The Environmental Management System must manage all aspects which are found to be significant. Those not found to be significant do not need to be managed by the Environmental Management System. There is no single accepted method for evaluating significance. What is significant for one organization will not necessarily be significant to another. Determining which environmental impacts are significant does not require an “Environmental Impact Assessment” and taking a lifecycle approach does not require a full “Life Cycle Analysis” to be undertaken.
When determining which aspects are significant, the organization needs to adopt an approach that works for its specific circumstances considering its size, the site, and the natural of the business conducted. The approach taken should consider the significance of each aspect under the following circumstances:
- Normal operating conditions
- Abnormal operating conditions (e.g. start-up, shutdown, maintenance)
- Accidents and emergencies
- Past activities
- Planned activities
Environmental Aspects include:
- Emissions to air
- Releases to groundwater
- Releases to surface water
- Use of water
- Waste management and disposal
- Contamination of land
- Impact on communities
- Use of raw materials
- Use of energy
- Use of radioactive material
- Use of natural resources
When determining the environmental impact of each of the identified aspects consider:
- Existing controls
- Severity of the impact
- Frequency or probability of occurrence
- Duration of the impact
- Effect on public image
- Cost of changing the impact
- Difficulty of changing the impact
- Effect of change on other activities or processes
- Concerns over potential regulatory or legal exposure
- Concerns of interested parties
The organization may wish to determine impacts at local, regional, national or global scale. The assessment of significance needs to consider both past and future activities. E.g. the use of the site before the organization took ownership may have caused land contamination.
A register of significant environmental aspects is usually produced to meet the requirement to maintain documented information of environmental aspects and associated impacts and of significant environmental aspects. The register must be kept up to date, and will need to be reviewed periodically (e.g. annually) or when new aspects are identified; when processes are changed or in the event of an environmental incident, accident or emergency.
Register of Aspects and Impacts – Quick Check
Does the register of aspects and impacts register include:
- All inputs to the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- All outputs to the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- All direct and indirect air emissions from activities, products or processes?
- All controlled and uncontrolled effluents from the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- The generation or disposal of solid and other waste associated with the organization’s activities, products or processes
- Any contamination of land as a result of the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- All uses of raw materials and natural resources associated with the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- All other discharges or emissions, such as heat, energy, noise, odour, dust, vibration or visual impact, associated with the organization’s activities, products or processes?
- All environmental issues of local or community relevance associated with the organization and its environmental performance?