ISO’s New Climate Requirements | Quality Digest

The DOE Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) add this service: “Small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) may be eligible to receive a no-cost energy assessment provided by more than 50 Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) around the country.”  In addition, “Facilities or organizations that achieve sustained excellence using their energy management systems (EnMS) may get certified to the Superior Energy Performance 50001 (SEP 50001) program and achieve elevated levels of DOE recognition.” Organizations can therefore receive free assistance that will help them achieve ISO 50001:2018 certification and, of course, save a lot of money in the process.

Pay attention to material waste

Clause 4.2—“Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties,” adds, “NOTE 2: Relevant interested parties can have requirements related to climate change.” Whether our organization or the relevant interested parties in question should carry any related costs needs to be open to serious discussion.

Wasted materials also represent wasted money. Wasted food also translates into carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions)—equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. This estimate does not include the significant methane emissions from food waste rotting in landfills.

The ISO 50001:2018 standard for energy management systems includes an energy gap analysis with the purpose of finding the difference between the amount of energy a job uses and the amount it really needs. We must, however, look outside the factory’s walls to see how our supply chain uses energy. Anything with a motor and wheels, wings, or a hull requires energy to move. The amount of energy is roughly proportional to the distance moved, which is a strong argument for shorter supply chains. Energy not used is, even if renewable, probably fungible with fossil fuels through the power grid. That is, if we have surplus renewable energy, we can sell it back to the power grid, which means somebody won’t have to burn fossil fuels to produce it.

Are we or our supplier located in a flood plain, or near an ocean that can cause flooding under hurricane conditions? If so, what protects our continuity of operations?

We’ve seen so far that organizations can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at a financial gain that can be shared with all stakeholders, by removing wastes of energy and materials from the supply chain. This is far preferable to carbon footprint assessments, carbon neutrality, carbon offsets, and net zero, all of which cost money and none of which add value. In addition, climate change is indeed relevant if it creates risks to continuity of operations, whether at one’s own factory or anywhere in the supply chain.

“Worse than futile” means we spend money and still get the climate change. King Canute’s futile command that the tide not come in is highly instructive, but at least he didn’t spend any money in an attempt to stop it. He gave the command in question to prove, in fact, that he couldn’t command nature as his subjects had hoped. The United Nations can similarly issue any number of climate goals until doomsday, and nature is going to do exactly as it pleases.

What happens if a climate-driven weather event like a tornado or hurricane causes an electrical power outage? Even a momentary outage can, depending on the process, damage a substantial amount of product. Do we need uninterruptible power supplies or backup generators? What happens if a drought or frost affects crops upon which we’re dependent? Futures trading is a well-established way to mitigate these risks, and weather futures are now available. What happens if a blizzard closes major roads? Henry Ford had contingency plans to reroute rail shipments if a flood washed out a bridge.

This is a strong argument for pushback against “requirements related to climate change” such as carbon neutrality and carbon-footprint reporting. My inclination would be for suppliers to treat these requirements as they would other special requests from customers by imposing a transparent surcharge to cover all the costs. Transparency means showing the customers in question the actual costs, and their allocation (possibly by sales volume) among customers with the requirements in question. There would be no markup for the costs in question (e.g., if they amount to $250,000, then  customers with climate requirements would pay collectively exactly $250,000 for the extra services). Whether these customers would agree is open to question. But the alternative would be to add costs for all customers, many of whom would regard them as junk fees.

Pursue energy efficiency

Those who reside in northeast Pennsylvania know the Susquehanna River is scenic and attractive while it remains inside its banks, but it largely destroyed the city of Wilkes-Barre when it overflowed in 1973 during Hurricane Agnes. Chrysler and General Motors lost production time when the Susquehanna flooded the Autoneum auto carpet plant during Hurricane Lee in 2011. This resulted in improved flooding protection to prevent similar incidents in the future.1

Clause 4.1—“Understanding the organization and its context,” adds, “The organization shall determine whether climate change is a relevant issue.” While it might be tempting to reply simply, “no,” it’s relevant if it creates risks to continuity of operations.

Climate change is real, and therefore important. Even if it weren’t, we would still want to remove all forms of material and energy waste from our supply chain to reduce costs. Its effect on weather can meanwhile create genuine risks to continuity of operations, and these must be taken seriously.


Also pay attention to advancing technology in renewable energy and energy-efficient products. Solar panels are less expensive today than they were five or 10 years ago. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are far more efficient than incandescent lights, and the quality of the light is now comparable or even better.

The U.S. Department of Energy, meanwhile, offers numerous resources, some of which are free to small and medium businesses, to help eliminate energy waste. “The U.S. Department of Energy’s 50001 Ready program recognizes facilities and organizations that attest to the implementation of an ISO 50001-based energy management system,” it states. “The program is a self-paced, no-cost way for organizations to build a culture of structured energy improvement that leads to deeper and sustained savings that does not require any external audits or certifications. 50001 Ready partners with utilities and other organizations that support and facilitate the implementation of 50001 Ready energy management systems.”

The Eisenhower Matrix would define climate change as important but not urgent. It’s important because it’s a fact of nature regardless of the portion that is due to human activities, and it influences weather that creates risks to supply chains and continuity of operations. It’s not urgent because 1) those who say it’s urgent don’t behave as though it is; and 2) expenditures in an attempt to stop it are likely to be worse than futile.

Had commercial power been available during the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin might have told us that a kilowatt-hour saved is the cost of a kilowatt-hour earned. Franklin wrote of this principle, “Save and have.” Energy not used translates into lower prices for customers, higher wages for employees, and higher profits for investors.

Henry Ford wrote that everybody and everything in a supply chain must either produce or get out. Sellers of carbon offsets, carbon credits, and cost-ineffective renewable energy don’t produce and therefore have no place in the supply chain. 

In addition, “The Better Plants program works with leading U.S. manufacturers and wastewater treatment agencies to set ambitious energy, water, waste, and carbon reduction goals. By partnering with industry, the Better Plants program aims to help leading manufacturers boost efficiency, increase resilience, strengthen economic competitiveness, and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Remember, it’s your management system. The ISO Auditing Practices Group makes it clear that, although auditors are entitled to their own opinions as to whether climate change is sufficiently urgent to require diversion of resources to carbon neutrality, net zero, and so on, they’re not entitled to their own standards: “The role of the auditors is to assess whether the organization determined if climate change issues are relevant or not in relation to their QMS and its intended results and, if that is the case, then how it is addressed within the QMS.”

Important but not urgent

1. Thomas Lawson, P.E. “Bloomsburg Flood Management Project.” Keystone PSPE meeting. April 9, 2017.


An obvious course of action is to donate unsellable but edible food to those who need it, for which Chick-fil-A’s Shared Table is an example. Food that is not fit for human consumption can often be fed to livestock, and the EPA’s Wasted Food Scale shows options in descending order of preference. Some may say that pigs will eat almost anything, but there are regulations as to what one can actually give them. The basic idea is to find a use for everything and not throw away anything serviceable; the landfill is the last resort.

The ability to grow meat in bioreactors should not only reduce the price of meat (as there is no need to raise and then slaughter an entire animal). It will also eliminate all animal cruelty issues along with low-wage and often unsafe jobs in meat packing factories, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. The same reasoning applies to production of leather by bioreactors.

Risks to continuity of operations

Organizations should determine what process they use to identify and mitigate all risks to continuity of operations, regardless of whether they are climate-related. If such a process doesn’t exist, the organization needs to create it and use it. This process and its outputs then become objective evidence for auditors that the organization has 1) determined that climate change is relevant; and 2) has acted to identify and address the associated risks.

The actual amendments are as follows:

It’s also best to self-audit with questions that require a narrative rather than a yes or no response. “Do we have a process to identify and mitigate risks to our supply chain and continuity of operations?” invites a yes/no response, or “checking the box,” without the need for real detail behind this response. Ask instead, “What is our process? How frequent are the risk assessments? Where are the outputs of this process documented, and how are they made available to those who need to act on them? Who, by job title, is responsible for acting on them?”

Although this is pursuant to the London Declaration, which has goals for decarbonization and limitations on climate change, the amendments fortunately don’t require any commitment to achieve a “climate agenda” by 2050. Affected standards include, among others, ISO 9001 (quality management systems), ISO 14001 (environmental management systems), ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety), and ISO 50001 (energy management systems).

IATF 16949 Clause, which isn’t found in ISO 9001:2015 but is well worth attention, requires contingency plans to ensure continuity of operations. The closest corresponding ISO 9001:2015 clause is 6.1.2, which requires plans for actions to address risks and opportunities. Force majeure, or greater force, is often found in contracts that say no party can be held accountable for failure to perform due to events beyond its control.

The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO have published a joint communiqué to require organizations to “consider” climate change in the context of risks and opportunities relevant to the management system.