Using ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems to Achieve Net Zero

a graphic made up of green and white circles including symbols that represent sustainability, such as the recycling symbol, a tap and the words net zero.

Thousands of businesses are keen to achieve net zero and carbon neutral. Not only are these the new buzzwords. But with so much interest in climate change amongst individuals and companies alike, it’s no wonder that many businesses are committed to reducing their carbon emissions in their quest to achieve net zero. 

It all started back in 2015, when the Paris Agreement outlined an ambitious global plan to tackle climate change. The plan requires keeping the rise of global temperatures below 2oC compared to pre-industrial levels, and to limit global warming to 1.5oC.  Global emissions need to reach net zero by 2050 in order to achieve this.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what net zero means, and how ISO 14001 environmental management systems can help you to achieve net zero in your business.

What is Net Zero?

We’ve all heard the term, but what does it actually mean?  Simply put, net zero means that any carbon emissions created are balanced or ‘cancelled out’ by taking the same amount out of the atmosphere as you’ve put in. In a nutshell, we, as the human race, will achieve net zero when the amount of carbon emissions we add is no more than the amount we take away.

In terms of business specifically, ISO 14001 environmental management systems provide a blueprint to help you measure and manage sustainability as you work to achieve net zero success.

a green and white graphic featuring trees wind turbines and chimneys emitting leaves instead of smoke.

ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems

In 2015, ISO 14001, the world’s leading environmental management system (EMS), was revised.  The purpose of the revision was to “provide organisations with a framework to protect the environment and respond to changing environmental conditions in balance with socio-economic needs”. The standard makes clear reference to the two-way relationship between businesses and the environment.

Climate change is increasingly recognised as a significant business consideration.  Regardless of the nature of activities undertaken, organisations are facing climate change impacts, plus escalating policies to reduce emissions, such as carbon taxes or renewable incentives. ISO 14001 provides the framework that can be used as a mechanism to drive forward Climate Action, using the Plan-Do-Check-Act model.  

Here are some of the ISO 14001 clause requirements and how they help you identify climate change considerations and opportunities to achieve net zero and overall improved sustainability.

understanding the organisation and its context

Clause 4.1 – Understanding the Organisation and its Context

As mentioned previously, the standard introduces the two-way relationship with the environment. It isn’t focused just on the way your business might impact the environment, but also how the environment might impact your business.  For example, this could be energy scarcity, reliance and dependency, which might be significant to your business. Or carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, control and reduction, which might impact how much carbon tax you incur, or require further input from a key investor.

leadership and commitment

Clause 5.1 – Leadership and Commitment

Senior management need to set the scene from the top down, by demonstrating leadership and commitment with respect to the EMS. After all, the senior team is ultimately responsible for setting environmental policies and objectives that are compatible with the strategic direction of the company. In fact, it’s an objective in its own right for any business wanting to achieve net zero and carbon reduction. 

roles responsibilities and authorities

Clause 5.3 – Roles, Responsibilities and Authorities

This clause provides the opportunity to consider the different personnel that have the ability to influence your climate change strategy. For example –

  • Finance Director who is likely to welcome energy cost savings
  • HR Team who can coordinate and deploy training and communications
actions to address risks and opportunities

Clause 6.1 – Actions to Address Risks and Opportunities

The Risk and Opportunity Register is your ideal starting point for documenting climate related risks and opportunities in your business. This could include things like:

  • Flooding and drought
  • Heatwaves and related impact on health
  • Water and resource scarcity
  • Reliability of energy supply

And remember, there will be numerous risks, but there might also be some inspiring opportunities, such as increased availability of natural resources.

environmental aspects

Clause 6.1.2 – Environmental Aspects

The environmental aspects of your business activities, products and services need to be controlled. But the scope of responsibility extends beyond the environmental aspects that you directly control. In addition, it includes those that can be influenced. What’s more, the life-cycle perspective is also a requirement of this clause. This means that when you’re reviewing the environmental aspects of climate change, there’s likely to be a mixture of direct and indirect impacts that are both positive and negative. 

So, if you’re looking to achieve net zero, you need to review direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, such as:

  • Direct energy use
  • Indirect energy use
  • Emissions from industrial processes
  • Use and possible release of fluorinated gasses
  • Carbon capture
compliance obligations

Clause 6.1.3 – Compliance Obligations

There’s an extensive volume of legislation relating to climate change, including, but far from limited to:

  • Climate Change Levy Regulations
  • Climate Change Agreements Regulations
  • Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme
  • F-Gas regulations
  • Voluntary schemes or standards such as BREEAM or ISO Standards

Relevant climate change related compliance obligations and voluntary codes of conduct should be recorded in the compliance register. You can discover more about staying legally up to date in my article about compliance obligations.

Clause 6.2 – Objectives

The requirement to set objectives is the perfect premise for agreeing the actions you need to take to reduce your contribution to climate change. It’s best practice to align these goals with your business objectives, and I recommend using the Carbon Management Hierarchy to help you work through this stage:

carbon management heirachy
operational planning and control

Clause 8 – Operational Planning and Control

Now is the time to implement operational controls to bring your EMS to life, mitigate risks and take advantage of opportunities, in line with your environmental aspects and compliance requirements. 

It’s within this clause that sustainable design aspects of products, service procedures and controls can be implemented further. Control measures that are consistent with the life cycle perspective should be put in place for the operation of business processes. For example, this could include control measures for business continuity through the supply chain in changing global conditions, such as –

  • Travel planning for employees
  • Specifying requirements for contractors
monitoring measurement analysis and evaluation

Clause 9 – Monitoring, Measurement, Analysis and Evaluation

Unsurprisingly there are significant monitoring and measurement requirements associated with climate related issues. But it’s far from superfluous admin for the sake of it. This potent step equips you to collect and analyse your data for ongoing evaluation and to influence decision making.  This could include elements such as:

  • Stack emissions, on-site combustions and process related emissions
  • Consumption and GHG calculations on the different energy sources and fuels
  • Transport data
  • Many, many more, depending on your business specifics

Clause 10 – Improvement

All ISO standards are built on the concept of continual improvement. And all of the clauses in ISO 14001 are intended to be used proactively to promote climate change reduction and achieve net zero. To this end, your EMS should be continually improved. In turn, your environmental performance should consequently amplify as a direct result.

Ask Me Anything

We’re all impacted by extreme weather conditions (remember 40oC in summer 2021) and soaring energy costs. Managing climate risk and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important for all businesses, not just the large organisations. Plus, many different stakeholder groups – including employees, customers and investors – are all interested in the environmental credentials of businesses these days.

I help organisations, large and small, to implement and continually improve their EMS in support of their efforts to achieve net zero.  I keep it relevant, practical and engaging, and I have a 100% success rate of clients achieving certification.  Drop me a message to find out more about the difference I can make to you and your business.

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