Identifying environmental aspects in the engineering business according to ISO 14001

The traditional heavy engineering sector has been a vital part of most western economies for several generations, producing everything from nuts and bolts at one end of the spectrum to steel for building structures and shipbuilding at the other end. What most of these organizations historically share is a track record of significant environmental impact to the greater environment and the immediate areas they operate in. It therefore stands to reason that, in recent years, the implementation of ISO 14001 has become common, and in some cases mandatory by the legislative bodies that cover this industry sector in many regions. Those of us familiar with ISO 14001:2015 will know that the key element to reducing an organization’s environmental impact is identifying and mitigating its significant environmental aspects, so in the case of the heavy engineering industry, what are those aspects likely to be?

Identifying relevant environmental aspects in the engineering sector

If you begin to look closely within a heavy engineering organization, it should not be too difficult to identify significant environmental aspects; however, sometimes it makes sense to start with the obvious – such as the building itself and the organization’s compliance with legislation – and then consider the inputs to the products that the company produces itself:

  • Building – The environment that many organizations work in is often overlooked, but significant environmental aspects can arise from the building itself. Is it energy efficient? Is it well insulated? Is the machinery modern and energy efficient? Would the organization and building benefit from solar panels, energy through a wind turbine, extra insulation, or machinery modernization? A KPI could be developed to measure major environmental projects undertaken and the resulting costs saved.
  • Legislation – As with all organizations seeking certification against ISO 14001:2015, legislation will need to be tracked and kept up to date. Failure to do so will not only mean potential damage to the environment, but the possibility of being fined by the authorities. A measurement of performance versus legislation is a standard KPI in the engineering industry.
  • Raw Materials – The sourcing, scheduling, and consumption of raw material can be the part of the engineering process that has the greatest environmental impact. Firstly, an organization should consider how they source your raw materials, and from where. Do the suppliers have an environmental policy? Do they comply with ISO 14001:2015 under the terms of the agreement? Do they include environmental criteria in their purchasing decisions? You can use the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance to help give you guidance on managing your supply chain to ensure maximum environmental benefit. A KPI measuring your supply chain’s performance versus stated certification could be considered here.
  • Utilities – Heavy engineering companies traditionally consume lots of electricity and fossil fuels. By managing these effectively, looking for opportunities to improve and reduce usage, measuring, and reviewing, significant savings can usually be made in addition to reducing this significant environmental aspect. A simple month-over-month cost KPI can be put in place here, and this will appeal to top management if cost savings can be made.
  • Process and wastage – There can be significant wastage of materials within heavy engineering processes, which can lead to both unnecessary cost and significant environmental impact. Does your organization weigh the amount of material “wasted” that must be recycled? If this amount is significant, then the cost and environmental impact will be also. It may be worth putting an internal team together and using the knowledge of the process owners and employees to find out if this waste can be reduced. Again, this can lead to a measurable KPI that can hopefully be improved.
  • Disposal and recycling – This is a vital, but often overlooked element of implementing ISO 14001:2015 in a heavy engineering environment. As well as the process waste we mentioned above, there may be oils, grease, and other lubrication agents that require special recycling arrangements. Firstly, are these recycled correctly? Secondly, similarly to process waste, can they operate more efficiently to consume and recycle less of these products? Establishing a KPI on this recycled material can again provide the impetus and motivation to improve the performance.

Finding the methods to identify these aspects

There are several ways that you can ensure your organization gets the maximum benefit from the identification of environmental aspects in your engineering business, whether that is through a dedicated team, a revolving team, a suggestion box, or delegation of duties to those employees who have expertise in certain areas. What is vital is that the correct amount of consultation takes place to ensure that all employees embrace the ethos of ISO 14001, and all positive suggestions are considered and brought to the table, if taking action can bring benefit to both your organization and the wider environment.

Using aspect identification to improve business performance

You can see how the identification of environmental aspects in the engineering sector can be the first step toward improving performance, cutting costs, and lessening the organization’s environmental impact. The more time, expertise, and knowledge you invest in identifying your environmental aspects, the better prepared you will be to build a foundation to mitigate and lessen the impact of these aspects. In the heavy engineering sector – as with most other sectors – reduced environmental impact often means cost savings, so look at ISO 14001:2015 as a logical step for your heavy engineering business.

Use this free online training  ISO 14001 Foundations online course to learn how to identify 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.