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Dr Ann Smith - leading the change towards credible carbon reduction

Ann Smiths talks about how being involved in standards helps her lead change toward carbon zero New Zealand.

ann smith international standards committee member

‘Everyone needs some level of carbon literacy, in order to know what needs to be done and why,’ says Dr Ann Smith, aka Professor Zer0.

Indeed, with a need for concerted social, global change to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, we all need to understand the nature of the problem.

Ann is Convenor of the International Review Group representing New Zealand on the international standards being developed by the ISO subcommittee, which looks at greenhouse gas management and related activities – SC7. The work of SC7 includes carbon footprint quantification, reporting, validation and verification, accreditation and climate change adaptation and green finance and investment.

We should all take heart that leading minds like Dr Ann Smith are helping shape the standards that form the backbone of international policies that will help countries worldwide address climate change. An established author, international academic, chartered environmental manager, and former CEO of certification body Toitū Envirocare, Ann demonstrates not just a depth of technical knowledge, but a lifelong career of measurable impact as a visionary leader, innovator and influencer.

‘In 2007 I oversaw New Zealand’s first and only accreditation to ISO 14065 at Enviro-Mark Solutions (now Toitū Envirocare), which assesses greenhouse gas validation and verification. As home of the carbonzero, carbonreduce and enviromark certification programmes I was there at the beginning of the conversation when these now common concepts were coming to fruition. These days there is high demand for these certifications throughout all business sectors.’

Twenty years ago we would not have been having quite the same conversation.

‘We knew there was global warming and a need to reduce carbon emissions but we had not yet seen the severity of climate change-related destruction. There’s no dispute now that there is an urgent need for climate change action throughout all trade and global supply chains.’

‘Developing standards really teases out the complexities of trade. To illustrate, some companies may focus on the benefits of a product being ‘local’ in their marketing, however that product, while originating in New Zealand may have gone to India to be cleaned, Italy to be processed, the US to be fabricated and then back to New Zealand as a finished product. Tracking the carbon footprint across the entire supply chain is not so simple but so necessary for full transparency.’

So where do standards fit into the solution?

‘To know whether we are making real change requires measuring and verification, and having a baseline figure to begin with. If you were asked to track your carbon, where would you start? There are many companies out there reporting on their carbon footprint using a variety of different measurement methods, and so how can we be sure of the validity? Some may simply see it as a box ticking exercise while other companies put in enormous efforts to all possible sources of carbon emissions in their measurement. We need standards to provide consistency in measuring and reporting. We need the ability to call out those that are ‘greenwashing’, but also acknowledge good companies that effectively use standards to genuinely improve the way they operate.’

Carbon reduction is one area that permeates through every single sector and every aspect of life and business.

‘Think about the carbon footprint from the breakfast you eat in the morning, to how you travel to work and the type of work you do and how you do it. The products we buy, how they get to us and from where, how they are packaged and the waste we produce. Every single aspect of our lives creates carbon emissions. I’d argue there are few standards out there that have such a wide reaching impact or such a pressing need as the ISO standards for quantifying and reporting greenhouse gas emissions.’

‘Developing a suite of standards needs to incorporate the interests of the full gamut of stakeholders – from product development and organisational practice to the supply chain distribution, investment and finance. Being consensus built, standards require negotiation. It’s no easy task when you consider that the development of a standard might involve 40 or more international contributors, each bringing different geographical or demographical or sometimes political perspectives that need consideration.’

‘It is rewarding however, when I can look at international standards and see the distinct flavour, or influence we’ve brought through New Zealand’s contribution. While we might not be leaders in environmental performance, we are seen as thought leaders and innovative and we do have influence.’

Do standards make a difference?

‘Toitū has certified hundreds of companies across New Zealand, Australia and the United Kindom for their carbon credentials. This offers assurance to export markets that New Zealand exporters are not ‘greenwashing’ but taking genuine steps to improve environmental performance. Toitū’s application of the ISO standards sits behind accreditation, and as the standards are built through international consensus, this maintains our national reputation and the integrity of the sector.’

‘I have no doubt that using the ISO standards does give competitive edge. Having standards keeps what I call “carbon cowboys” at bay, and sets a high bar to those that make carbon claims with no credibility, nor clear and trusted verification processes. Whereas using ISO standards provides an internationally agreed baseline for confidence and validity.’

Why get involved?

‘Being involved in standards development is beneficial to certification and verification providers too as they get to anticipate and prepare for changes that may be coming. It absolutely makes strategic sense, especially for industry groups, to keep an eye on what’s coming down the road.’

‘With standards also playing a key role in climate change adaptation, we need to see more local government involvement to reflect local needs and challenges. Area specific experts keep that broad lens so standards can apply across all situations. Unlike many technical standards which can be quite narrow in application, environmental standards must be able to be applied to a multitude of sectors.’

So how do we make real change?

‘You need to ask yourself what change can you make as a business and as a consumer? Making conscientious choices and challenging where there is an absence of environmental impact consideration, sustainability reporting or simply ‘greenwashing’ will help keep businesses and supply chains honest. Because, look outside the window; the world is burning, it’s flooding and if we’re going to reach net zero carbon emissions we’re all going to need to do our part.’

‘For credibility of New Zealand’s clean green image, we need certification against environmental standards. Standards will form the basis for the carbon neutral government programme and achieving New Zealand’s 2050 goals.’