ISO 14001 – Environmental aspects

Health & Safety ISO 45001

“Environmental aspects” are the core part of the ISO 14001 standard.

Environmental aspects are the ways your organisation interacts with the environment. These can have either positive or negative impacts on the environment. Identifying the environmental aspects relevant to your organisation, quantifying the size of their impact on the environment and understanding the degree of control you have over their impact enables you to identify which environmental aspects are most significant.

Environmental aspects

An environmental aspect is an element of an organisation’s activities, products, or services that can interact with the environment. These can include discharges to water, emissions to air, waste products and use of natural resources and materials. They occur through the entire life-cycle of the products and services you provide and include the activities of your supply chain and your customers.

ISO 14001 standard requires you to identify all environmental aspects relevant to your organisations’ activities and the products and services it provides. Usually, this is done by building an inventory of the activities and processes such as purchasing specific raw materials and identifying for each of these ways in which they do or potentially could impact the environment – either positively or negatively.

There are systematic ways of producing this list such as value chain analysis, process mapping product life-cycle analysis. The method you adopt should also consider future potential environmental aspects due to planned or anticipated changes in your activities, products and services, the supply chains use and/or compliance requirements. It should not ignore any environmental aspects relating to historical business activities which still do, or have the potential to, interact with the environment.

The results of this work are often then best crossed checked against the results of other areas of work undertaken to comply with ISO 14001 such as risk assessments, identification of legal requirements, identification of other compliance requirements.

Environmental aspects and environmental impacts

In addition to identifying the different ways your organisation interact with the environment (environmental aspects), ISO 14001 also requires you to assess the impact each aspect has on the environment. This assessment needs to cover both the way it impacts is, for example, the release of gases to air or consumption of natural resources and the degree with which they degrade or improve the environment.

Organisations with office-based activities will have a shortlist of environmental aspects with low impact. Examples include the energy used in the building, emissions from air conditioning and waste within the wastewater.

By contrast, the heavy industry will have a longer list of environmental aspects with significant impacts. Examples might include significant emissions from chimneys, toxic waste products, or significantly polluting discharges to water.

Significant Environmental aspects

To ensure that the environmental management system is designed and maintained so your organisation can best improve its environmental impact, ISO 14001 requires you to identify those environmental aspects that you assess or classify as significant.

To do this requires a systematic approach that is applied consistently to each of your environmental aspects and takes into account relevant factors such as:

  • Their relative environmental impact – often related to their quantity (e.g. tonnes per year) and nature (e.g. hazardous waste vs. non-hazardous waste);
  • The frequency with which they occur or are likely to occur;
  • The degree of control or influence that you have over the aspect;
  • Whether or not they are subject to legal requirements or other compliance requirements.

Building and Maintaining your Environmental Management System (EMS)

Your significant environmental aspects should strongly influence the processes, policies, procedures, objectives and controls you design and implement in your management system. Each of these elements should ensure that they are appropriately managed to achieve compliance with legal requirements and other requirements and your organisations desired environmental performance.

  • To design, implement and maintain each of these elements effectively you will need:
  • To collaborate effectively on data gathering and analysis
  • To efficiently disseminate accurate and up to documentation
  • Ongoing access to information on environmental legal requirements, relevant to your activities, products and services
  • Methods for communicating and progress tracking actions
  • To maintain well-organised records

Best in Class EMS Management Tools

To implement and maintain an effective EMS that is compliant with ISO 14001, many organisations are adopting on-line software systems that provide some or all features required to support the elements detailed above.

One system that provides tools to cover all of these is Activ. Activ’s class-leading suite of tools include:

  • Process management for clear and comprehensive documentation and communication of your EMS processes
  • File management for file collaboration, organisation of records and change and access control of policies, procedures and forms
  • Centralised action tracking and performance analysis via an Improvement Log
  • High-level business risk assessment
  • A comprehensive database of UK environmental legislation with auto-generated lists of relevant requirements and tailored updates.

Find out more by booking an Activ demo.