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Environmental performance evaluation

So, you have established your environmental management system according to ISO 14001, but your job is far from over. Now you need to determine if it really works. So, how this will be accomplished? An organization needs to evaluate its environmental performance against its Environmental PolicyEnvironmental Objectives and Targets, and other criteria of environmental performance.

The environmental performance evaluation (EPE) is an internal process and mechanism that should enable continual management of reliable and verifiable information in order to determine whether the environmental management system meets criteria defined by the management of the organization. The EPE uses indicators for gathering the information, and compares current and previous performance with criteria for environmental performance established by the organization itself.

How should we do it?

As in any other situation that requires a systematic approach, you can’t go wrong if you apply the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (see also Plan-Do-Check-Act in the ISO 14001 standard. The steps should be taken according to the following figure:

Application of PDCA cycleFigure: Application of PDCA cycle in environmental performance evaluation

Planning the EPE

If you want your environmental performance evaluation to really work, you must incorporate it into the everyday activities of your organization. The EPE must be based on your significant environmental aspects (see also 4 steps in identification and evaluation of environmental aspects), your own criteria for evaluation of environmental performance, and requirements of the interested parties.

When planning the environmental performance evaluation, you need to take into account the overall spectrum of your activities, products, and services, as well as other things that create the context of your organization.

Financial, physical, and human resources needed for managing the EPE must be provided by the management. Depending on the capability and resources of the organization, the starting EPE scope can be limited to those elements of activities, products, or services with the highest priority set by the management. Over time, the initial scope of the EPE can be expanded to include the rest of the activities, products, and services.

The scope of the EPE will facilitate the selection of the EPE indicators, which are the tools for representation of qualitative and quantitative data, or information in an understandable and useful form. They help in transformation of relevant data into concise information about the efforts of the organization to affect its environmental performance and environmental impact. For example, if you limit your EPE scope to the production process only, it will be easy to define environmental performance indicators (EPI) from significant aspects related to the production. Positive trends of environmental performance indicators will be a good sign that the organization is on the right track and the system is effective.

Environmental performance indicators can be direct measurements or calculations such as tons of emitted polluting matter, relative measurements and calculations such as tons of emitted polluting matter by unit of product, or evaluated such as descriptive data or information modified by application of factors.

Using data and information (Do)

The organization should collect the data on a regular basis to provide input for calculating values of selected environmental performance indicators. The data should be collected systematically, from appropriate sources, and as frequently as determined by the management.

The collected data should be analyzed and transformed into information that describes the effectiveness of the environmental protection. In order to avoid deviations in results, all relevant and reliable collected data must be taken into account.

The measurement results of EPIs need to be compared against defined criteria; for example, the environmental performance indicator can be emission of CO2, and the criterion is targeted emission of CO2. This comparison can indicate the progress in performance of environmental protection. These results can be useful for understanding why the criteria for environmental performance are or aren’t met.

Information that describes environmental performance and results of comparisons must be communicated to the management so they can take appropriate actions toward improvement or maintenance of the organization’s current level of environmental performance.

Internal reporting on environmental performance evaluation is very important because it helps employees in fulfilling their responsibilities, and in that way, it enables the organization to achieve the criteria for environmental performance. The management can also inform or report to external interested parties and raise the image of the organization in the eyes of those parties.

Reviewing and improving the EPE (Check and Act)

The EPE of the organization and its results must be reviewed periodically in order to identify possibilities for improvement. This review can contribute to actions of the management toward improvement in managing and operating the organization, and to improvement of environmental condition.

Phases in reviewing the EPE and its results can include reviewing of:

  • Achieved effectiveness of environmental protection and its cost
  • Advancement in achieving criteria of environmental protection
  • Appropriateness of criteria of environmental protection
  • Appropriateness of selected environmental performance indicators
  • Sources of data, methods for collection of data, and quality of data

Once you have all this information, you can start improving your system through corrective and preventive actions.

The condition of all conditions

The management commitment is essential for conducting the EPE. The environmental performance evaluation should be appropriate to the size, location, and type of organization, as well as to its needs and priorities. The information created through the EPE can help the organization to:

  • Define necessary actions for achieving defined criteria for the EPE
  • Identify significant environmental aspects
  • Identify trends in its environmental performance indicators
  • Increase effectiveness and efficiency
  • Identify strategic opportunities.

The environmental performance evaluation can give you real insight on whether your environmental system is effective or not, and what needs to be improved. Gathering and analyzing relevant data is a key condition for managing the system, and properly defined environmental performance indicators will definitely help you.

EPIs are set together with your EMS implementation. To see how your EMS complies with ISO 14001 requirements, use this free  ISO 14001 Gap Analysis Tool.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.