Life-cycle-perspective according to ISO 14001 – the advantages and requirements of taking a holistic view

From August 2017, all new certifications must comply with the ISO 14001:2015 standard, and from September 2018, all certificates according to the old standard ISO 14001:2004 lose their validity. The revised environmental management standard requires businesses to undertake a life cycle perspective of their goods and services. This implies looking beyond one’s own processes and considering the entire life cycle within the assessment of the significant environmental impacts. This enables the processes with the dominant environmental impacts to be revealed, which need not necessarily be one’s own production process. Depending on the type of product and use, the raw materials, transportation, use phase or disposal may be the main drivers of environmental impacts.

Only after taking a holistic approach can the processes with the greatest impacts be identified and measures prioritised, thereby leading to the greatest reductions. In addition, it avoids unknowingly transferring impacts from one stage of the life cycle to another. Even though the organisation does not have direct control or influence over all relevant environmental aspects, it is able to bear a positive influence on the activities connected to its suppliers and service providers. For instance, a life cycle perspective might point towards the significant environmental impacts of a certain good or service occurring during the use phase or disposal. Based on this insight it can identify the most effective solutions, whether these be changes in procurement, product design or better preparation and provision of information regarding the use and disposal for end users.

Minimising risks and seizing opportunities in the spirit of continuous improvement

Environmental considerations play an important role in consumers’ purchasing decisions. They also help companies keep their expenditure and overall resource consumption under control. The new ISO 14001:2015 standard recognises the value gained in identifying one’s environmental aspects as a means of taking advantage of potential opportunities as well as preparing for future threats. The norm requirement aims to identify positive and negative environmental affects (i.e. one’s opportunities and threats) at an early stage, and providing they can be controlled or influenced, that the necessary measures be taken. Aside from reducing risks, the aim is to go beyond solving environmental problems and to assess possible future opportunities. This requirement supports the continuous improvement of an organisation by strengthening its resilience against threats.

The life cycle perspective supports the overriding need to communicate one’s environment-related demands to suppliers and service providers, and if desired, to the end users, in order to have an influence that spans across the value chain.

Implementation and outputs                                                                                

Drawing on its experience in introducing management systems for its clients and in life cycle analyses, Neosys has developed effective methods and tools to help companies apply the life cycle perspective. By looking at processes performed on-site, as well as those occurring upstream and downstream, the relevant environmental impacts can be identified and presented in the form of a matrix (see figure 1). The matrix provides a succinct overview of the relevant resource consumptions, emissions and risks. The evaluation can be based on data supplied by our clients, or where such data is not available, estimated values based on industry averages. In order to provide a meaningful comparison, the semi-quantitative results are classified into high to low impact categories. The degree of impacts are determined by the type of materials and resources used, the amount of it and the environmental impacts associated with it (measured in environmental impact points).

Although, great detail produces precise results, it is unnecessary to get lost in too much detail, as the effort put in may become disproportionate to the purpose of the exercise. The standard ISO 14001:2015 explicitly mentions that no formal life cycle analysis is required, but merely a careful consideration of the product life cycle.  After all, the primary purpose of the exercise is to identify priorities.

Figure 2 shows an example for depicting the opportunities and risk associated with different life cycle stages. They are plotted against the estimated degree to which an influence can be had on the outcome. The resulting graph is often used as an aid for planning improvement measures.

Neosys 1

Figure 1: Example of the product life cycle perspective projected onto a matrix

Neosys 2

Figure 2: Example of a risk portfolio for the use phase of a product

Guest blog written by Antoinette Krügel and Mathias Breimesser, Neosys AG

Sources:

ISO 14001:2015 Standard

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