Looking for ways to further leverage the benefits of your ISO 14001 management system? Over the last several years we have found that companies are increasingly interested in improving resource efficiency and reducing waste.
What companies may not have yet realized however, is that their ISO 14001:2015 environmental management system (EMS) provides an effective framework for adopting such circular production practices. Looking at production through a circular lens requires companies to answer a few preliminary questions: Can we sell the product as a service? How can we design the product to facilitate disassembly and repair? Can the product be returned for refurbishment or recycling? Can we team with other organizations to exchange materials that are by-products? Can we use fewer raw materials to make the product?
Key Clauses within ISO 14001:2015 That Help Promote Circular Production
When establishing an ISO 14001:2015-conformant EMS, companies need to consider the “context of the organization,” a new requirement of this most recent standard version. As part of this context evaluation, organizations must look at relevant external and internal issues including “environmental conditions being affected by or capable of affecting the organization.” This provides a structure for considering important circular economy principles such as resource availability, systems thinking and resilience.
The latest ISO 14001 standard version also places new requirements on leadership. Top management be accountable for the effectiveness of the EMS and ensuring environmental objectives are compatible with the strategic direction and context of the organization. Since creating circular production practices requires participation and input from diverse organizational groups (e.g., product design, procurement, supply chain, EHS and sustainability) the ISO 14001 requirement for top management support and involvement helps facilitate the business integration and cross-functional collaboration needed for success.
ISO 14001:2015 requires an organization to identify the environmental aspects and associated impacts of its activities, products and services considering a life cycle perspective. This “cradle-to-grave” examination requires companies to consider impacts of activities beyond their immediate property boundaries, such as those stemming from upstream (suppliers), downstream (consumers) and during transportation. This life cycle evaluation provides a key opportunity for identifying areas where linear processes could be turned circular (“cradle-to-cradle”). Improvements in packaging efficiency, offering opportunities for product take-back or recycling and using more efficient shipment methods are all examples of efforts that promote circularity and efficiency.
Objectives established to address significant aspects, including significant life-cycle aspects, must have clear action plans which specify required resources, timeframes, responsible person(s) and the methods which will be used to evaluate results. In addition, organizations must consider how such activities can be integrated into their business processes. Progress towards achieving objectives must be routinely monitored and reported out during management reviews and corrective action taken to address issues impacting program achievement. Thus, ISO 14001:2015-conformant EMSs provide an explicit framework for establishing circular production objectives and programs, tracking progress, and making course corrections as needed to successfully reach targets.