How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001

In many industries, identifying environmental aspects for your ISO 14001 audit seems reasonably obvious. If you manage a chemical plant or construction site, some of the aspects are tangible and even visible. You may be able to see evidence of the impact on the environment by looking at the outflow of fumes into the atmosphere, waste into controlled areas for destruction, and so forth. Recently, an office manager said to me that he ran a “clean office,” and the work they did had minimal impact on the environment, so surely they would have no problems gaining ISO 14001 accreditation? It didn’t take long to change his mind.

What is an environmental aspect?

ISO 14001:2004 states that an environmental aspect is “an element of an organization’s activities or products or services that can interact with the environment.” An environmental impact is defined as “any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partly resulting from an organization’s environmental aspects.”

If we think about that carefully, it is easy to see that every organization, business, and even household has an “impact” on the environment of some type or other, and ISO 14001 is designed to facilitate assessment, measurement, analysis, and improvement of those aspects and the resulting impacts. But, back to that “clean office” we mentioned earlier. Surely it doesn’t have much of an environmental impact, and gaining ISO 14001 accreditation will be easy, won’t it? The answer might surprise you.

Identifying environmental aspects in your office

Environmental aspects and the impacts they bring will be all around you, some big and some small. In fact, your impact on the environment through the actions of yourself and your staff start before you even reach the office. How do your staff travel to work? Do you encourage and provide facilities for staff to bicycle to work where possible? Many regions have tax incentives to encourage employees to do so. Do you make your staff aware of the environmental benefits of using public transportation? In this day and age, many people drive to work – have you looked at the possibilities and incentives of encouraging them to “car share” where possible? Perhaps you provide some members of staff with company vehicles? Are they chosen with environmental considerations in mind? Putting all these together in a “Transport Policy” may be a good idea. Measure them now, put your actions into place, measure and review them again. The “Plan, Do, Check, Act” cycle runs throughout the ISO 14001 standard, as you can see in this previous blog post Plan-Do-Check-Act in the ISO 14001 standard.

What, there’s legal stuff too? In an office?

Yes, there is. Every region has different legislation, but the best advice is to set up a Legal Register, which will allow you to capture current legislation and provide evidence that you both understand and comply with it. You’ll need to consider many aspects: Do you have air conditioning? What gases does it contain? Do they all comply with legal and national legislation? Do you produce noise pollution? Do you have any emissions into the wastewater system? If you have a fire, where does the “run off” water go – is there damage to the environment from water overspill? These are just a sampling of the aspects that could potentially impact any office. Establishing a Legal Register will provide you with a good foundation to capture all future legislation and implement it accordingly within your business.

So, I’m in the office. What now?

There will be many aspects to consider here – let’s examine some of them. Do you measure your organization’s carbon footprint? Do you encourage conference calls, video conferencing, and the like as opposed to potentially unnecessary flights and car journeys? Why not develop a Travel Policy to support this good practice? Everyone knows that leaving lights and heating on in unused rooms is financially and environmentally unsound, so perhaps you should develop an Energy Management Policy to educate and inform your staff of what is and what isn’t desirable. We all consume materials on a daily basis in the office; how can we ensure we are as efficient as possible there? Perhaps an “Office Environmental Good Practice” policy could be created: do we print using both sides of paper, do we need to print at all, can we reduce numbers of printers to discourage unnecessary paper and energy consumption, do we recycle at all times where possible – and so on. There are many opportunities to improve our environmental efficiency within the office.

So that’s it, then?

Well, not quite. I bet you have a Purchasing Policy. You certainly will if you are ISO 9001:2008 accredited. Do you consider environmental aspects here? Do you use recycled paper when possible? Do you purchase from organizations that hold the same values as you, or are ISO 14001 accredited? Can you drive improvements to the environment by asking your supply chain to work on the same environmental principles as you, and rewarding their willingness to do so with your sustained business? Completing the above will not only bring you closer to ISO 14001 accreditation, but will also make you part of a “virtuous cycle.” In this way, your improved environmental performance will not stand alone, but encourage others in your supply chain to improve as well, with a positive benefit to everyone’s bottom line and efficiency, and a long-term benefit to the planet. The sooner you start, the better.

You can use our free Gap Analysis Tool to measure what is required for ISO 14001 compliance for your organization.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.