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Environmental, Health, Safety, and Quality Management Services for Business and Industry, and Federal, State, and Local Government.

ISO 9001
ISO 17025
ISO 14001

Developing Your EMS - The Three Key Tasks the You Must Do:


Identify environmental aspects


Address environmental impacts


Define significance

What Are Aspects and Impacts?

An aspect is an element of an organization's activities, products, or services that can interact with the environment.  It is a constituent part of the business.  These are the typical methodologies used to identify environmental aspects:


Value Chain Method: life cycle analysis


Materials Identification Method: captures information about chemical and hazardous substances, but often overlooks aspects such as water and energy


Regulatory Compliance Method: Focus on the substances that are regulated


Process Flow Method (Recommended): Easiest and most comprehensive.  Delineates every process and support activity on a process flow diagram

An impact is any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organizationís activities, products or services.


Aspect (Cause)

Potential Impact (Effect)

Emissions of volatile organic compounds

Increase in ground level ozone

Spills and leaks

Soil and groundwater contamination

Electricity use

Air pollution, global warming

Use of recycled paper

Conservation of natural resources

Significant aspects must be considered in establishing objectives and targets.

Organizations may select categories of activities, products, or services to identify those aspects most likely to have a significant impact.

Note: the focus of environmental objectives and targets is to eliminate or reduce the aspect, thereby preventing or reducing pollution.

Some categories of aspects include:


Those related to an organization's operations; e.g., manufacturing


Those related to services offered or used by an organization; e.g., shipping, maintenance


Those related to an organization's products; e.g., containers

The following are normally considered in evaluating environmental aspects:  


Air emissions


Solid and hazardous wastes


Contamination of land


Local issues (e.g. noise, odor, dust, traffic, appearance, etc.)


Water effluents


Land use


Raw material and resource use


Normal and abnormal conditions (e.g., start-up, shutdown, emergencies)

How Do We Identify Environmental Aspects?

Environmental aspects are identified after the process(es) have been fully defined.  For each process item, a questionnaire, similar to the following, is used to identify the aspect: 




Is energy used?

Is service provided on company premises?

Does the product require enclosure in a container?

Are natural resources used?

Is service provided on customer premises?

Is the product (or its container) enclosed in any packaging?

Are chemicals used?

Is energy used?

Is any portion of the product, container, or packaging reusable or recyclable?

Are other materials used?

Are chemicals used?

Does proper use of the product rely on an energy source?

Is any packaging used?

Are other materials used?

Is the packaging disposed of by the end user?


Is any packaging used?

Is the container disposed of by the end user?



Is the product disposed of by the end user?

 The following is sample output from the results of the questionnaire(s): 



Operate Vehicles

Spillage/leakage from vehicles

Air emission from vehicles

Fuel usage from vehicles

Noise from vehicles

Air emissions due to fire

Perform Vehicle Painting

Spillage/leakage of paint

Air emissions from spills

Air emissions from grinding/paints/solvents

Paint/solvent usage in painting and cleanup

Incidental use of other materials while painting

Noise from painting operations

Energy usage to operate painting equipment

Air emissions due to fires

How Do We Assess Environmental Impacts?

Impacts can be classified in terms of processes, products, and services.  Significance may extent to potential for impact, not just actual impact.

Organize impacts by:


Operational area: Those associated with specific tasks, work stations, or other activities


Media: Cluster all water-related, for example, impacts as one group.  Ditto with air and waste.


Potential for accidents and emergency situations.


Actual impacts: Consolidates the total array of impacts

Evaluating Impacts

After impacts are established, the magnitude of the impact must be assessed.  Here are some evaluation criteria:


Severity (common)


Likelihood (common)


Frequency (common)






Regulatory status




Stakeholder concerns



The most common scales used for impact evaluation are severity, likelihood, and frequency.  Generally, a scale of one to five is used.  For example:

Severity Scale:

5=Severe/catastrophic: very harmful or potentially fatal; great effort to correct and recover
4=Serious: harmful, but not potentially fatal, difficult to correct but recoverable
3=Moderate: somewhat harmful, correctable
2=Mild: little potential for harm, easily correctable
1=Harmless: no potential for harm, correctable

Likelihood Scale:

5=Very likely: high probability (90 percent or more) that an aspect will result in a detectable impact
4=Likely: strong probability (68 percent to 89 percent) that an aspect will results in a detectable impact
3=Moderate: reasonable probability (34 percent to 67 percent that an aspect will result in a detectable impact
2=Low: low probability (11ercent to 33 percent) that an aspect will result in a detectable impact
1=Remote: very unlikely (less that 10 percent) that an aspect will result in a detectable impact

Frequency Scale:

5=Continuous: occurs three times per week (on average) or more often
4=Repeated: occurs one to two times per week (on average)
3=Regular: occurs monthly (on average)
2=Intermittent: occurs quarterly (on average)
1=Seldom: occurs two times per year (on average) or less often

Organizations can employ any criteria that it deems appropriate.  Cost, effect on production, and other similar consideration are more appropriate in determining which impacts will be addressed through environmental objectives and targets.

A key consideration in impact evaluation is inter-rater reliability; that is, the ability of different evaluators to make the same, correct determination about an impact as it reflects a specific criterion.  Inter-rater reliability is enhanced by a clear, concise operational definition for every score within a particular scale.

Here are some things to remember:


Scores should be multiplied when the values assigned to measured attributes are unrelated to each other.


Scores should be added when the values of attributes are related to each other.

How Do We Evaluate Significance?

It is up to the organization to determine significance.  Three common factors:


Regulatory significance


Stakeholder interest


Percentile ranking

You must clearly define the method that you use.

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