What are environmental aspects and impacts?

The Compliance People Consultant, Hannah Williams, outlines what environmental aspects and impacts are for the purposes of ISO 14001:2015. 

If your organisation is certified, or is aiming to become certified, to ISO 14001:2015 (‘the Standard’) you will have heard the terms ‘environmental aspect’ and ‘environmental impact. But what do they mean?  

What is an environmental aspect?  

The Standard defines an environmental aspect as the following:  

An element of an organisation’s activities or products or services that interacts or can interact with the environment’.  

So environmental aspects are all the things that you do in carrying out you your activities and services that can affect the environment in some way, either positively or negatively, for example: 

  • using electricity used to power IT equipment; 
  • producing waste water during a manufacturing process; 
  • creating a noise nuisance from transport activities; or 
  • creating a wildlife area on site. 

All of these things will have an impact on the environment, whether that is contributing to global warming and climate change when using electricitywater pollution from discharging dirty water to a local stream, or increasing biodiversity by planting a wildlife area. 

Typically, all aspects sit under one of the following categories:  

  • use of raw materials and natural resources, e.g. use of metal to manufacture a product; 
  • use of energy, e.g. electricity or gas 
  • emissions to air, e.g. greenhouse gas emissions from a chimney stack;  
  • releases to water, e.g. domestic sewerage from washrooms; 
  • releases to land, e.g. an oil spill on unmade ground; 
  • energy emitted, e.g. heat or steam from a process; and 
  • generation of waste and / or by-products, e.g. mixed recycling waste. 

It is important when identifying aspects that you consider all activities within the scope of your environmental management system; keeping these categories in mind during this process can help ensure nothing is missed. 

What is an environmental impact?  

The Standard asks you to identify the environmental impacts associated with your aspectsIt defines impacts as:  

change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, resulting from an organisation’s environmental aspects.’  

If an impact is the effect or the result on the environment from an environmental aspect, we can therefore look at an aspect as the cause or reason of this effect.  

Examples of environmental impacts include: 

  • air pollution; 
  • land pollution; 
  • global warming and climate change; 
  • deforestation; 
  • habitat creation; and 
  • improved soil quality.  

You can see from this list that impacts can be either positive or negative and an aspect can have more than one impact. For instance, use of electricity can lead to air pollution, global warming, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. 

Luckily, the environmental aspects tool that comes as part of a subscription to our Legislation Update Service provides you with a handy list of potential environmental impacts for you to pick from when youre recording your aspects within the tool. 

For more information on what exactly an environmental aspects register is and why your organisation needs one, be sure to check out our bitesize webinar.


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