IEMA Policy and Engagement Lead Nick Blyth reflects on the launch of new ISO Guide 84 Guidelines for addressing climate change in standards.

Over many years, single initiatives and programmes have been instrumental in building business support for action on climate change. Energy audits, renewables, green investments, eco-designs, new products, foot-printing, green claims, adaptation and risk assessments have all played a part. For sustainability professionals, the business environment in which they operated has, itself, evolved and offers significant potential for embedding and mainstreaming. Understanding critical business issues, processes, drivers, and barriers is essential.

The good news is that climate change issues are now increasingly recognised as material business concerns and are reflected in company vision statements and annual reports. Organisational strategies are starting to embed climate change improvement programmes. Although Covid-19 and business survival has dominated recent decision making, climate change awareness and corporate commitments continue. Indeed, the pandemic has both precipitated and demonstrated achievable and rapid transitions. We all now face a challenge to nurture this momentum of change and integrating climate change action into the business transitions already underway.

Corporate approaches to the environment have evolved, with increased realisation of business-critical dependencies. The imperative to reduce business environmental impact continues and for many has evolved from a CSR orientation (in many cases around environmental stewardship and responsibility) through to a more Corporate Sustainability based innovation, collaboration and transition focused approach. The increasing number of Corporate Net-Zero commitments clearly reflects this trend.

This wave of sustainability commitments is accompanied by a growing appreciation of the value of the natural environment and our need for resilience to the changing climate. Real business concerns already exist over supplies of critical resources such as rare metals, water, energy supplies and disrupted supply chains. Awareness of vulnerabilities to climate and extreme weather further overlay these concerns.

The impacts of climate change now feature within corporate risk assessments, with increasing recognition of a critical interdependence between business and environment. With the growth of Climate Related Financial Disclosures, the drive to bring climate change into the mainstream continues and a new door opens for engaging in transition risks and genuine change. Sustainability professionals have the challenge to understand all these new developments, relative to their organisation, its critical trends, specific context and change dynamic.

International Standards are a further opportunity for mainstreaming and embedding climate action and not just through the well-known environmental standards.

The 2015 revised ISO 14001 environmental management systems standard has many useful provisions, which include requiring the organisation to consider the wider context of the organisation and expectations of interested parties, an enhanced focus on leadership and embedding a lifecycle perspective across the value chain. Also, to analyse risks and opportunities and to consider the potential impacts of changing environmental conditions (e.g. adaptation and climate change impacts) on business strategy and operations.
Organisations that want to compete in the globalised market need to ensure that planning for and responding to our changing climate is embedded into their business strategy.

For sustainability professionals, and indeed for all professions, understanding standards and their potential for embedding carbon reduction and climate change adaptation is therefore an important field. Many organisations have a form of Management System Standard (MSS) whether based on ISO 14001 or not. All ISO MSS are based on the same high-level structure, allowing for climate change issues to be addressed.

This is one of many climate change considerations outlined in new guidance, developed by ISO’s Climate Change Coordination Task Force (CCC TF7). IEMA guidance has contributed to the new guide, which also includes an adapted version of the IEMA GHG Management Hierarchy. ISO Guide 84, Guidelines for addressing climate change in standards, provides a systematic approach, relevant principles and useful information to help standards writers address climate change impacts, risks and opportunities in their own standardization work. The guide has had extensive contribution from many global standards experts, starting the process of mainstreaming climate change as a key consideration with every new standard that is written.

I will leave the final word to my working group colleague John Dora FICE, FRMetS who is an international Infrastructure Asset Management expert and chair and co-founder of the UK’s Infrastructure Operators’ Adaptation Forum. For him, this new ISO Guide is much needed ‘This guide provides timely and valuable help to those involved developing standards across industry enabling them better to respond to the climate emergency’.

Photo of Nick Blyth
Nick Blyth

Policy & Engagement Lead at IEMA, Vice Chair of ISO Task Force on Climate Change Coordination and Fellow of IEMA (FIEMA) having multi-sector senior experience within NGOs, Local Government and Consultancy.