An Interview With Kit Oung – Diving into International Standards

Kit Oung is an internationally recognised and highly respected energy and resource efficiency specialist. He consults commercial, industrial and public organisations across five continents on energy and environmental management, health and safety and Operational Excellence.

Kit is the author of several books and chairs a variety of committees that develop internationally recognised standards. He served on IChemE’s congress, their energy community of practice and is a judge at their annual sustainability awards.

Kit holds both a BEng in Chemical Process Engineering & Fuel Technology and an MSc in Environmental and Energy Engineering from Sheffield University.

Following our interview with the new director of certification at CIBSE Certification Limited. We sat down with Kit to find out more about international standards.

Q) For non-industry readers, what is energy and resource productivity?

All organisations consume materials, energy, and water, and generate waste. Even in an office, resources are consumed and waste is disposed of. Energy and resource productivity is about determining how efficiently and effectively are resources consumed, how much waste is generated, and what opportunities are available to reduce consumption and waste generation.

From an organisational perspective, the starting point for energy and resource efficiency is cost savings and compliance with legal and customer requirements. As they mature in their management practices, the corporation’s voluntary stewardship towards the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) will become a driver for energy and resource productivity.

Q) How has it changed over the last 25 years?

Here’s the funny thing about energy and resource productivity. In non-religious settings and English, the subject has been around since 1865. Many of the religious texts from Buddhism, Hinduism, Jewish, Christianity and Islam do talk about the importance of living with each own means and the consequence of living a life in excess.

In the last 25 years, the concept and essence of why energy and resource productivity did not change. The names we refer to it and the urgency for it have risen dramatically. From an ecological footprint perspective, we as humans are consuming resources, on average, at a rate of 4-6 times the size of Planet Earth. This is unsustainable and there is only 1 planet that we know of that can sustain human life. The rise of climate change, environmental disasters, and how they impact human life is shedding a lot of light on the importance of using resources responsibly. During the recent pandemic and lockdowns, the world has also seen that it is possible to create an environmentally healthy and socially abundant society.

All these led to a renewed call for the post-pandemic recovery to be a greener, healthier, and socially responsible one. In short, the world needs and wants more energy and resource productivity!

Q) What have been your greatest achievements or your biggest challenges to date within the sector?

I think my greatest achievement is my involvement in developing PAS 51215 which defines the competencies of a UK ESOS Lead Assessor. In 2022-2024, I was again involved in the revision of PAS 51215 into 2 documents – Part 1 deals with an energy and decarbonisation process, and Part 2 deals with the competencies of a lead assessor and assessment team. Both documents will be part of the UK Government’s initiative to incorporate net zero requirements in organisations.

My biggest challenge, through becoming less and less nowadays, is in persuading companies to implement recommendations for improving their energy and resource productivity. As an external consultant, I take pride in identifying opportunities and seeing them implemented. I come to realise that organisations are by and large at a different level of maturity when it comes to energy and resource productivity. Try as you might, some can’t see a need or a means to help themselves. Others will need to come to their conclusions at their own time.

Q) Working across 5 continents, do you see different trends in how energy efficiency is addressed by organisations?

There are some generalities on how people in different continents approach and deal with energy. For example, in the Far East, the decision and power are at the very top of the companies. You can see how employees look towards the top team when there is an opportunity for improvement. This also translates to how far-eastern companies’ approach and implement the opportunities.

As another example, in Europe, decisions and power are at a lower level when it comes to energy and resource productivity projects. However, at this lower level, they tend to be less strategic but more tactical levels, all within their areas of responsibility. The glass ceiling where top management involvement is required tends to be avoided.

Anyhow, regardless of the differences, the same spread of maturity levels exists. Some are never-ever. Some are done and dusted. And there’s a big majority in the middle that exhibits some form of mental block when it comes to energy and resource productivity. All of the issues are often known and simple, but solutions to them are not easy and accepting [organisational] “politically” speaking.

Q) You chair BSI committees that develop management systems such as ISO 50002, ISO 14002-2 and PAS 51215. What’s it like to chair these committees and lead a diverse group of industry professionals?

Acting as a convenor or a project lead can be a very fun experience. To a large extent, you will have a lot of opportunities to parlay with international experts all having similar backgrounds and experience. Due to the geographies and cultures, you can see the same issue from different perspectives.

As a convenor, you’ll also need to balance the time pressure of developing the standards against weighing up the opinions of the panel of experts. Often, disagreements are not significant, but it is a matter of finding the right choice or choices of words to frame the requirements and recommendations. Some experts take a longer time to realise they are all talking the same thing!

Q) Alongside chairing these groups, you also review many standards. What goes into creating a standard? How long can it take?

There are not many standards that are developed from scratch. Even ISO’s popular management systems standards, like ISO 9001 (quality), 14001 (environment), 45001 (occupational health and safety), and 50001 (energy) are all based on a common structure and previous versions of the same standard or are adapted from other standards.

Many of the standards I work on are not new but are adaptations from another standard. Take ISO 50002 and ISO 14002-2 as an example, they are not developed from scratch. A base document, EN 16247-1 and ISO 14001 and ISO 14002-1 exist. In this case, it’s about identifying what new concepts need to be added and where, agree on the language, and the standard is good to go for 5 years before it is reviewed.

Q) What has been your favourite standard to work on?

I do not have a favourite standard to work on. I come to realise that the standards committee are only as good as the convenor/project leader’s leadership. Committees that are problematic tend to be led by ineffective convenors. Committees that publish ‘difficult to understand’ standards are led by convenors who value precision over usability. I can only hope the standards I am involved with are useful and used widely. For me, it is the reach and use that is important.

Having said that, at the end of every standard, I tell myself that’s the last standard I’ll work on. It only lasts until someone asked me to lead another one!

Q) How could someone in the industry participate in these committees or even chair one?

In the UK, the national standards body is the British Standards Institute (BSI). Contacting BSI can be a nightmare as there are many divisions with firewalls between them due to the functions and the need to exert independence in their work.

In a nutshell, I’d say, find a standard that you are keen or interested in participating. You will need to be a member of a professional body or a trade association. It’s the body that nominates you to specific BSI committees. If the committee exists, you can be added to the team. The UK tends to be very active in a large range of standards, so, chances are, you will find a team exists.

Q) Where do you see the future of standards heading? Will we see more comprehensive standards around GHG emissions reporting or net zero?

There are two types of management systems standards: the ISO standards and private company standards. Most people do not know the difference between the standards, but they all work on the same elements. B2B companies tend to prefer ISO standards, and B2C tends to prefer B-Corp standards. Beneath these certifiable standards are standards used by professional service firms such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and even Carbon Trust’s standards.

While all of the standards are working on the same thing, they exist for different purposes and have different assessment processes. Users need to know the advantages and disadvantages of each of the standards. What they should not be doing is to implement a host of them. Otherwise, they are being repeated many times in the company, soaking up effort and resources.

Q) What advice would you give an organisation that is embarking on their journey in implementing standards?

Before anyone implements a standard, I’d recommend doing a review of the standard and what it encompasses; the Introduction, Scope, and Terms and Definitions of all ISO standards are available for free and can be reviewed online. When you find a standard that you think is relevant to your organisation, attend training to understand its requirements before implementing it.

For ISO management systems standards, you will find a large majority of the requirements already exist in your current company. It is about using what’s already there, adapting them as appropriate, and creating the few that may not exist. Beware of any consultants who want to sell you a management system’s manual or a fill-in-the-blank template. It will do you more harm than good in the long run.

Q) Finally, what’s the most unusual standard you have come across?

ISO 3103 is a standard published specifying the method for brewing a cup of tea!

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