerships between national governments, large organisations and academia. Each offers a set of principles and practical tools, and many enable organisations to make pledges and report on progress.

The ISO Guidelines seek to address the fragmented net-zero governance landscape that has emerged as a consequence, by creating a common set of definitions for planning for net zero and measuring progress. Put together by more than 1,200 experts from over 100 countries (including representation from IEMA), the workshops enabled a wide range of representatives to agree on a set of definitions that everyone could live and work with.

The nature of the process means that, overall, the guidance substantively repeats existing guidance. While not changing the spirit of existing guidance, it does change the letter. The new guidance closes a loophole enabling a company to publicly state its net-zero transition ambitions while being a member of a trade group that lobbies against changes to business as usual. This hands climate activists of all types, from street campaigners to activist shareholders, the tools for highlighting instances where a country or company says one thing and does another.

Do the guidelines restate the obvious? Yes, they do. Are they a long-overdue crackdown on greenwash? Let’s hope so. Visit www.iso.org/netzero for details and to see the guidance in full.

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