Identifying and controlling environmental aspects in a virtual team

Virtual companies are a feature of everyday life in the 21st century, where people can buy products and services, and even store data with companies who partly or wholly exist online. Despite an organization existing online, the company’s activities can still mean that it has a significant environmental impact. Therefore, due to stakeholder, customer, or legislative requirements, there may be advantages in developing an EMS (Environmental Management System) that is certified according to ISO 14001. As with any EMS, this environmental impact can only be lessened by identifying significant aspects and controlling them. So, what might they be, and how can this be done?

Identifying significant environmental aspects

Many virtual companies find it difficult to assess their own environmental impact, and therefore find the process of identifying environmental aspects difficult; however, there are some questions we can ask that are not so different from those we would ask any traditional business:

  • Do you have an office? Though many virtual companies have a degree of remote working, most operate from offices, too. Do you have a process to manage your use of utilities and consumption of water? Are you aware of how much paper you use to print and the amount of consumables used on a day-to-day basis? Can this be quantified and duly improved? The article How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001 can help you with this topic.
  • How do you ship your products to customers? If you are selling products, then it is likely that you have to ship them to your customers. Does your shipping department or partners work in the most environmentally efficient way? Can shipments be consolidated or rearranged to lessen this environmental impact? Are your vehicles as environmentally compliant as possible?
  • Do your employees travel to work or during work hours? Again, this should be relatively easy to measure and therefore to put a plan in place to reduce this aspect. Do you encourage employees to car share? Do you encourage employees to cycle to work – many regions have funding available to encourage cycling. Do you allow flexible working to help make using public transport realistic, and is working from home an option? Do you consider conference calls, video calls, and online collaboration with clients to help reduce your organization’s carbon footprint?
  • Does your supply chain have an environmental impact? It almost certainly does. In the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001 compliance, we considered how improving your supply chain’s performance and encouraging ISO 14001 compliance and certification could improve your organization’s environmental performance by association. Do you make your purchases using only cost criteria, or are environmental criteria used, too? When you purchase computer hardware, do you consider the lifecycle perspective and provision made by the equipment manufacturer? Our article Lifecycle perspective in ISO 14001:2015 – what does it mean? can help you with this element.
  • Legislation considerations: Even for a virtual company, this element must be considered and complied with. Environmental legislation differs from country to country and region to region, but it is critical that your organization establishes and maintains an environmental legislation register that demonstrates you have full knowledge of local legislation and have taken effective action to comply with it. For example, if you work for a virtual organization providing information on home insulation systems, you may be bound by local environmental legislation, which therefore becomes a very significant environmental aspect to your organization, especially as failure to comply could cost your reputation and lead to fines – and even closure of the company for non-conformance.

So, now that we have some idea of where to look to find our significant environmental aspects in a virtual company, how do we control them?

After identification, next comes control

Setting the criteria for your environmental aspects is the first critical part of controlling environmental performance, and you can find assistance with understanding this in the article ISO 14001:2015 – how to set criteria for environmental aspects evaluation. When it comes to controlling these significant aspects, the article 6 ways to deal with significant aspects in your EMS can help you, but it is wise to remember these basic rules:

  • Create and involve a team who are qualified and able to give you input.
  • Record all performance data accurately – before and after you act.
  • Have a time-bound plan to drive performance improvement.
  • Review and improve your plan to ensure you meet your improvement targets.

So, as we can see, controlling environmental aspects for a virtual company uses the same fundamental methods as any other organization that has an EMS. It is also wise to remember that the virtual company must meet all the terms of the ISO 14001:2015 standard like all other organizations, so while identifying and controlling significant environmental aspects is critical, it is by no means all the virtual company must do. However, this remains a vital element of the EMS and its continual improvement, and performing it well will provide your virtual company and the environment alike with great benefits.

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.