How to identify environmental aspects for IT companies

Recently, I worked with an IT support company that has grown from one to 30 employees in the last eight years, so quick has the growth been in that particular technology sector. This organization was looking to implement ISO 14001, having felt some pressure from both customers and peers when tendering for contracts in the public sector. Having realized that ISO 14001:2015 was virtually a requirement for the organization, they wanted to discuss the process to achieve accreditation, having already undertaken ISO 9001:2015, ISO 27001, and OHSAS 18001 successfully. As is common with many organizations working in relatively “clean” sectors, the organizational leaders assumed they had very little environmental impact and therefore no significant environmental aspects that needed identified, controlled, and improved; but, as ever, the reality proved to be somewhat different…

Environmental impacts – What do we need to consider?

An environmental aspect is an element of an organization’s activity, product, or service that interacts with or has an impact on the greater environment itself. After this was clarified, the organization in question had a brainstorming session to identify its perceived impact and still could not identify anything very meaningful, outside of waste generated internally by staff. In previous articles, such as Environmental impacts in the manufacturing sector,  we considered environmental impacts in manufacturing, and previously did the same for the construction industry in Using ISO 14001:2015 to identify environmental aspects in the construction industry. But, the identification of aspects in this combined technology and service industry proved less obvious than in these more traditional “consumption heavy” industries mentioned. However, after careful study of the ISO 14001:2015 standard and ensuing discussion, the aspects related to this particular organization and the sector it operates in became clear:

  • Purchasing policy: The organization can make significant improvements by implementing ISO 14001:2015 principles into its purchasing criteria, explaining this to its supply chain, and encouraging environmental improvement in that supply chain. Why not sit down with your suppliers and explain the benefits of ISO 14001:2015, and describe the new criteria you are applying to your purchasing process? At once, this should help them understand the importance of the process and hopefully allow them to apply similar criteria to their procurement process, while examining their own environmental aspects and taking action to reduce their effect. You can read more in-depth information in the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance.
  • Internal impact: Every office has its own set of impacts, and ISO 14001 principles can help you to identify and control them, from employee travel and utility consumption to food and packaging waste. You can find more detailed information in the article How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001.
  • Legislative and regulation issues: Like every other organization in any sector, IT support companies have regulatory requirements that need to be met, and this very process can also throw up opportunities for improvement. It can also improve and guarantee employee well-being, too. Think, for example, about the use of correct gases in your air-conditioning system, and whether your heating system is clean and fit for purpose. For more details, please see the article How to achieve regulatory compliance in ISO 14001.
  • Travel: It was decided to segregate this element, as it was a staple part of the organization’s activities – travelling to meet potential clients, then travelling to sites to provide repair, penetration testing, site moves, and so forth. After a discussion and review of this policy it was found possible to reduce the organization’s travel by 27% with no significant effect to the client. In many cases this reduction was explained to the client, and slight reductions on client invoices offered to counteract the perceived lack of face-to-face service, which was mostly replaced by conference and video call.

So, it was found that all of these impacts, when identified, measured, and actioned against, not only reduced the organization’s environmental impact, but also saved the company – and in some cases, the client – money. This is a real situation where every stakeholder saw a benefit from ISO 14001:2015 implementation.

And, there’s more

Part of the unique service this IT organization provided is purchase, reconfiguration, and supply of bespoke computer and associated systems. When examined in detail, it became obvious that there were many implications in terms of the life cycle of these bespoke products, whereas previously there was little consideration made to this factor. In the previous article: How does product life cycle influence environmental aspects according to ISO 14001:2015, we considered this specifically in some detail, and discovered the importance of considering the environmental aspect from start of life all the way through end of life and even destruction, as opposed to use of the product alone. This led to changes in criteria when purchasing parts, packaging, transporting, and at end of life. The organization established a scheme where purchasers could trade in their products at end of life and receive a cash payment or credit against another product. This move had multiple benefits: retention and improved relationships with customers who felt extra benefit and loyalty via the scheme, increased environmental benefit and mitigation of impact, and an increase in turnover for the organization as well, along with reputational benefit as the word spread. This amazing cycle of benefits was all initiated by the desire to comply with ISO 14001:2015 and identify resulting environmental impacts. So, if you operate in the IT support industry, you may think that ISO 14001:2015 is not for your organization – just like this company did. But, in fact, an examination of the company’s environmental impacts soon convinced them that this was wrong. Every organization has environmental impacts, and when examined, it can be seen that the IT support industry has a defined impact on the wider environment, which is not always easy to see when compared with heavier manufacturing industries. Why not consider these benefits and imagine them in the context of your business – isn’t it time you got started?

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.