How Do I Do a Life Cycle Assessment?

Good news! Under the ISO 14001 standard, you don't have to "do" a life cycle assessment - you only have to "consider a life cycle perspective."

 

Having said that, part of an effective Environmental Management System (EMS) is controlling or influencing the way the organization’s products and services are designed, manufactured, distributed, consumed and disposed of by using a life cycle perspective. 

 

Rather than actually conducting a life cycle assessment, the standard only requires that the organization consider a life cycle perspective.

Definition

The standard defines life cycle as “consecutive and interlinked stages of a product (or service) system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal,”  and refers to the life cycle perspective in two places:

  • Environmental aspects (clause 6.1.2)

  • Operational planning and control (clause 8.1)

 

Environmental Aspects

The life cycle stages include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation and delivery, use, end-of-life treatment, and final disposal.  Including each of these stages in the environmental aspects/impacts evaluation will prevent environmental impacts from unintentionally being shifted elsewhere within the life cycle, or across media (air, water, land). A detailed life cycle assessment is not required; “thinking carefully about the life cycle stages that can be controlled or influenced by the organization is sufficient.”

 Examples might include:

  • Water usage (minimize)

  • Water discharge (reuse, treat)

  • Drinking water (reusable cups vs single-use water bottles) for employees

  • Electricity usage (source:  fossil fuel or renewable)

  • Conflict metals (sourcing for inputs)

  • Waste to landfill (minimize)

  • Reusable containers for shipping product

  • Recycling of plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, water

  • Packaging alternatives (e.g., alternatives to shrink wrap or Styrofoam)

  • Transportation alternatives (ocean vs air, barge vs truck, milk runs vs dedicated short loads)

  • Air emissions (aerosol cans elimination, painting, and other emission reduction alternatives)

  • Acceptance of obsolete products from customers (end-of-life considerations)

 

Operational Planning and Control

In clause 8.1, the standard requires that controls, including procurement, be established in a manner consistent with a life cycle perspective.  The controls must consider the design and development of the product or service, considering each life cycle stage.

As noted in the guidance to this clause, “some of the organization’s significant environmental impacts can occur during the transportation, delivery, use, end-of-life treatment or final disposal of its product or service. By providing information, an organization can potentially prevent or mitigate adverse environmental impacts during these life cycle stages.”

These environmental requirements must be communicated to external providers, including contractors, and may include the need to provide information about potential significant environmental impacts associated with the transportation or delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal of the organization’s products and services.

Documentation

While the standard does not specifically require documentation of the life cycle perspective, it can be extremely helpful in making the case that this element has been met.

Conclusion

Whether you just build your EMS, or also certify it, there will be real, tangible benefits for your business.

 

It’s all in the details.  Make sure you have a copy of the standard and are using it to build and check your system.  That way, there won’t be any surprises at your next surveillance or re-certification audit.

Need help? Check out our EMS forms and templates in our ISO Help Store, or schedule time for a one-on-one phone call with an ISO Auditor at our ISO Help Consult page.

Interested in more information on our comprehensive suite of environmental services? E-mail us to request a copy of our Statement of Qualifications.

About the Author

Joyce Kristiansson, M.S., is a Certified Environmental Professional Auditor and part-time registrar auditor for an ISO certification body.  With more than 35 years of environmental experience, including twelve years in ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, Joyce has experienced EMS systems and processes from all perspectives:  developing, maintaining, sustaining and auditing (both internal and certification).  Recognizing the improved environmental performance and positive financial results that can result from an effective EMS, Joyce wants to make the process as simple and inexpensive as possible so that small and medium-sized businesses can have the same competitive advantages as larger companies - without using a consultant.