Preparing for transition to ISO 14001:2015 – sustainability and life cycle control and influence

In the forth of a series of articles SLR's Nigel Leehane has written to help organisations understand the implications of transitioning to ISO 14001:2015, he explores the new requirements for sustainability and life cycle control and influence, and how organisations can adapt to meet them.  

What are the links between sustainability and life cycle control and influence?

Firstly, why address sustainability and life cycle control and influence together? These two concepts are naturally interdependent, and are intertwined throughout ISO 14001:2015. The ISO Future Challenges for EMS study report, which informed the revision of ISO 14001, identified them both as key themes that ISO 14001 should encourage EMSs to embrace.

Specifically, it recommended that ISO 14001 should mirror the language and principles for environmental sustainability set out in ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, including in relation to the “supply/value chain responsibility”. The Future Challenges report also recommended that more emphasis should be given to environmental aspects in the value chain, particularly in identifying environmental aspects related to products and services and linking strategic consideration of the environmental issues related to design, purchasing and marketing, in alignment with business priorities.

So, there is a need for broader linkages between environmental sustainability, the supply/value chain, applying a life cycle perspective in planning and embracing these in overall business strategy.

What are the new requirements for sustainability and life cycle control and influence?

The introduction to ISO 14001:2015 explains that an EMS contributes to the environmental pillar of sustainability by:

Preventing or mitigating adverse environmental impacts Enhancing environmental performance Reducing impacts on the organisation from changing environmental conditions Realising financial benefits from environmental initiatives that strengthen market position Controlling or influencing how products and services are designed and delivered This is far broader than the previous edition, which emphasised the control of environmental impacts rather than taking a holistic approach to environment and business performance and sustainability. The revised standard also directly references the categories of environmental sustainability in ISO 26000 – prevention of pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and protection of the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems.

The revised standard also emphasises that the aims of an EMS should be to contribute to sustainable development by applying a “life cycle perspective that can prevent environmental impacts from being unintentionally shifted elsewhere within the life cycle”. This implies that control and influence should be applied where practical (taking account of organisational priorities) throughout the life cycle, defined as “consecutive and interlinked stages of a product (or service) system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal”.

How to tackle this task?

Environmental practitioners will be well aware that organisations have limited options to address environmental sustainability solely within their own organisational boundaries. Innovation and meaningful change can only occur in collaboration with partners on the supply side and customers, so taking a life cycle perspective is vital. The revised standard emphasises the need to do this in relation to:

Determining context and needs and expectations of interested parties, and then establishing the scope of the EMS Determining the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that it can control and those that it can influence, taking account of related risks and opportunities Establishing controls for the processes of design and development Determining requirements for procurement and communicating them to suppliers and contractors Considering what needs to be communicated regarding environmental impacts in delivery, use and disposal Once the risks and opportunities related to environmental sustainability have been established at strategic and operational levels, consideration should be given to the degree of control and influence that can be applied, taking account of broader business priorities. This will ensure that environmental sustainability initiatives and innovations are developed, to add value to the organisation and throughout the life cycle, strengthening relationships with suppliers and customers, for example through sharing cost savings and best practice. It will also determine the nature and scope of management controls that need to be applied, within the EMS itself or in associated business management processes, for example in policy development, setting objectives, communicating with stakeholders, change management, design, procurement and marketing.

Finally, the emphasis on a more holistic approach both internally, through integration, and externally across the life-cycle, can encourage the development of processes which will control or influence other areas of sustainability, including potentially human rights, labour conditions and other social aspects of sustainability. 

Further information

Nigel will be participating in a BSI ISO 14001 webinar on context 18th October. If you are interested, details will be available shortly.       

If you would like more information on the transition and support available, please get in touch with Nigel at nleehane@slrconsulting.com. The next article in this series will address competence in relation to the revised standard.