Using ISO 14001:2015 to identify environmental aspects in the construction industry

Section 6.1.2 of the ISO 14001:2015 standard provides guidance on the determination and maintenance of environmental aspects, an issue that is critical to any EMS (Environmental Management System) and the resultant environmental performance of an organization. The 14001:2015 standard describes an environmental aspect as “an element of a product or service that interacts or can interact with the environment.” Ensuring the aspects you identify are accurate and relevant to your business is of great importance, especially if your organization is in a sector such as the construction industry, where outputs and environmental impacts can be significant if not identified correctly and managed accordingly. In the previous article “Determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001” we considered how the ISO 14001:2015 changes would affect how organizations should assess the potential effect of environmental aspects on stakeholders, so referring to this article may be a good step towards understanding what environmental aspects may be relevant to your company. As suggested above, companies working in the construction sector have the potential to have significant environmental impact – both positive and negative, depending on how their environmental aspects are identified and managed. So, how can we use the ISO 14001:2015 standard to ensure we manage this whole process correctly with a positive outcome?

Identifying aspects relevant to your business

The 14001:2015 standard advises organizations to consider several things in the determination of environmental aspects. These can broadly be listed as follows:

  • Changes and modifications to existing and new products and services
  • Emergency and unusual situations which may reasonably occur
  • That these aspects are broadly communicated to stakeholders
  • Criteria used to identify these aspects and the aspects themselves

This gives us a general idea of how and what we should consider in terms of environmental aspects, and as we have seen above, we need to carefully consider the “context of the organization” when doing so, so let us consider some specific examples of the thought process that could be used in the process of environmental aspect identification:

  • Your purchasing and procurement process: does this use stated environmental criteria as a guide as well as pricing, delivery times, and so on?
  • The products you need and their “lifecycles”: is this considered? From raw material sourcing or extraction and manufacturing, to ongoing power consumption, to ease of disposal and recycling, are these considerations when sourcing, procuring, and purchasing? This should cover all components of your construction project.
  • Transportation impacts: from travel of employees to support each process, to the actual transportation of the product itself, are these factors accurately assessed and taken into consideration?
  • Use of technology: where possible, use scientific knowledge to enable accurate assessment of all relevant factors when making decisions. This can be particularly helpful when using external suppliers and material, and calculating an overall environmental “footprint” for a project.
  • Constant reassessment: use of tools such as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis will allow you to identify the improvements that are usually presented during a developing construction project.
  • ISO 14001:2015 compliance: using organizations that also comply with the standard can ensure that your purchasing and supply process is aligned with yours and the greater good of the environment.

So, we now should have a greater idea of the considerations we have when deciding on environmental aspects, but how can we be confident that they are relevant and that we have all bases covered?

Construction industry: Are our environmental aspects relevant?

In the first paragraph we mentioned the context of the organization, which is addressed in Section 4 of the ISO 14001:2015 standard. When you have decided on your environmental aspects, considering the context of the organization becomes even more important. Which stakeholders may have an interest in your environmental aspects? Let’s look at examples:

  • Legal groups: are you conforming to all legislation?
  • Local residents, neighbors: are they affected by your project?
  • Pressure groups: do you have to consult with any of these?
  • Shareholders: are there interests satisfied?
  • Suppliers and partners: do your environmental aspirations and targets match theirs?

So, as you can imagine, your environmental aspects may be honed by discussions with the above stakeholders, and suggestions from them may even lead to extra aspects being considered. But, above all, your environmental aspects must be relevant to you and your stakeholders, and with the clear intention of being as beneficial to the greater environment as possible, with evidence of monitoring, review, and continual improvement. Setting clear environmental aspects is therefore central to delivering a construction project that is energy efficient and sympathetic to the environment, and a positive outcome for all parties.

This free webinar can also help you: ISO 14001: Identification and evaluation of environmental aspects.

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.