Last reviewed 25 September 2017

One of the significant changes within ISO 14001:2015 is the requirement relating to lifecycle management. But what does this really mean? Alan Field considers this question.

Introduction

For those who already operate an environmental management system (EMS) that meets ISO 14001:2004 requirements, then the new ISO 14001:2015 presents both a number of opportunities as well as challenges.

One of these is a new, explicit requirement as to defining operational planning and controls which are consistent with a lifecycle perspective (Clause 8.1). Lifecycle itself is defined with Clause 3.3.3. However, the definition is very broad and talks about consecutive and interlinked stages of a product or service system from raw materials acquisition to final disposal.

To some organisations this definition of lifecycle would include the so called “circular economy” where the assumption is that what is consumed will then be reused or recycled back into a virtuous cycle of use and re-use. To some, lifecycle includes energy management — the less energy use, then the less that needs to be generated; the more carbon efficient a building then the less consumption need to climate control it, as well as the obvious less carbon emissions from the structure itself.

As with many aspects of ISO 14001:2015 it will be down to the leadership team to define what they see as lifecycle requirements for the products and services that are included within their ISO 14001 EMS. In other words, decisions need to be taken as there is no “cookie cutter” definitive answer to what lifecycle means and how it impacts within a risk based EMS.

Mind the gap

The first point to consider for an ISO 14001:2015 implementation is not to reinvent the wheel. In other words, a lifecycle approach to management may already be in place or, at least, partially so.

For example, in some sectors, such as construction, there may be agreed methodologies toward whole life costing or similar approaches to looking at longer term considerations to the product or service being delivered. Equally, there may be carbon management principles used where the impact of sourcing materials and services is calculated to an agreed formula. In larger organisations, those involved with energy management or procurement will often have policies concerning this.

It should be remembered that not all organisations look at lifecycle in terms of what might be described as broadly resource or carbon emissions management. For example, minimising the ecological impacts of production and consumption (eg ensuring drainage from a building does not impact on local wildlife) or minimising the impact of hazardous waste on the wider community, eg where a higher level of waste is generated than could be from a process but it is less toxic.

In other words, a gap analysis needs to be done to ensure lifecycle principles aren’t already being deployed, even if the L word isn’t being used.

Policy decisions

One other less obvious aspect of lifecycle definition is actually looking at why an organisation thinks lifecycle management is important to them and not just something to please an auditor.

In other words, how will that organisation’s own definition of lifecycle management support their wider business goals, both for current and future operations. This is one reason why different organisations focus on different aspects of lifecycle management. For example, in commercial property management, the demand for carbon efficient buildings — both in terms of construction and operations — that align with the tenants own sustainable goals is increasing and, in turn, this can impact on the facilities manager (FM) professional who is now often expected to contribute to these lifecycle considerations.

There is a wider issue for some organisations. The United Nations have indicated that by 2050 the world could need three times more resources than are currently being used, due to population growth and the onward march of consumerism. This can also impact on corporate social responsibility type goals where unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals in manufacturing is exacerbated by a lack of effective lifecycle management.

Due to these wider concerns about the state of the world’s natural resources, more organisations are championing the idea of a circular economy — in which virtually nothing is wasted and the resources used are endlessly repurposed. This not only impacts on the wider world but each organisation’s own ongoing viability. Whatever one’s position on global warming, resources are finite and, in some instances, the control of commodity supplies are in relatively few hands — the assumption that one does not need to think too much about where resources come from and how they end up is not sustainable.

The other policy decision relates to future proofing through lifecycle. The availability and cost of resources and the impact of carbon management is just one factor. The way that technology may develop and the way business delivery will change, eg web based services, more robotics, less requirement for face-to-face meetings or servicing, will all influence lifecycle.

One size fits all?

It should be remembered that lifecycle will depend on many factors that are not homogenous even in one organisation. For example, a global organisation will need to consider different circumstances throughout the world, eg procurement chains, availability of local technologies to manage climate control, reuse and recycling, to name just a few.

However, for smaller organisations, the bigger issue is different product streams with different lifecycle goals. For the FM professional, the lifecycle between hard and soft services is one broad definition. Hard services will often have more focus on the procurement of technologies, spare parts, whole life costing and the eventual recycling of redundant parts. Soft services may be focusing on efficient energy use in the execution of services (less travel or more efficient routines) and the ability to reuse or recycle often quite diverse waste streams; even in services like reception and security the lifecycle of energy use and carbon impact can be influenced by the way processes are configured and delivered.

The key point is that all products and services impact on lifecycle, some more so than others. If a prioritisation of lifecycle projects is desired, then understanding the individual impacts on lifecycle for each product, service or site is essential. However, if one does not understand the organisation’s overall policy towards lifecycle the priorities cannot be determined, eg is our priority the absolute reduction of waste generation or, rather, is it the minimisation of hazardous waste generation?

Since ISO 14001:2015 is a risk based management system, this means lifecycle management should be part of the wider risk minimisation/opportunities maximisation approach to the EMS. In other words, lifecycle is not standalone. It is just one part of the EMS and decisions relating to it create both risk and opportunities in terms of fulfilling all the environmental policies and objectives that it may impact on, eg wider policies on biodiversity or energy management the organisation may have decided.

Conclusion

In the short term, a better appreciation of lifecycle improves not just the bottom line but also promotes what can be described as environmental stewardship and, progressively, customers expect this approach. This is especially true in the built environment sector.

So, understanding lifecycle is much more than simply meeting some ISO 14001 requirements. It can have wider business benefits where it is appropriately defined and implemented.