Systematically identifying relevant ISO 14001 environmental aspects in implementing an EMS.
This is fundamental to the effectiveness of an Environmental Management System (EMS), as well as ensuring that your organization meets ISO 14001 requirements for certification.
Definition of Environmental Aspects
Environmental Aspects refer to the elements of an organization's activities, products, or services that interact with the environment.
Identifying and understanding Environmental Aspects is a crucial step in the development and implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS) that complies with the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard.
ISO 14001 and Environmental Aspects
ISO 14001 provides a structured framework for identifying, assessing, and managing environmental aspects, making sure that organizations minimize their environmental footprint and are adhering to sustainable practices.
Below are some critical points in ISO 14001 that relate to Environmental Aspects.
- Identification: You need to identify all aspects of your activities, products, and services that can potentially interact with the environment. This includes both direct and indirect aspects.
- Assessment: Each identified environmental aspect should be evaluated to determine its significance. Significance is typically determined by considering the aspects' potential environmental impacts, the frequency of occurrence, and the legal and regulatory requirements associated with them.
- Impact Evaluation: Environmental aspects can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. Because of this, you should assess and prioritize these aspects based on their potential to cause harm or benefit the environment.
- Documentation: ISO 14001 requires organizations to document their process for identifying and assessing environmental aspects. This documentation is typically part of the EMS and includes the criteria for evaluating significance.
- Monitoring and Control: You need to establish controls and procedures to manage and reduce the significant environmental aspects. This may involve setting objectives and targets for improvement, implementing operational controls, and monitoring progress.
- Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations is an essential part of managing environmental aspects. You must ensure that your organization meets all legal requirements related to your significant aspects.
- Continuous Improvement: ISO 14001 promotes a commitment to continual improvement. This makes it important to regularly review and reassess your company’s environmental aspects and their significance to adapt to changing circumstances and improve your environmental performance.
Why are Environmental Aspects Important to ISO 14001 Implementation?
Environmental Aspects, as outlined in ISO 14001 Clause 6.1.2, are essential to ISO 14001 implementation. This is because failing to include them will:
- Undermine the credibility of EMS with stakeholders (if a customer spots a significant omission, what will that say to them about your organization?), and represent a loss to your business (perhaps, a major cost-saving missed) and unnecessary damage to the environment.
- Also, as an ISO 14001 Lead Implementer or EMS Consultant, you will not want to leave significant omissions for an External Auditor to find. And you will want an environmental aspects and impacts register ISO 14001 compliant.
Examples of Environmental Aspects
Environmental aspects cover various elements of an organization's activities, products, or services that interact with the environment. By identifying and understanding these aspects, you can effectively integrate environmental considerations into your operations in accordance with ISO 14001 standards.
Here are some examples of environmental aspects you need to know...
- Energy Usage: This includes aspects related to energy consumption, such as electricity and fuel, within an organization's operations. Energy use can have a significant environmental impact, particularly if it relies on non-renewable energy sources.
- Water Quality Management: Organizations that discharge wastewater into water bodies need to consider the impact on water quality and ecosystems.
- Emissions: Emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide), air pollutants (e.g., sulfur dioxide), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are important aspects, especially for industries with combustion processes or chemical operations.
- Waste Management: The generation of solid waste, hazardous waste, or wastewater is a common environmental aspect. Proper waste management and recycling efforts can help mitigate the environmental impact.
- Chemical Usage: The use and handling of chemicals in manufacturing, cleaning, or other processes can impact the environment. Managing chemical use and minimizing spills or releases are critical.
- Biodiversity Impact: Activities that encroach on natural habitats, deforestation, or pollution that affect local ecosystems and wildlife are also environmental aspects.
- Noise Pollution - Noise and vibrations from industrial processes or construction activities can be considered environmental aspects. Noise pollution prevention, therefore, must be carefully planned if your organization is operating in areas with sensitive ecosystems or residential neighborhoods.
- Resource Depletion: Aspects related to the depletion of natural resources, such as minerals, timber, or fossil fuels, are important to consider in the context of sustainability and environmental impact.
- Land Use and Land Contamination: The use of land for industrial or agricultural purposes and potential land contamination from chemicals or pollutants are significant aspects.
- Packaging and Product Design: The choice of materials and the design of products and packaging can influence the environmental impact, including resource use, emissions, and waste generation.
- Transportation: For organizations involved in transportation, the type of vehicles used, fuel efficiency, and maintenance practices can be environmental aspects.
- Sustainable Procurement: The choice of suppliers, materials, and products can influence the environmental impact. Ensuring sustainable and eco-friendly procurement practices is an aspect to consider.
COVID-19's Impact on Organizations' Environmental Aspects
The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are, at this time, unquantifiable. However, we already know that used PPE is already turning up in our seas. The environment is not a top priority for the man-in-the-street, and PPE waste will not be the only new environmental aspect the virus and its consequences will introduce.
How to Identify the Environmental Aspects of Your Organisation
Look at the Process from a Life Cycle Perspective
When implementing ISO 14001:2015, identifying all applicable environmental aspects is fundamental. And in determining those environmental aspects, you must consider a life cycle perspective. The life cycle stages that are applicable will vary depending on the activity, product, or service.
You need to determine or re-determine the environmental aspects within the scope of the environmental management system. Take into account the inputs and outputs (both intended and unintended) that are associated with current and relevant past activities, products, and services; planned or new developments; and new or modified activities, products, and services.
In the future, this will have to include new or revised systems of working. How, for example, will your EMS address home working, which will fall within the scope of your EMS?
Know What to Include in Your Organization's Environmental Aspects
The method used should consider normal and abnormal operating conditions, shut-down and start-up conditions, as well as reasonably foreseeable emergencies. Attention should be paid to prior occurrences of emergency situations.
You do not have to consider each product, component, or raw material individually to determine and evaluate their environmental aspects. You may group or categorize activities, products, and services when they have common characteristics.
Look Into the Environmental Aspects that Your Organization Can Influence
In addition to the environmental aspects that it can control directly, an organization determines whether there are environmental aspects that it can influence.
These can be related to products and services used by the organization provided by others, as well as products and services that it offers to others, including those associated with outsourced processes.
For products and services provided to others, it can have limited influence on the use and end-of-life treatment of the products and services.
Ultimately, it is the organization that determines the extent of control it can exercise, the environmental aspects it can influence, and the extent to which it chooses to exercise such influence.
Seek Help with Identifying Other Environmental Aspects
It is unlikely that one person is capable of satisfactorily completing this exercise alone. A team of persons with relevant experience and expertise is needed. Primarily, the team you need will be working for your organization but external experts may also be required.
If you need more clarification, talk to a reputable expert/consultant and their clients before engaging their services. Begin the identification of Environmental Aspects by brainstorming with your Team.
And deGRANDSON Training will always help...
One of our ISO 14001 Series of Courses, ISO 14001 Lead Implementer, includes detailed identification, risk analysis, and risk treatment of Environmental Aspects.
Alternatively, suppose you want a quick refresher on ISO 14001. In that case, you can also get answers to frequently asked questions about the standard, the training involved, and the certification process on our ISO 14001 FAQ post.
- ISO 14001 Consultancy: How to be an EMS Consultant?
- How to do an ISO 14001 Gap Analysis
- ISO 14001 Free Implementation Handbook (100+ pages)
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