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ISO 14001:2015 life cycle perspective

Definition of Life Cycle: 

The definition of life cycle  as per ISO 14001:2015 is ‘Consecutive and interlinked stages of a product (or service) system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal. Life cycle stages include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal.’

According to ISO 14001:2015 ,(0.2 Aim of an environmental management system) Life cycle perspective is “A systematic approach to environmental management can provide top management with information to build success over the long term and create options for contributing to sustainable development by controlling or influencing the way the organization’s products and services are designed, manufactured, distributed, consumed and disposed by using a life cycle perspective that can prevent environmental impacts from being unintentionally shifted elsewhere within the life cycle“.

life-cycle-prespective

A system, or life cycle can begin with extracting raw materials from the ground and generating energy. Materials and energy are then part of manufacturing, transportation, use, and eventually recycling, reuse, or disposal. In the context of this standard, the term life cycle refers to the consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system from the acquisition of raw materials to end-of-life disposal. A life cycle perspective means we recognize how our choices influence what happens at each of these points so we can balance trade-offs and positively impact the economy, the environment, and society. A life cycle approach is a way of thinking which helps us recognize how our selections – such as buying a new machine or a raw material – are one part of a whole system of events.A life cycle perspective identifies both opportunities and risks of a product or technology, all the way from raw materials to disposal. To do this there is a continuum of life cycle approaches from qualitative (life cycle thinking) to comprehensive quantitative approaches (life cycle assessment studies). People, companies and governments use these various life cycle perspective in anything from day to day shopping, selecting office supplies for the workplace, engineering a new product design, or developing a new government policy. The life cycle  a product system includes all associated activities, products, and services and may include procured goods and services as well as end-of-life treatment, decommissioning, and disposal. A life cycle perspective includes consideration of the environmental aspects of an organization’s activities, products, and services that it can control or influence. Stages in a life cycle include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end of life treatment, and final disposal.
When applying a life cycle perspective to its products and services, the organization should consider the following:

  • the stage in the life cycle of the product or service,
  • the degree of control it has over the life cycle stages, e.g. a product designer may be responsible for raw material selection, whereas a manufacturer may only be responsible for reducing raw material use and minimizing process waste and the user may only be responsible for use and disposal of the product,
  • the degree of influence it has over the life cycle, e.g. the designer may only influence the manufacturers production methods, whereas the manufacturer my also influence the design and the way the product is used or its method of disposal,
  • the life of the product,
  • the organization’s influence on the supply chain,
  • the length of the supply chain, and
  • the technological complexity of the product.

The organization can consider those stages in the life cycle over which it has the greatest control or influence as these may offer the greatest opportunity to reduce resource use and minimize pollution or waste.

A Life Cycle perspective Promotes

  • Awareness that our selections are not isolated, but influence a larger system. Buying office paper is a good example. If you knew that it takes 24 trees to create 50,000 sheets of office paper and 2.3 cubic meters of landfill space to dispose of it, you might choose paper made from recycled material and elect to support paper producers that source from sustainable managed forests.
  • Making choices for the longer term and considering all environmental and social issues associated with those. Life cycle thinking helps us avoid short term decisions that lead to environmental degradation – such as over-fishing or polluting our air with mercury.
  • Improving entire systems, not single parts of systems, by avoiding decisions that fix one environmental problem but cause another unexpected or costly environmental problem. Life cycle thinking helps avoid shifting problems from one life cycle stage to another, from one geographic region to another and from one environmental medium (air, water or soil) to another.
  • Informed selections, but not necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ones. Life cycle thinking simply helps us put our decisions in context with facts from all parts of the system or life cycle. It means we look for unintentional impacts of our actions (such as damaging a natural eco-system or inadvertently supporting unfair labor conditions and wages) and take some action to prevent those impacts (such as purchasing office paper from sustainable managed forests or coffee certified “fair trade”). For instance, if the shop around the block from your office sells coffee grown by workers who receive a fair wage on the world market, cultivated without pesticides that harm people planting or harvesting the beans and from a plantation that did not cause an endangered forests to be chopped down, you might choose to purchase your daily cup from that shop.

Why consider life cycle perspective?

The reason according to ISO 14001 (A.8.1 Operational planning and control) is that ‘Some of the organization’s significant environmental impacts can occur during the transport, 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.‘ The organization considers the extent of control or influence that it can exert over activities, products and services considering a life cycle perspective.

Today organization and its employees in design, sales, and finance make many choices to balance customer satisfaction, quality, innovation, safety, costs, and more. Thinking in terms of the life cycle, businesses recognise that each choice sets the stage for not only how the product will look and function, but also for how it will impact the environment and the community as it is manufactured, used, disposed, or re-used and recycled. For example, washing machines, refrigerators, and other appliances can be made from recycled materials, be free of harmful substances, use minimal water and energy, and be designed to have a long life. Each product characteristic is determined when the product is designed and will impact the environment differently.

life-cycle-refrigenrant

Products can be designed so they will have less environmental impact when they are manufactured, used, and discarded. Today, refrigerators are made without CFC refrigerants that harm the ozone layer, and some models are also designed to use half as much energy as they did 10 years ago.

To make decisions during product design, organization research where the raw materials might come from, which manufacturing processes may be needed, who will use the product, what type of maintenance and cleaning might be required, what types of waste will be created, and where the product will go when it is discarded. To find this out, designers conduct life cycle studies and measure the potential impacts of various options.(Example: The German carpet producer Donau-Tufting GmbH conducted a life cycle study of their carpet production. Based on what the study found, Donau-Tufting decided to remove heavy-metal coloring’s and vulcanization chemicals from the carpets they make. The company gained an advantage in the market over its competitors, as the new carpet achieved an additional 25% turnover.).

Organization can also request such information from suppliers. With life cycle information, companies are able to calculate the full life cycle cost of the goods they purchase. This includes the point of-purchase price as well as the costs of transporting, storing, installing, cleaning, operating, repairing, and eventually discarding those goods – also known as the ‘total cost’ of owning that product (Example: A business which makes industrial cleaners worked with its chemical supplier to identify the life cycle costs of manufacturing, purchasing, using, and disposing of the chemicals supplied. Together, they used the results to identify changes in the formulation of the cleaner to reduce these costs. Next, the business approached its customer who purchases the cleaner to wash buses, subway cars, and train cars. The business calculated that this customer was paying not only for the cleaner, but also for water use, cleaner spilled during use, and unused cleaner discarded as residue in each packaging container. This customer also paid fees for special handling, storage, worker training, and reporting on use of the cleaner to comply with laws and regulations. But so far this customer had never measured these costs or connected them with its choice of cleaner. Seeing an opportunity to work with its customer, the business designed a cleaning “system” to deliver cleaner to customers in one large container, connect it to a hose, mix it with the exact amount of water, and apply it directly to the buses, subways, and train cars. The system would use less water and less cleaner, eliminate handling and storage, and ensure cleaner wasn’t lost as residue in packaging or as “waste” to the environment from spills. By managing all life cycle issues, the system reduces the customer’s costs, manages risks to worker health and safety, mitigates environmental impacts, and provides a longer-term contract for the business.)

A product designed with better environmental, social and economic performance across its life cycle may have benefits the company can communicate to its customers. Some businesses elect to use product declarations or other labels to market environmental and social attributes to their customers. There are international standards for these business-to business communications or “environmental product declarations”. Each declaration must be based on a life cycle study and tell the business customer about the life cycle environmental impacts of the component or product being purchased. Declarations exist for building and construction products, refrigerators and other appliances, chemicals, train cars, dairy products, and circuit breakers, to name a few. Life cycle thinking that influences product design, strategic planning, procurement, and sales helps businesses:

  •  Enhance their image and the value of their brands. Organization can avoid criticism and participate in issues abroad or beyond their direct sphere of influence. Financial indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI) track and report the financial performance of leading sustainability driven businesses, worldwide.
  • Find new ways for marketing and sales departments to communicate and interact with customers – some fifty percent of organization  say they are interested in learning about sustainability. This means a company can promote its products and services by talking about its social and environmental attributes.
  • Share lifecycle information with suppliers, customers, and waste handlers to identify risks and opportunities for improvement – the risks might relate to the environment, human health, safety, and finance, while opportunities could include growing market share, brand image, effective use of materials, and innovation. Together, businesses can find new ways to improve output while optimizing their use of time, money, labor, and material input

Providing Life Cycle Information to Customers

Market interest in environmental information on products that is credible, unbiased, verifiable, and covers the entire life cycle is growing. To be complete, the information should cover the product life cycle from acquiring raw materials to recycling those materials when the product is no longer in use. Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are meant to provide this type of information in business-to-business communication, promoting “green procurement” in the business and public sectors. Companies use EPDs to communicate their product’s environmental performance. ABB, a global manufacturer of power and automation technologies for utility and industry customers, has more than 40 EPDs for a range of its products. EPDs include information about any hazardous substances, disassembly, recovery, and recycling of used products and waste. Quantified life cycle information from an EPD is also a necessary input for many ABB customers working to modify and improve the environmental performance of their products and services through eco-design and innovation

Is Life cycle assessment a requirement in ISO 14001:2015?

No, it is not a requirement as clearly stated in Annex to ISO 14001 (A.6.1.2 Environmental aspects): ‘When determining environmental aspects, the organization considers a life cycle perspective. This does not require a detailed life cycle assessment; thinking carefully about the life cycle stages that can be controlled or influenced by the organization is sufficient. Typical stages of a product life cycle include raw material acquisition, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal. The life cycle stages that are applicable will vary depending on the activity, product or service.

 The inclusion of life cycles in ISO 14001:2015 doesn’t mean an intricate and heavily detailed analysis. The standard even goes so far as stating in Annex A that 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 “.
It calls this lower level approach taking a life cycle ‘perspective’ rather than an ‘assessment’ and the difference
is an important one. One of the differences is the extent of an organization’s ‘control’ or ‘influence’ over the various life cycle stages and how that extent will be a crucial factor in the breadth of the perspective considering the whole cycle. Thinking about the practical limits of where an organization can directly control matters, where it can influence them and where that influence begins to have little or no effect will certainly force clarity on the scope of the exercise and on the environmental management system (EMS). Even though the standard is clearly steering organizations away from a detailed life cycle assessment in the initial stages, the top level exercise like the one being promoted can still reap benefits (for example, new design possibilities, energy savings, synergies in the supply chain). Any more detailed follow-up analysis, however, is in the hands of the organization itself and can’t be ‘demanded’ by an auditor or driven by an external certification body. To have a perspective implies viewing something from a singular point. Therefore taking a perspective on a life cycle means viewing the entire life cycle from the position that you or your organization has within that cycle and capturing the unique properties of such a view.
Finally, the whole point of a cycle is that it repeats itself, otherwise it is not cyclical. No two cycles repeat themselves in exactly the same way or result in the same outcome. Life cycles of similar products might look the same on the surface, but underneath, the environmental impacts could vary widely. The real key to unlocking the benefits of taking a life cycle perspective lies in how it enhances the various parts of your existing EMS. These benefits are less reliant on the level of detail, but hinge more on the sensible use of the information generated. More data may not mean more information. To understand how this might work in practice, we need to look in more detail at how life cycle thinking can affect individual elements of your existing EMS and the most obvious initial point of impact on an EMS is in the steps required to establish an organization’s operating and commercial context.Even though a formal life cycle assessment is not a requirement for your EMS, understanding the life cycle of your product or service is necessary to get the job done. This needs to include all aspects of your product life cycle such as product packaging, packaging for shipment, and even the final disposal of your product.

ISO 14001 key requirements that refers to life cycle perspective are:

I Scope

This International Standard is applicable to any organization, regardless of size, type and nature, and applies to the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that the organization determines it can either control or influence considering a life cycle perspective.”

There’s more to understanding an organization’s effective reach than direct managerial control of activities. As per ISO 14001:2015 (A.4.3 Determining the scope of Environmental management system ) “In setting the scope, the credibility of the environmental management system depends upon the choice of organizational boundaries. The organization considers the extent of control or influence that it can exert over activities, products and services considering a life cycle perspective.”

No organization exists in a vacuum but is part of a complex web of buying, selling and exchanging. At each transactional point, there’s an opportunity to make a decision that favours minimization of negative or promotion of positive environmental impacts. Until now, most organizations have looked at the minimum starting point of what is in their direct control; an approach that tends to focus on the physical boundaries of an operational site and everything inside that perimeter. Many have not progressed much beyond that view. Some might have revisited the scope due to managerial or operational changes, some may even have embraced the idea that sourcing raw material can benefit from the attention of an environmental manager, revealing the power of a procurement policy that brings financial as well as reputational benefits. All these management system scopes have their advantages, but they are all dogged by a conscious decision to take a limited view of the whole. The obvious next step is to relate the scope of your existing EMS to the number of stages in the life cycle of your product or service. Usually, this will be no more than one or two if you are thinking about direct control in relation to the responsibility; looking at the stages immediately adjacent and either side of your operations and the potential for influence can be an eye-opening experience for many. In such cases, life cycle thinking, whether prompted by internal initiatives, external product or material related legislation, has given new ideas, flushed out new
opportunities, new challenges and revealed hitherto unforeseen exposures to risk. Ultimately this is more than a choice about credibility, reputation or corporate social responsibility. Taking this approach increases an organization’s resilience, continuity, risk management and the promotion of innovation through opportunity identification and realization. If an organization needs to demonstrate that they are taking the ‘life cycle perspective’ requirement into account, they may also need to account for any obvious disparity between an EMS scope and the specific characteristics of the life cycle involved. So, for example, if areas out of the scope for EMS purposes such as suppliers, transport or end user disposal remain out of scope, the conscious decision taken to exclude such factors may need supporting with further evidence

6.1.2 Environmental aspects

Within the defined scope of the environmental management system, the organization shall determine the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that it can control and those that it can influence, and their associated environmental impacts, considering a life cycle perspective.”

Looking at the requirement in Clause 6.1.2 one can see that  the three elements that have to work together are control, influence and life cycle. They should come from a consistent position and inform one another on an ongoing,
dynamic basis. New information or a change in one should lead to the changes being reflected in the others. In turn, the system overall should reflect the decisions taken with regard to the amount of control and influence that can be exercised, and how far upstream and downstream of operations it can be usefully applied. Even more importantly, the process of identification and evaluation of significant aspects should also be based on that same life cycle perspective. If it has not been previously applied to that process, it may change the overall significance rating, with new aspects added to reflect the increased sphere of influence being considered. It can’t be over emphasised that this evaluation of aspects is a core element of the system. If the process does not accurately reflect the management system scope, or has an evaluation structure that is not consistently applied across all the potential aspects and impacts, the rest of the system is unlikely to rectify such problems. An extension of scope and a willingness to start exercising influence through buying habits, information giving or rethinking design elements of a product are all good decisions in themselves but any such changes will need to be consistent with the identified and relevant environmental aspects as well. The outputs from the evaluation of aspects and impacts will need a further examination for risks and opportunities in order to meet the requirements of Clause 6.1.1. At the same time, these are added to a consideration of the risks and opportunities related to contextual issues identified in Clause 4.1. All of which means that any change prompted by the life cycle perspective already discussed in relation to these earlier clauses should show up throughout the planning process.

So, in summary, when identifying the environmental aspects of your product or service, you need to consider the entire life cycle of the product or service, and during your design and development of the product and service you need to identify what operational controls you will put in place to address any significant environmental aspects. Here are some examples of environmental aspects and operational controls that might not have been captured with the current requirements of ISO 14001:

  • At the end of life, is there a way to recycle your product? Even if there is, could you recycle the product better and re-use some materials? Many companies are starting to have products returned at the end of life to be properly recycled, such as paint at hardware stores or electronics at special electronic recycling depots. This allows for better and more environmentally friendly recycling with the possibility of reclaiming materials for reuse.
  • For a product made of plastic, have you considered the type of plastic it is made of? Could the product be made of a material that is more easily recycled at the end of life? Could it be made of a material that can be re-used rather than recycled?
  • When packaging your product, what are you using? If you are packaging in a large plastic container, could the container size be reduced, or the material changed to something that does not use a non-renewable natural resource?
  • For a delivery service, have you considered your packing materials and how they impact the environment?  Instead of plastic packaging material, have you considered biodegradable material made from corn starch or another material? Some companies are even using popcorn as a packaging material, which is easily biodegraded.
  • Have you considered the impact of your recycling partners? Remember that you need to consider environmental aspects that you can influence, as well as those you can control. This means that choosing a metal recycling company that is closer to your facility could be more environmentally friendly that one that is far away, due to the distance the trucks would have to travel.
  • Have you considered the impact of your delivery partners? How often does your delivery company maintain its vehicles? Is there an alternate company that has cleaner-burning delivery vehicles? Identifying how your delivery company impacts the environment and making your choices accordingly is one way that you can influence the impacts of these environmental aspects.

8.1 Operational Planning and Control

Consistent with a life cycle perspective, the organization shall:

establish controls as appropriate to ensure that its environmental requirement(s) are addressed in the design and development process for the product or service, considering each stage of its life cycle;
determine its environmental requirement(s) for the procurement of products and services as appropriate;
communicate its relevant environmental requirement(s) to external providers, including contractors;
consider 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 its products and services.

The outputs from all the planning turn into the reality of day-to-day operations. Thus the life cycle perspective gets a specific mention in the major ‘doing’ clause where the interface between the plan and the complexity of operations is manifested in a series of controls. Planning and designing those controls is an art in itself, especially where there is no direct employee of the organization involved, where the process might be outsourced, or where the control is shared between the organization and a supplier or contractor. Deciding at what point control becomes influence can also be another important consideration in ensuring that the management of individual processes is consistent, thorough but not constrictive. Here, consistency with the outputs of the earlier life cycle thinking can shed light on areas that may formerly have been considered indistinct or that have traditionally benefitted from a simple functional approach. In many cases, it highlights areas where the levers of influence lie. Life cycle work can point out where

  • purchasing policies need support with enough details so that it’s possible to go beyond lip service,
  • service level agreements can be drawn up informed by the chance to access and manage both risks and opportunities,
  • potential contract variations with contractors and suppliers can be revisited for mutual benefit, and
  • outsourcing processes has or can deliver benefits other than reduced costs by releasing new and improved levels of environmental or resource related performance, still measureable in financial terms

control-and-influnce

Practical help – Life cycle perspective

A life cycle perspective includes consideration of the environmental aspects of an organization’s activities, products, and services that it can control or influence. Stages in a life cycle include acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end of life treatment, and final disposal.

When applying a life cycle perspective to its products and services, the organization should consider the following:

  • the stage in the life cycle of the product or service,
  • the degree of control it has over the life cycle stages, e.g. a product designer may be responsible for raw material selection, whereas a manufacturer may only be responsible for reducing raw material use and minimizing process waste and the user may only be responsible for use and disposal of the product,
  • the degree of influence it has over the life cycle, e.g. the designer may only influence the manufacturers production methods, whereas the manufacturer my also influence the design and the way the product is used or its method of disposal,
  • the life of the product,
  • the organization’s influence on the supply chain,
  • the length of the supply chain,
  • the technological complexity of the product.

The organization can consider those stages in the life cycle over which it has the greatest control or influence as these may offer the greatest opportunity to reduce resource use and minimize pollution or waste.

Life Cycle Tools

Life cycle thinking can be put into practice in many ways… involving a number of different “tools”. Referring to eco-labels, sustainability indices, and company reports on environmental and social issues helps individual citizens bring life cycle thinking into purchasing decisions. Governments take a life cycle approach to policy making by involving a wide range of stakeholders (such as via Product Panels), life cycle modeling, or new policy approaches (such as Integrated Product Policy). In private sector companies, engineers and designers apply life cycle thinking when designing products and services, via studies based on Life Cycle Assessment), Total Cost of Ownership calculations, Design-for-Environment programs and management systems oriented toward products or facilities. Quantitative and qualitative tools for mapping life cycles and measuring impacts continue to evolve as more professionals apply life cycle thinking and ask for life cycle information.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Design for Environment (DfE), Product Service Systems (PSS) & Integrated Product Policy (IPP) are all responses to the identified need for a paradigm shift in our approach to achieving sustainable development – each builds on the concept of life cycle thinking.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

pdf Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Example of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

pdf Example of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

ISO 14001:2015 – Lifecycle thinking from IEMA on Vimeo.

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