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John Nolan

Lifecycle perspective in ISO 14001:2015 – What does it mean?

One of the fundamental changes in the ISO 14001:2015 standard is the requirement for organizations to take a “lifecycle” perspective of the products it produces or manufactures, which is significantly more prescriptive than the ISO 14001:2004 standard that organizations were certified against immediately before. But, what does “lifecycle” really mean in an environmental context, and what steps will your organization have to take to ensure that it complies fully with the standard itself?

What does “lifecycle perspective” really mean?

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The ISO 14001:2015 standard states that an organization should control the way that its services or products are designed, made, consumed, distributed, and disposed of in such a way that environmental impacts are not ignored, or unintentionally moved elsewhere in the cycle of any product’s life. In other words, an organization should be fully aware of possible environmental impacts in each and every stage of a product’s life, and now must take responsibility for ensuring that the impact within each and every part of that lifecycle is as small as possible. No longer can an organization produce a product, market and sell it, and then assume that all environmental responsibility for that product from that point onwards belongs to the purchaser; the manufacturer must make provisions for all environmental aspects during that whole lifecycle, including end of life. So, given the above, what examples can we consider to ensure we can help our own organization align and comply with this critical part of the ISO 14001:2015 standard?

Meeting the “lifecycle” requirements in your EMS

A critical part of the operation of any EMS (Environmental Management System) is the identification and action taken on environmental impacts. In a previous article, 6 ways to deal with significant environmental aspects in your EMS, we considered the preferable methods of tackling and mitigating aspects, and while these methodologies are still relevant, extra consideration of the lifecycle perspective will now need to be applied. Let us imagine that our organization produces modern electronic goods, whether televisions, cell phones, or computers – items that are used in almost every home and workplace. What would this “lifecycle perspective” consideration mean for such an organization? Let’s consider this step by step:

  • Design and development: During this phase the organization must examine many things more carefully in light of this requirement. Sourcing of parts – do components contain any SVHCs (substances of very high concern)? If so, these need to be managed to ensure that they are compliant with legislation in your region. Do your components meet mineral conflict requirements in your region? It is vital that you understand if minerals mined in conflict areas of the globe are used in your components; again, you must research your local legislation to ensure that you fully understand what your components consist of, and that you are not unduly harming the environment or supporting illegal regimes in foreign countries by sourcing these parts without proper knowledge. You must also consider the impact of the building of the components that go into your product, the recyclability of the product itself, and all other associated parts, such as packaging. Can you use recycled packaging? Can your packaging be recycled after product delivery?
  • Manufacturing: Many of the environmental impacts you will consider here are outlined in the article: Environmental aspects in the manufacturing sector. Managing these aspects will not only reduce your environmental impact, but also save your organization money. Streamlining manufacturing processes, reducing power consumption, and ensuring that your supply chain is practicing the same habits can have a massively beneficial environmental influence; you can read more in the article: Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance.
  • Post-manufacturing: Your customer has purchased your product and taken it home. Have you provided appropriate information with the product to ensure that the packaging will be recycled? Have you provided information in the user guide to ensure your product can be used in the most power-efficient way possible? Have you provided options to make your product possible to upgrade? This may increase the lifecycle of a product, and also bring a welcome business opportunity for your organization.
  • End of life: Do your product guide and website offer the opportunity for the end user to understand the best way to recycle your product at end of life? This may be locally, or you may operate a “return for disposal” program, depending on many factors, such as your location, the type and weight of the product, and so forth. Whatever the details, this new “lifecycle perspective” means that your organization has ultimate responsibility to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to prevent the product from having a damaging impact on the environment at the disposal stage.

The benefits of managing the lifecycle perspective

We can now see how vital it is for your organization to plan and manage the lifecycle of its product to ensure you have responsibility for the whole lifecycle, and not only when the product is actually in your hands. Hopefully, it has also become more evident that astute planning in the early stages of product development can lessen environmental impact at later stages of the product’s lifecycle. Ensure that you plan diligently, and you can help make sure that your product plays its part in leaving the planet’s resources unspoiled for future generations.

Why not use our free online training  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations course to learn about the lifecycle perspective in the ISO 14001?

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