ISO 14001 Guidance - 3. Planning

3.1 Environmental aspects

Subclause 4.3.1 is intended to provide a process for an organization to identify environmental aspects, and to determine those that are significant which should be addressed as a priority by the organization's environmental management system.

An organization should identify the environmental aspects within the scope of its environmental management system, taking into account the inputs and outputs (both intended and unintended) associated with its current and relevant-past activities, products and services, planned or new developments, or new or modified activities, products and services. This process should consider normal and abnormal operating conditions, shut-down and start-up conditions, as well as reasonably foreseeable emergency situations.

Organizations do not have to consider each product, component or raw material input individually. They may select categories of activities, products and services to identify their environmental aspects.

Although there is no single approach for identifying environmental aspects, the approach selected could for example consider

  1. emissions to air,
  2. releases to water,
  3. releases to land,
  4. use of raw materials and natural resources,
  5. use of energy,
  6. energy emitted, e.g. heat, radiation, vibration,
  7. waste and by-products, and
  8. physical attributes, e.g. size, shape, colour, appearance.

In addition to those environmental aspects an organization can control directly, an organization should also consider aspects that it can influence, e.g. those related to goods and services used by the organization and those related to products and services that it provides. Some guidance to evaluate control and influence is provided below. However, in all circumstances it is the organization that determines the degree of control and also the aspects it can influence.

Consideration should be given to aspects related to the organization's activities, products and services, such as

  • design and development,
  • manufacturing processes,
  • packaging and transportation,
  • environmental performance and practices of contractors and suppliers,
  • waste management,
  • extraction and distribution of raw materials and natural resources,
  • distribution, use and end-of-life of products, and
  • wildlife and biodiversity.

The control and influence over the environmental aspects of a product supplied to an organization can vary significantly, depending on the organization's market situation and its suppliers. An organization that is responsible for its own product design can influence such aspects significantly by changing, for example, a single input material, while an organization that needs to supply in accordance with externally determined product specifications may have little choice.

With respect to products provided, it is recognized that organizations may have limited control over the use and disposal of their products, e.g. by users, but they can consider, where practicable, communication of proper handling and disposal mechanisms to these users in order to exert influence.

Changes to the environment, either adverse or beneficial, that result wholly or partially from environmental aspects are called environmental impacts. The relationship between environmental aspects and impacts is one of cause and effect.

In some locations cultural heritage can be an important element of the surroundings in which an organization operates, and therefore should be taken into account in the understanding of its environmental impacts.

Since an organization might have many environmental aspects and associated impacts, it should establish criteria and a method to determine those that it considers significant. There is no single method for determining significant environmental aspects. However, the method used should provide consistent results and include the establishment and application of evaluation criteria, such as those related to environmental matters, legal issues and the concerns of internal and external interested parties.

When developing information relating to its significant environmental aspects, the organization should consider the need to retain the information for historical purposes as well as how to use it in designing and implementing its environmental management system.

The process of identification and evaluation of environmental aspects should take into account the location of activities, cost and time to undertake the analysis, and the availability of reliable data. The identification of environmental aspects does not require a detailed life-cycle assessment. Information already developed for regulatory or other purposes may be used in this process.

This process of identifying and evaluating environmental aspects is not intended to change or increase an organization's legal obligations.