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How to Understand ISO 14001 of 2015

ISO 14001 is the internationally recognised standard for designing, implementing, and maintaining an environmental management system (EMS). With thousands of companies worldwide already complying with the standard, it probably does not require extensive introductions. However, with the introduction of the new ISO 14001, and in clause 4.3.1, the game has changed somewhat and many are confused by the environmental aspects and the relevancy to their organisations.

With environmental aspects forming key elements in the environmental management system, it is extremely important to understand the what, why, and how for successful implementation of an ISO 14001 EMS in your organisation. Let us lift the veil, giving you insight into how our environmental consultants can help your organisation become ISO 14001-compliant.

What is It?

In essence, anything classified as an environmental aspect refers to an activity or part of an activity that can interact with the surroundings; thus the environment. The interaction can be positive or negative. Several such activities or parts of activities exist in any enterprise. When you, for instance, manufacture rubber, certain chemicals will be released. The chemicals used in the manufacturing process can be emitted into the air or end up in the wastewater. How you dispose of the waste can have a positive or negative effect on the environment.

Part of being ISO 14001-compliant entails reviewing how the processes and the resultant products and waste interact with the environment. Categories of interaction range from soil pollution to emissions that can be harmful to the environment, waste that in itself is hazardous and must be disposed of in a manner that will not affect – or at least have a minimal effect – on the environment, usage of natural resources, water discharging, noise emission, and more. The surrounding community must also be taken into account. Every process in the company, regardless of the industry in which it operates, must be reviewed with the above and related interaction categories in mind. The aspects identified are the environmental aspects that your enterprise EMS must manage.

How does Control Differ from Influence?

ISO 14001 also refers to control and influence. You must assess whether you have influence or control over the environmental aspect. For instance, if you manufacture a product from raw materials with a percentage waste in the form of scrap wood or metal, you know exactly what the percentage is and through an in-house policy, you devise a method for reducing the amount of waste. Instead of ending up with 10% waste for every product manufactured, you now have only 3%. You have influence and control over the amount of waste and through an effective process, you have reduced the impact on the environment.

On the other hand, you could have the same amount of waste, but you make use of a recycling firm to remove the metal and wood wastage. You only have influence over the process since you cannot entirely control how the material will be recycled. You also do not have control over the amount of emissions from the recycling company’s vehicles. But, by making use of a recycling firm closer to you and closer to the recycling plants you are able to reduce the overall environmental effect. In this way, you influence the outcome of the environmental impact that is not directly under the control of your enterprise.

Confusion About What is Considered Significant

With the standard not listing or defining what is considered a significant aspect, many company owners are confused. However, to determine whether an environmental aspect is major or minor, first look at whether there is legislation in place in South Africa regarding the particular interaction:

  • Is there a law or regulation in place on how to dispose of body parts at a hospital boiler room?
  • Is there legislation in place on how to keep silica dust from spreading at an open-pit mine?
  • Is there a law or regulation to govern how the old oil at a vehicle workshop must be disposed of?
  • Is there a law regarding the discarding of computer parts?

If there is legislation or any regulations regarding the particular waste disposal or interaction with the environment, you can consider it a significant or major environmental aspect. If there is, for instance, a legal requirement that people working in the chemical industry must have been trained in handling the hazardous materials, it is a significant environmental aspect. If other companies within your industry perhaps have procedures regarding the removal or management of a specific form of waste, it is a major environmental aspect.

Why is it Important to Identify the Various Aspects?

You have to know which environmental aspects are relevant to your company and processes in order to make provision for them in the ISO 14001 EMS that you want to implement and maintain. These aspects will give you the data you need to list priorities in the controlling and monitoring of environmental aspects, and to determine which processes must be improved. You will need to update them regularly and where any processes change, you must update their control and monitoring, indicate how the processes have changed and what the effects on the environment are, and what you do to control the risks associated with these risks. Identification of the environmental aspects thus forms the basis for development and maintenance of a risk management approach to minimise your enterprise’s impact on the environment.

Planning is at the Heart of Success

ISO 14001 gives your enterprise the framework for assessing your company’s environmental impact and to reduce the impact, you must ensure ongoing improvement of processes and reduction of environmental impact. The revised ISO 14001, which came into effect in 2015, can be used alongside other ISO standards to ensure effective control over the impact that your organisation has on its community and the world.

How We can Help

We provide environmental consultancy services, GAP analyses and preparation assistance for certification, integration of the EMS with your existing management systems, help with migration from the old to the new version of ISO 14001, internal and external auditing services, systems development, and training. The training covers everything from internal and external auditing to environmental management, legislation, ISO 14001, leading auditing, and related aspects.