Role of environmental aspects in an EMS
Environmental aspects are just as important for certification to the “new” ISO 14001:2015 standard as they were in the 2004 standard.
They play a key role in determining risks and opportunities, compliance obligations and environmental objectives. They are also important in the development of improvement plans and in management reviews.
So, what exactly is an environmental aspect?
It is an “element of an organisation’s activities or products or services that interacts or can interact with the environment” (ISO 14001:2015).
There are also significant environmental aspects, and the standard goes on to define these as: “one that has or can have one or more significant environmental impacts”. The criteria for significance is defined by the organisation, not by the standard.
An organisation usually makes a list of its aspects, determines the corresponding impacts, and then rates these impacts (using risk criteria and a “threshold of significance”) to determine its significant ones.
Essentially, the organisation will develop a master list, and a secondary or sub-list of significant environmental aspects.
In the standard, these two lists are used for different requirements.
The master list is used for determining risks and opportunities, and compliance obligations, and the secondary (significant) list is used for determining environmental objectives.
Significant aspects are also the ones that need to be communicated within the organisation and used in developing improvement plans. Any changes to these aspects are also reported at Management Review meetings.
Finally, how do you ensure you have identified all the environmental aspects in your organisation? Here are some items to check:
- Operations, major equipment, activity areas
- Compliance obligations
- Requirements of any site licences, permits and agreements
- Incident reports (and near misses)
- Needs and expectations of interested parties
- Off-site activities
- Upcoming new on-site developments, changes or major equipment purchases
- Any upcoming new/modified activities, products & services.