The BSI and ISO organizations have come out with a number of standards for setting up management systems. Each one has a different focus. The most commonly used one is ISO 9001 (quality). Another very popular one is ISO 14001 (environment).
We have seen many manufacturers implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) poorly. It can usually be detected with a quick look at:
- Their list of environmental aspects & impacts
- The way they applied the lifecycle perspective and its implications in the initial planning of the system
In short, it comes down to poor planning. Management is often too eager to believe consultants who bring a “solution” without forcing the organization to reflect.
Let’s look at these two topics one by one.
1. The list of environmental aspects & impacts
First, a couple of definitions
- Environmental aspect: element of an organization’s activities or products or services that interacts or can interact with the environment
- Environmental impact: change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organization’s environmental aspects
What is the starting point? The activities/processes. Here is a simple example:
All companies that are ISO 14001 certified have a register of these environmental aspects & impacts. However, in many cases, that list was copied & pasted from that of another company, with minor changes. That is indicative of poor planning and inadequate responses to those impacts.
Another common issue is centering this analysis on the processes that take place between the company’s four walls. For example, they do control their suppliers to a certain extent, so they should include their suppliers’ processes.
Here is the requirement, straight from the standard:
Within the defined scope of the environmental management system, the organization shall determine the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that it can control and those that it can influence, and their associated environmental impacts, considering a life cycle perspective.
Note the emphasis on “considering a life cycle perspective”. Let’s get to this.
2. Taking the lifecycle perspective into account
First, a definition.
- Life cycle: consecutive and interlinked stages of a product (or service) system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal. The life cycle stages include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/ delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal.
For example, if the manufacturer does R&D activities, they have influence on the product itself. Here are example of possible impacts:
- They can reduce its normal usage consumption of electricity or water
- They can make it more compact and/or lighter, so that sending it by FedEx requires less energy
- They can add a mention about proper recycling in the user manual, to make proper recycling more likely
- They can make it easier to dismantle and recycle (same impact as above point)
- They can make it more reliable, so that it doesn’t have to be purchased (and made) as often, thus saving much material and energy
- They can make it easier to repair (same impact as above point)
Many of these possibilities are commonly overlooked, and that’s a shame.
Here is a nice representation of the lifecycle perspective:
There are, of course, many other aspects of a good EMS. My point is that, if the initial planning was well done, all the measures taken by the manufacturer are more likely to be relevant and to have a positive impact.