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July 18, 2016

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ISO 14001 Standard: Lifecycle thinking

circle-311551_960_720By Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ

Following the publication of the new ISO 14001 standard, published in September last year, Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ, have taken an in-depth look at the first four steps: leadership; risks and opportunities; communicating with stakeholders; strategic context . Now, they examine the remaining key area in more detail – lifecycle thinking.

The new ISO 14001 standard, published in September last year, is the first update in a decade. As well as offering easier integration between ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and the new OHSAS 18001 replacement, ISO 45001, published later this year, it brings with it additional requirements, grouped around five key areas: leadership, strategic context, interested party analysis and communication, risks and opportunities and lifecycle perspective.

These changes are designed to increase corporate resilience and competitive advantage and, as such, early transition to the new standard is advocated.   

Ramboll Environ Manager Greg Roberts is the UK Expert on the ISO Technical Committee overseeing the development of guidance to ISO 14001, and Mike Shaw, head of Ramboll Environ’s UK health and safety practice, examine the remaining key area in more detail: lifecycle thinking.   

One standout – and much talked about – addition to the new ISO 14001 standard is lifecycle thinking. Essentially, considering impacts across the entire journey of the product or service, from design to end of life, rather than just concentrating on those aspects directly controlled by the organisation.

Its inclusion in this revision has prompted concern and inspiration in equal measure but focusing on this area has the potential to deliver both environmental and business value.

The 2004 version of ISO 14001 required organisations to identify environmental aspects that related to products and services, as well as to on-site activities; though the latter has been the sole focus for many in the past. As a result, environmental management systems (EMS) could miss the often more significant environmental and business opportunities presented in the supply chain, during the in use phase or during disposal.

 Since then, however, the concept of lifecycle thinking has grown, particularly with more recent concepts such as circular economy and legislation supporting eco-design. The ISO 14001:2015 looks to address this thinking by specifically requiring environmental aspects to be considered at every stage of the lifecycle (design, procurement, use, transport, end of life etc) and not just those relating to on-site activities.

Under the new standard, organisations are required to consider including environmental requirements at the design stage and during procurement, and to provide information about potential significant environmental impacts to intermediaries, end users and those involved in end-of-life treatment of a product (see Diagram 1).

diagram 1 ISO article

Diagram 1: The lifecycle and ISO 14001 requirements

The revised 14001 standard does not go as far as requiring lifecycle assessment and the gathering of large quantities of data, but it does recognise that an understanding of environmental impacts across the lifecycle, even at a high level, will help concentrate efforts on where they matter most – and this means not just for the environment but for the business as well. However, as some practitioners have feared, organisations will not necessarily have to undertake initiatives at every stage of their lifecycle. Instead businesses should apply their efforts to those stages of the lifecycle they have determined to have significant aspects.

Similarly, although the second committee draft of ISO 45001 does not specifically mention lifecycle thinking, it does require organisations to identify hazards that may arise as a result of product design, including research, development, testing, production, assembly, construction, service delivery, maintenance and disposal. Furthermore it requires operational control to consider outsourced processes, procurement and contractors. For this reason, a common approach to the two standards is possible – and indeed recommended.

For many, lifecycle thinking will require a step change in the way they approach their EMS, not least because it will require those not previously involved to contribute to environmental management, specifically those who interface with other stages of the lifecycle such as procurement, sales and marketing, design and aftersales. However, there will also be plenty of companies that have already undertaken work in this area, from full lifecycle assessment of products to working with suppliers or providing information on reducing the environmental impact to end users.

For those who have already identified significant aspects under the previous 14001 standard, widening the scope of this exercise to look at all stages of the lifecycle would be an obvious first step. As discussed in previous articles, a workshop approach is useful and, although other methodologies can be undertaken, such as one-to-one interviews, putting a group of relevant people together will help improve communication and information sharing.

Workshops should not get bogged down in detail but rather take a high-level approach to firstly map out the lifecycle of the products or services and then consider the environmental aspects. Examples will include those relating to the extraction or production of raw materials, the activities of suppliers and transport, and the use, maintenance and disposal of products.

Clearly the relevance of each of these stages will be different from one organisation to another and determination of how significant these aspects are will be dependent upon both their environmental impact and the level of influence held by the organisation itself. This relevance should be considered in the aspects’ significance evaluation process, as it can be argued that even where there is substantial impact, the aspect is unlikely to be significant to the organisation if it, itself, has little or no influence.

And where a significant aspect is identified in the lifecycle, action should be taken to reduce its impact. This could include reducing environmental impact through design processes, for example by training designers, stipulating environmental requirements in the procurement process and providing environmental information so that end users and those involved in the disposal of the product can reduce environmental impact.

Greg Roberts is sustainability consultant and Mike Shaw is UK health and safety consultant leader for Ramboll Environ



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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
8 years ago

It would be rather nice to think that Human Resources are going to be included in the wider end to end “life-cycle” in terms of not only ensuring engagement through providing purpose and meaning to function but, some thought to routine and planned maintenance in addition to crash recovery as a result of having a sustainability and retention policy………….

Kevin Grant
Kevin Grant
8 years ago

A good, clear article and very helpful. A common experience where procurement departments are concerned however; is that they are incentivised (often financially) on saving money on bottom line spend therefore; a key struggle with getting buy-in from departments (not just procurement) will be to convince them that this is a necessary step to take and not to look simply for, and take, the cheapest is best option. Casting the net a little wider into the supply chain is a critical step to take in effective environmental management and is a excellent opportunity to educate all departments within an organisation.

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7 years ago

[…] ISO 14001 Standard: Lifecycle thinking – … – By Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ. Following the publication of the new ISO 14001 standard, published in September last year, Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw … […]