Carbon Reduction Plans (CRPs), Environmental Management Systems and net zero

Find out how the requirements of an ISO 14001 environmental management system can help your organisation define a carbon reduction plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050

In 2020, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) defined Net Zero targets for businesses as follows:

To reach a state of net-zero emissions for companies consistent with achieving net-zero emissions at the global level in line with societal climate and sustainability goals implies two conditions:

  1. To achieve a scale of value-chain emission reductions consistent with the depth of abatement achieved in pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot and;
  2. To neutralise the impact of any source of residual emissions that remains unfeasible to be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

While you might not want to subscribe to the SBTi initiative, this definition is helpful in understanding that ultimately reducing emissions to zero as an individual organisation is unlikely to be feasible and any approach taken must consider both reduction and offsetting

The SBTi definition is also helpful in making it clear that achieving net zero by 2050 will not be easy and will likely need to be done in stages, continually improving your position. “Continual improvement”, being the core strength of environmental management systems, means using the requirements of an ISO 14001 EMS to achieve net zero is a no-brainer.

In this article, you will learn which ISO 14001 requirements are relevant for achieving net-zero; and which other standards might be useful. Please note that we’re assuming you’re already familiar with the basics of ISO 14001 environmental management systems. If that’s not the case, I recommend you read What is ISO 14001 and How to implement ISO 14001 first.

We will cover the following:

  1. Why is ISO 14001 useful in achieving net zero?
  2. ISO 14001 and Carbon Reduction Plans
  3. Which ISO 14001 requirements are relevant in achieving net zero?
  4. What is PAS 2060, and how does it relate to an ISO 14001 EMS and net zero?

Reading time: 6 minutes

Why is ISO 14001 useful in achieving net zero?

The primary objectives of ISO 14001 are:

  • to help your organisation minimise its negative environmental impact and consequently protect the environment
  • to help mitigate the impact of climate-change on your business
  • to help you meet the ever-growing list of compliance obligations in relation to pollution, improper waste management, degradation of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity and other impacts your business might have on the environment

These objectives of ISO 14001 all relate to the goal of achieving net zero. Despite not directly addressing net zero emissions concepts, the framework and requirements of ISO 14001 can be used as a tool to help your organisation identify and implement plans to reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions until you reach net zero.

By following the requirements of ISO 14001, your organisation will also adopt a model of continuous improvement to your environmental performance. This means the plans you define initially will be continuously reviewed for their effectiveness, and improved as you learn from their implementation and as new opportunities arise.

You could argue this can be done without ISO 14001 certification, and you would be right. In my experience, however, there’s nothing like the pressure of an external auditor scrutinising your EMS, and the prospect of losing your certificate, to whip people into action and for resources to be allocated.

ISO 14001 and Carbon Reduction plans

For many businesses, having a plan to achieve net zero is becoming a reality through government procurement policy.

The UK government procurement notice PPN 06/21 published in June 2021 mandates that carbon reduction plans be taken into account in the procurement of major government contracts. Almost two years on, this procurement policy is now having a real impact on the UK supply chain as public sector frameworks are being renewed.

If gaining access to large public sector contracts is part of your business strategy, your business will need to determine its baseline carbon footprint, produce a carbon reduction plan highlighting actions to achieve net zero and evidence their implementation.

Using an ISO 14001 framework will greatly improve your ability to produce the plan, implement it and monitor its success. Producing the plan is only the beginning, however. You will need to measure year-on-year how you are doing and update the plan and demonstrate your business is on the right path.

The standard’s formalised structure and continual improvement approach makes it easy to set objectives, implement policies, procedures, deliver carbon reduction initiatives, and then review and assess their effectiveness. This cycle of assessment and improvement is a pivotal part of using ISO 14001 to achieve net zero.

Which ISO 14001 requirements are relevant in achieving net zero?

As an ISO Management system following the Annex SL structure (for the real ISO geeks, see Annex SL guidance documents), ISO 14001 has 10 clauses, with clauses 4 to 10 outlining the requirements. A “requirement” refers to every instance of using the word “shall” in the standard. I outline below the key locations in the standard where instances of “shall” are relevant if you decide to use an ISO 14001 EMS to manage and monitor the effectiveness of your carbon reduction plan in reaching net zero.

Clause 4 - Context of the organisation

The requirements in this clause will ask you to identify the stakeholders demanding you set plans to achieve net zero and understand their exact needs and expectations. For example, this could be The Crown Commercial Service asking you to produce a Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) that follows a certain template, includes certain scope 3 emissions as defined by the GHG Protocol, is updated at a certain frequency, signed and approved by your top management, etc.

There are also requirements in this clause asking for processes to be defined – this could relate to the process of keeping the CRPs updated and produced in line with the requirements of multiple clients. Annoyingly, different corporate clients seem to have different requirements, so producing one CRP that can be published to all clients is not always possible.

Clause 5 - Leadership

The key requirement in this clause places an obligation on your top management to ensure resources are allocated to the EMS so it can achieve its objectives.

Clause 6 - Planning

This clause is a perfect match for producing a CRP and achieving net zero. There are requirements to:

  • Determine the environmental aspects of your activities and their impact (i.e. calculate your organisation’s carbon footprint)
  • Determine the compliance obligations and how they apply to your organisation (e.g. regarding carbon reporting such as SECR, customer requirements to provide a CRP, etc)
  • Set objectives (i.e. achieving net zero)
  • Plan action to take to address environmental impacts and reach objectives

Clause 8 - Operation

In this clause there are requirements to determine and consider the environmental impacts of your products and services throughout their entire lifecycle and take action to control or influence their control by other parties in the supply chain. This is aligned with the UK government requirement to include some Scope 3 emissions in your CRP.

Clause 9 - Performance evaluation

All management system standards require measures to be defined, targets to be set and on-going monitoring to take place to determine if objectives are being met. ISO 14001 is the same and so aligns directly with the need to calculate carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and monitor the effectiveness of the actions taken to reach net zero.

The internal audit and management review requirements in this clause will also make sure that your top team will be made aware if plans are not fully implemented, e.g. procedures not followed, policies not understood.

Clause 10 - Improvement

Finally, the continual improvement requirements of this clause will make sure you make progress towards the ultimate goal of achieving net zero.   

What is the PAS 2060, and how does it relate to an ISO 14001 EMS and net zero?

ISO 14001 is a management system standard which means it is an approach to manage activities with a view to achieving objectives on an on-going basis.

PAS 2060, on the other hand, is a verification by an external certification body that you have achieved carbon neutrality.

PAS 2060 is a way to demonstrate your organisation’s claims to net zero emissions and carbon neutrality are substantiated and externally verified. The PAS 2060 is an international standard developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) that can allow your organisation to confidently say, “I am carbon neutral.”

The PAS 2060 and ISO 14001 are not directly related, but they complement each other. Certification to both ISO 14001 and PAS 2060 allows your organisation to effectively manage its environmental responsibilities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and claim carbon neutrality.

Picture of Elisabeth Belisle

Elisabeth Belisle

Elisabeth is an Associate Consultant and Associate Tutor of the British Standards Institute (BSI), a BSI qualified Lead Auditor and member of the Standard Committee responsible for the publication of the BS 10008 Standard.

Elisabeth can help you decide if ISO 14001 is for you and support you through its implementation, all the way to certification.

Author picture

Ask Elisabeth about achieving
ISO 14001