ISO 14001 sets forth a variety of criteria for an Environmental Management Systems (EMS), which is concerned with the environmental aspects of producing products or providing services. And a key concept in ISO 14001 is “life cycle perspective.”
But what is the life cycle perspective? What does it mean, and is it an essential part of ISO 14001 certification?
Understanding The Meaning Of Life Cycle Perspective In ISO 14001
Essentially, the term “life cycle perspective” means that companies seeking ISO 14001 certification should think about the entire lifecycle of products and services when thinking about ways to reduce their environmental impact as part of their environmental management system.
Taking the time to understand the life cycle perspective can help companies find ways to reduce waste and operate more sustainably. Life cycle stages can vary somewhat, but generally speaking, there are 5 stages of a product or service life cycle.
- Material extraction – Most product life cycles include the acquisition of raw materials, such as metal, plastic, fabric, and other such materials that are necessary for the development of a particular product.
- Manufacturing – Design, production, and manufacturing of products is another important part of the life cycle stage. Here, designers, engineers, and manufacturers can exercise a lot of control on how sustainable a product will be by using advanced designs, recycled materials, and sustainable energy sources.
- Packaging and transportation – The packaging, transportation, and supply chain of a particular product are important in the product life cycle. Where does the product need to go? How does it get there? What impacts does this have on the environment?
- Use – Next, the product is put into the hands of end users. Steps that can improve sustainability in this step include designing products that are easy to repair or are very durable and last a long time, reducing the need to buy replacements.
- Final disposal – This is when the product is discarded into a landfill, recycled, reprocessed, or otherwise disposed of. This is the final step of the product life cycle.
A Full Life Cycle Assessment Is Not Required By The ISO 14001:2015 Standard
ISO 14001:2015 does not require a detailed life cycle assessment. This is not a mandatory part of certification. Partially, this is because the precise steps that a company can take to improve the sustainability of a life cycle are limited based on the specifics of their operations.
For example, while a product designer can choose more sustainable materials for a final design, the company manufacturing the product has less control – they may be able to reduce material waste, but the manufacturer will not have the final say about what materials are used to create the product itself, and whether or not that product is sustainable.
Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense for most companies to perform a full life cycle assessment, because very few companies are ever involved in the full life cycle from material extraction to final disposal. Rather, they should consider where they fit into the entire life cycle – and which precise steps they can take to enhance sustainability in their own operations.
Understanding How A Life Cycle Perspective Can Help Your Business
While ISO 14001 does not require a detailed product life cycle assessment, taking a holistic view and understanding life cycle perspective can still help top management mitigate significant environmental impacts.
With an understanding of the stages of a product and its lifecycle, management will have an easier time controlling or influencing product development in the pursuit of sustainable development.
Not only does this protect the Earth and lead to more sustainable growth, but understanding the life cycle perspective can help companies earn environmental credentials from a variety of organisations concerned with eco-friendly, “green” products and services, which may be helpful for branding and PR reasons.
Need Help with ISO 14001 Certification?
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