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How does product life cycle influence environmental aspects according to ISO 14001:2015?

Environmental aspects in your Environmental Management System (EMS) are influenced by your product life cycle, but how? In ISO 14001:2015 his is an addition that will make many companies think about how the environment is affected by their products from start to finish. Many organizations that currently implement ISO 14001 have only considered the environmental aspects of their products and services through delivery, but not through to the end of the product life. Does this describe your company? Here is a bit about product life cycle, the requirements in the new ISO 14001:2015 standard, and what this might mean to you.

What is product life cycle?

The term “life cycle” is first used in the ISO 14001:2015 standard during the introduction on the aim of an Environmental Management System. Here it discusses the desire of an organization to control or influence the way the products and services are designed, manufactured, distributed, consumed, and disposed of by using a life cycle perspective to prevent environmental impacts from moving from one stage of the life cycle to another.

ISO 14001:2015 defines the life cycle as: “consecutive and interlinked stages of a product (or service) system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal” (Definition 3.3.3). For clarification, Note 1 on this definition states: “The life cycle stages include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal.”

So, what does this mean? In short, you need to consider your product or service from the very start of its life cycle, and the raw materials used, through to the end of the product’s or service’s use when it is disposed of. Considering how your product or service is used is important for identifying the environmental aspects of your product and what to do about them.

What are the ISO 14001:2015 requirements around product life cycle?

The actual requirements in ISO 14001:2015 are not long, but can have a big influence in how your company identifies environmental aspects and how you control these aspects. The requirements are captured in the clauses for identification of environmental aspects and implementation of operational planning and controls.

Section 6.1.2 on environmental aspects states that: “the organization shall determine the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that it can control and those that it can influence, and their associated environmental impacts, considering a life cycle perspective.” Life cycle is once again included in the requirements for operational planning and control, to address environmental requirements in the design and development process for the product or service by considering each life cycle stage.

So, in summary, when identifying the environmental aspects of your product or service, you need to consider the entire life cycle of the product or service, and during your design and development of the product and service you need to identify what operational controls you will put in place to address any significant environmental aspects.

How will this work in your organization?

So, what does this mean for your organization? Here are some examples of environmental aspects and operational controls that might not have been captured with the current requirements of ISO 14001:

  • At the end of life, is there a way to recycle your product? Even if there is, could you recycle the product better and re-use some materials? Many companies are starting to have products returned at the end of life to be properly recycled, such as paint at hardware stores or electronics at special electronic recycling depots. This allows for better and more environmentally friendly recycling with the possibility of reclaiming materials for reuse.
  • For a product made of plastic, have you considered the type of plastic it is made of? Could the product be made of a material that is more easily recycled at the end of life? Could it be made of a material that can be re-used rather than recycled?
  • When packaging your product, what are you using? If you are packaging in a large plastic container, could the container size be reduced, or the material changed to something that does not use a non-renewable natural resource?
  • For a delivery service, have you considered your packing materials and how they impact the environment? Instead of plastic packaging material, have you considered biodegradable material made from corn starch or another material? Some companies are even using popcorn as a packaging material, which is easily biodegraded.
  • Have you considered the impact of your recycling partners? Remember that you need to consider environmental aspects that you can influence, as well as those you can control. This means that choosing a metal recycling company that is closer to your facility could be more environmentally friendly that one that is far away, due to the distance the trucks would have to travel.
  • Have you considered the impact of your delivery partners? How often does your delivery company maintain its vehicles? Is there an alternate company that has cleaner-burning delivery vehicles? Identifying how your delivery company impacts the environment and making your choices accordingly is one way that you can influence the impacts of these environmental aspects.

What should you consider next?

Even though a formal life cycle assessment is not a requirement for your EMS, understanding the life cycle of your product or service is necessary to get the job done. This needs to include all aspects of your product life cycle such as product packaging, packaging for shipment, and even the final disposal of your product.

If you are updating your EMS, then knowing the life cycle of your product or service is the first step to reviewing your environmental aspects to make improvements, and the next step in reducing the negative impact that your organization has on the environment.

To learn more about ISO 14001:2015 and how it works, check out this free online  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations Course.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.