External and Internal Issues
In our previous post on ISO 14001 Tips we discussed the nature of Interested Parties under Clause 4.2 of the 2015 Standard. Now we will cover the nature of External and Internal issues as required under Clause 4.1 Understanding the organization and its context.
This Clause states:
The organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcomes of its environmental management system. Such issues shall include environmental conditions being affected by or capable of affecting the organization.
Depending on your familiarity with ISO 14001, the new ISO Standard requires you to develop a Context of your Organization that is being certified. The Context broadly requires the following things to be developed, outlined, and documented:
Our Tips #1 post covered the second item in this list; here we will address the first one. Of curious note here is that the Standard asks that you address environmental conditions affected by or capable of affecting your organization. That eerily presages many environmental catastrophes that have occurred globally in just the past two years since the Standard became effective. These conditions include such recent disasters as forest fires in California (followed by massive mudslides), hurricane-related flooding such as in Houston or last year’s devastation as in Puerto Rico, to name just a few.
These external events could easily affect your operation, and more importantly create unique environmental disasters should you have, for instance. external chemical holding tanks that could be damaged by a flood or fire, and so on. As environmental conditions outside the normal course of your business and management system could impact your operation’s ability to achieve a successful environmental performance, these external issues need to be addressed as part of the ISO planning process.
Likewise, there are potential internal issues that could affect your ability to have a successful program, such as the company cutting back on internal costs and limiting the environmental team’s ability to implement programs.
Our experience has been that you should try and list the various external and internal issues that would prevent you from having a successful environmental management system – think in terms of what would cause you to fail or simply come up short on achieving whatever intended outcomes you have for the program.
As an example - if your goal is to use the ISO program/management system to help your operation improve recycling efforts, then you need to ask yourself or your team what issues (internal and external) would prevent your operation from improving the recycling effort, or at least hamper it and not allow it to improve over current conditions. Some examples might be:
The idea is for you and your team to review the possible reasons for failure or diminished success and evaluate which of these would represent a likely or highly likely risk or opportunity. Some of these risks or opportunities may then become one or more of your environmental objectives for the year under Clause 6.2.1.
Further examples of external and internal issues that you may consider include:
EXTERNAL ISSUES AND POSSIBLE IMPACTS AFFECTING YOUR EMS
Changing Regulations and Laws
Change in existing regulations or new laws and rules could create additional requirements.
Not keeping up with changes could cause the operation to be in violation.
Missing Regulatory Due Dates
Not meeting due dates for submittals could result in fines or penalties.
National and local politics can drive radical changes in regulatory and economic areas.
Local Climate/Climate Change
Extreme temperatures or variations could cause tanks to rupture or be compromised.
Weather could impact movement and create failures or spills.
Natural Disasters (earthquakes, floods, etc.)
Need for planning for disasters that if unprepared for could cause an uncontrolled release of chemicals to the environment.
NGOs and Community groups can influence local politics and zoning and affect business operations.
Market Shares/Business Performance
Changes in market share price or business revenue can affect business funding decisions that would be important for environmental programs.
Logistics/ Distribution Centers/ Freight Use
Environmental impacts; product delivery; increase site costs.
Dramatic shifts in different fuel prices could force an operation to switch from a low-greenhouse gas fuel to a higher GHG emitting fuel (e.g., going from natural gas to diesel).
Technological Development & Advances
Use of applications and platforms represent potential opportunities to enhance performance and save effort.
Local/ Regional Waste Handling Capacity
Restriction on certain types and amounts of waste that can disposed of locally.
Water availability can hinder operations; consider requirements for control and limits.
Sites in air quality control zones can place additional restrictions and requirements; local communities can be impacted.
Local Zoning Changes
Change in zoning designations for the area can impact operations and onsite requirements.
Environmental Noise Generation
Amount of noise generated from the site can impact local communities and add additional restrictions and requirements.
INTERNAL ISSUES AND POSSIBLE IMPACTS AFFECTING YOUR EMS
Environmental Staff for the Operation
How many staff are necessary to efficiently and successfully operate the management system and environmental affairs.
Sudden staff resignations and turnover can lead to a loss in implementation and documentation.
Qualifications of staff involved in the EMS programs.
Top Management for the Operation
Level of support, commitment, and engagement; resources; and leadership.
Employees at the Site
Level of support, commitment, and engagement.
How well trained and aware are employees of the operation’s environmental objectives.
Quality controls, systems in place, available technology, and support.
Access to computer systems, databases, and platforms for management of data and activities.
Operational Changes (new work activities, line changes, new equipment, etc.)
Increased manufacturing can lead to increased waste and emissions.
New lines or operations with additional chemicals, waste generation, and raw material needs could impact emissions and affect permit status.
While every site is different, an exhaustive review of possible ways your EMS could fail to achieve its intended goals is one way to improve your chances at success. Your review may identify other external or internal issues than the ones listed above. Make sure you look at how these additional issues could impact your success and attempt to rank them by level of possible risk. Identified risks can then be added to your overall risk analysis as prescribed elsewhere in the Standard (and the subject for a later ISO 14001 Tips blog). The organization will then need to determine which of these issues should be addressed and how. Some may not be necessarily remedied in just a year but may require a longer period of time to implement or change.
Some auditors we have worked with have suggested the creation of a master plan for the site that incorporates the intended outcomes with the various risks and opportunities and environmental objectives laid out over a 3, 5, or 7-year planning process. A master plan could show which risks and objectives would be addressed in the current year and which are expected to require multiple years to achieve. This type of documentation can also help to show why certain objectives were selected for the current year and which ones may be addressed in the future.
Richard DiNitto is a founding director of the The Isosceles Group with over 30 years of professional experience in environmental health and safety consulting and facility management across the globe. He has been involved with the ISO certification and recertification for several facilities for ISO 14001 both in the US, Europe and Mexico for over the past decade. Mr. DiNitto also developed the firm’s program and an international team of regulatory analysts who produce international regulatory compliance audit protocols and regulatory updates. He currently assists multi-international firms with their environmental health and safety management programs and onsite EHS staff and compliance.