The Climate Change Amendment to ISO Management Systems – what does it mean for you?

By David Smoker, ACO and Future Water Standards and Regulations Chair

A few months ago we talked about climate change and the circular economy and last month we talked about the perils of greenwashing. This month we focus on a major change in international standards which will affect all of us who operate an accredited ISO Management System Standard (MSS)*, such as ISO 9001 (Quality), ISO 14001 (Environment), ISO 27001 (Information security), ISO 45001 (H&S) and ISO 50001 (Energy).

In September 2021, 165 ISO member countries signed ‘ISO’s Climate Commitment’ also known as ‘The London Declaration’. This commitment was considered a game changing moment for international standards to tackle climate change and the transition to net zero. Signatories committed to consider climate change in every new and revised standard that is created:

“ISO will:

  • Foster the active consideration of climate science and associated transitions in the development of all new and revised International Standards and publications,
  • Facilitate the involvement of civil society and those most vulnerable to climate change in the development of International Standards and publications,
  • Develop and publish an Action Plan and Measurement Framework detailing concrete actions and initiatives and a reporting mechanism to track progress.”

ISO (and CEN) already had standards supporting the climate agenda, covering adaption to climate change, quantifying greenhouse gas emissions and environmental management but nothing was explicit in the MSS. At an ISO meeting in late 2023, a resolution was passed to incorporate climate change wording into the Harmonised Structure (HS) that sits behind most of the MSS with ‘immediate effect’. In February 2024, ISO and IAF (International Accreditation Forum) announced an immediate amendment to the existing 36 accreditable MSS standards that have the HS:

Clause 4.1 Understanding the organization and its context.

Added: Organization must assess if climate change is a relevant issue for their operations and context.

Clause 4.2 Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties.

Added: NOTE: Relevant interested parties can have requirements related to climate change.

For Clause 4.1, the relevance assessment could consider things like location, e.g. vulnerable to increased risk of flooding, resource dependency such as water scarcity, and regulatory issues such as carbon emissions taxes. It is feasible that the assessment decides ‘not relevant’ but an assessment must be made – it would be wise to document the discussion and the conclusions.

For Clause 4.2, stakeholder expectations could include, for example, customer demand for sustainable practices and EPDs, investor requirements for environmental transparency, and regulatory body mandates such as ESOS**.

Many organisations, of all sizes, around the world operate under one or more of the management standards, typically ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001. In the UK the standards have all been adopted (e.g. officially ISO 9001 is BS EN ISO 9001) and third-party accreditation schemes are in place for most of them.

What this means is that certification bodies will be asking you about the amendments at your next audit. There is a risk of getting a non-conformity if you’ve not addressed them (and, by the way, the amendment to clause 4.1 explicitly states ‘must’ so you can’t just ignore it).

If your organisation operates a certified ISO management system, it must determine if climate change is relevant for its MSS scope and its stakeholders; it should record the outcome of these discussions about climate change, decisions agreed and actions identified; it could then set objectives and monitoring related to carbon emissions and climate change.

*More information on ISO Management System Standards:

**ESOS = Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of the Future Water Association.

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