What’s an Environmental Aspects and Impacts Register – and How to Efficiently Compile One

green leaves on a branch against a sunny blue sky

Compiling an environmental aspects and impacts register is so important for ISO 14001  or two very good reasons:

  1. It’s a requirement of the standard
  2. It plays a key role in ensuring the effectiveness of your environmental management system

But what are environmental aspects and impacts, you might be asking?

Read on. All will be revealed.

What are environmental aspects and impacts?

Put simply, environmental aspects and impacts are causes and effects:

  • Aspect – An element of your business activities, products or services that interacts with the environment
  • Impact – Any change to the environment, either adverse or beneficial, as a whole or partial result of an aspect/s 

In a nutshell, an aspect is something you do that affects the environment. Whereas an impact is the effect it causes.

How To Identify Environmental Aspects

The first steps towards an environmental aspects and impacts register are identifying your environmental aspects. So, get the ball rolling by listing all your activities, including:

  • Day to day activities
  • Annual activities
  • Irregular activities
  • Out of the ordinary and emergency situations, e.g. emissions from transportation might happen all the time. But a diesel spillage only happens in an emergency.

Also, take in to account that the environmental aspects in an office differ greatly to those in a manufacturing plant. Offices might entail environmental aspects such as emissions linked to air conditioning, energy consumption and paper usage. This is in complete contrast to an industrial site, where discharges to water or emissions to air have significant impacts.

Once you’ve identified all your environmental aspects, it’s time to consider how to control or influence the activity that’s causing them.

Think of it like this: If you’re in a serviced office, you probably have little or no control over the waste streams or the recycling facilities. But you can achieve meaningful reductions in the volume of waste produced, through training, monitoring and changes in behaviour.

a male hand holding a graphic of a lightbulb containing green shoots representing environmental impact

How do I identify my environmental impacts?

The next step to compiling your environmental aspects and impacts register is to consider the impact on the environment of the aspects you’ve identified.  

Base your findings on the worst-case scenario as well as the day-to-day impacts. It better equips you to come up with appropriate solutions to mitigate risks. 

Let’s take a diesel spill as an example. The worst-case impact on the environment is the diesel entering a watercourse and killing all the wildlife. Thankfully, it’s an unlikelihood. But you need to consider it, in a similar way to carrying out a health and safety risk assessment.

In addition, you need to keep in mind the bigger picture too, and the lifecycle of the impact. Let’s use the example of consumption of office consumables (paper, toner, stationery etc) to illustrate how this works in practice… 

The aspect is the consumption, while the impact on the environment includes the use of natural resources, deforestation, chemical pollution from production and / or use of fossil fuels. These are all impacts on the environment that need to be considered and documented.

How Significant are Your Environmental Aspects and Impacts

You can use a number of different methods to determine the significance of your environmental aspects and impacts. Just bear in mind it’s entirely subjective, so there’s no right or wrong way. 

The objective of the exercise is to identify where your business has the largest potential of impacting the environment, enabling everyone to focus their attention accordingly. Then, you can set objectives that are both relevant to the business and to the protection of the environment.

It’s important to clearly document the methodology you use to gauge the significance of your environmental aspects and impacts, in order to carry out consistent assessments.

Like the process of identifying environmental impact, I also like to approach significance like a health & safety risk assessment, by gauging likelihood and severity. 

What’s the likelihood of an aspect occurring, and how severe will the impact be on the environment? 

For these purposes, you might want to use a simple low, medium or high rating. Or a numerical 1-5 scoring system might suit you better.

And when you’ve applied your significance rating, it’s forwards and onwards to controls.

a womans hand in front of planet earth indicating stop to a series of symbols representing co2 emissions waste wastage radiation and climate change

What Controls Do You Have?

When talking about controls, think about them in terms of any controls you’ve got in place for the following reasons:

For example, your controls around paper consumption might include factors such as:

So, once you’ve determined significant aspects, you can look to mitigate them by agreeing objectives. This can include training to ensure procedures are being followed, or emergency equipment. 

You can document controls in two ways, by:

  • Re-applying a significance rating after the controls in order to demonstrate an improvement
  • Carrying out a significant assessment once controls have been applied

Whichever way you go about it, it’s important to rate your aspects so you can identify the bigger risks – and how to reduce them.

What’s more, you also need to ensure the assessment is reviewed on a regular basis, especially if activities change, or if new processes or controls are introduced. 

And don’t forget that each risk will be reduced as you achieve your objectives. So, the assessment will need to be reviewed, too.

Next Steps

Found this article useful?

You won’t want to miss our accompanying free factsheet, which includes –

  • Examples of environmental aspects and impacts
  • Further explanation of the lifecycle perspective
  • Examples of controls

You can download this invaluable free resource here.

And if you need any help or advice as you develop and evolve your management system, I’m here for you. Simply give me a call or drop me a note.

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