ISO standard will create guidelines for carbon-neutral buildings

The International Organisation for Standardisation is developing a global standard that will allow designers to certify their buildings and products as carbon neutral.

Due to be published next year, the new ISO standard will for the first time provide an internationally recognised benchmark for carbon neutrality.

It aims to clear up confusion over what the term means and how it differs from the more onerous net-zero standard.

Ian Byrne, who is chairing an international group of experts that will define the standard, said: "I'm working on an international standard that will explain to organisations how they can achieve carbon neutrality and what they can claim about it. It's attempting to come to a common definition that isn't the lowest common denominator."

Byrne added that the standard will be "probably rather stronger than what is out there in the market."

The International Organisation for Standardisation is an independent, non-governmental body that brings together standards organisations from 165 member countries. The ISO standard will build on the British Standards Institution's PAS 2060 standard, which is currently the most widely recognised benchmark. It will provide guidelines for determining the carbon impact of projects and define the kinds of offsets that will be allowable to compensate for emissions. 

Confusion over the meaning of carbon neutrality has led to numerous examples of "carbon washing" whereby companies make unsubstantiated claims about the carbon footprint of their products and buildings. Both net-zero and carbon neutrality involve reducing emissions as far as possible and then offsetting the remainder. Yet the two terms often get confused, with The Carbon Trust admitting earlier this year that explaining the difference is "a challenge".

Under net-zero, which is the benchmark standard in the race to tackle climate change, offsets must actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This can be done via methods such as afforestation and carbon capture and storage.

In addition, net-zero can only apply to organisations and entities such as cities and countries rather than individual products or buildings.

Byrne said that net-zero is "well and good, but for most organisations, net-zero is not here now and is not likely to be here before 2030 or 2035."

He said: "And that's where carbon neutrality tends to come in because carbon neutrality says that you should be on the path to net-zero."

Carbon neutrality, by contrast, is less demanding and allows offsets that do not remove atmospheric carbon. These include investing in renewable energy or buying carbon credits. 

Byrne's ISO group has yet to decide whether the new standard will cover emissions for the entire lifecycle of a building or product. He said: "The discussion we're still having is whether you do it from cradle to [factory] gate or cradle to grave, or maybe even an intermediate level where it's for the cradle to consumer." 

This article originally appeared on Dezeen

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Standards Net zero