ISO 14001 4.3.1 environmental aspects; clairification of intent

Q: Based on Section 4.3.1 of ISO 14001-2004: Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, would an organization control, or be expected to influence, environmental aspects in the following situations:

  • Would an organization’s headquarters (or corporate office) control, or be expected to influence, the environmental aspects of its operating facilities?
  • Would an organization control, or be expected to influence, the environmental aspects of its suppliers, including contractors?
  • Would a regulatory agency control, or be expected to influence, the environmental aspects of other organizations subject to its regulatory requirements?

Clarification of Intent:

A: Clause 4.3.1 of ISO 14001:2004 requires an organization to identify the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services within the defined scope of its environmental management system (EMS) “that it can control and those that it can influence.”  This differs from the 1996 standard which used the phrase “that it can control and over which it can be expected to have an influence.”

The revised language removes one ambiguity in the 1996 version – some users incorrectly interpreted this phrase to imply that views of someone outside the organization must be considered when determining the environmental aspects the organization might influence. The intent of the new phrase in Clause 4.3.1 is to make it clear that the organization makes that determination.

Furthermore, as in the 1996 standard, the organization is obligated to identify environmental aspects only for those activities, products and services that are within its EMS scope, which again is decided by the organization (see Clause 4.1). Of these environmental aspects, the organization must decide which it can control and which are not within its control.  For those of its environmental aspects that it cannot control, the organization must decide if it can exercise influence over them

The Standard does not define criteria that an organization must use to determine its control of or influence over environmental aspects.  It is up to the organization to make that determination, on a case by case basis, considering its own unique factors, such as its governance structure, legal or contractual authority, its policies, local or regional issues, its obligations and responsibilities to interested parties, technological issues and implications on its own environmental performance. What might be appropriate for one organization might not be appropriate for others. It is important to note that it is possible for two different organizations or two different organizational units to control or influence the “same” environmental aspect.

In summary, an organization is only responsible for managing its own environmental aspects (those arising from activities, products, and services within its EMS scope) and only those aspects which it can control or which it can influence.

Regarding the three situations posed in the question:

1) Determining “control and influence” within a corporation or other hierarchical organization.   For purposes of identifying environmental aspects, the scope of the EMS is the key.  It delineates the activities, products, and services from which environmental aspects might arise and for which the organization needs to consider its control or influence.

If the EMS scope is restricted to corporate headquarters, the issue of control or influence pertains to the environmental aspects arising from headquarters’ activities, products and services.  It may be that some environmental aspects are not within corporate headquarters control, but instead are controlled by an operating facility.  In this case, corporate headquarters must consider whether it can influence those aspects that are within its scope and yet controlled by the operating facility.

If the EMS scope is restricted to one operating facility, the issue of control or influence pertains to that operating facility.  It may determine that some environmental aspects are not within the operating facility’s control, i.e., certain aspects may be controlled by another operating unit (such as headquarters or an engineering department).  The operating facility must consider whether it can influence those aspects that are within its EMS scope and yet controlled by another unit.

If the EMS scope includes both headquarters and the operating facilities, both headquarters and operating facilities need to consider their collective control or influence over the aspects within the scope of the EMS.

2)  Determining “control and influence” with regard to contractors and suppliers.   An organization is not responsible for the environmental aspects of its contractors or suppliers; it is responsible only for its own environmental aspects.   An organization may have environmental aspects associated with activities within its own EMS scope which are performed by contractors, or environmental aspects arising from materials or services purchased from suppliers.  For such aspects, the organization must consider what control it might have, e.g. through contracts, and what influence it might have, e.g. through purchasing power.

3) Determining “control and influence” for a regulatory agency.   When a regulatory agency identifies environmental aspects associated with its activities, products, and services, it must consider the same issues as other organizations; that is, it must determine the extent of control or influence it has over the identified aspects.  It is clear that such an agency may influence or even be perceived to control some environmental aspects associated with organizations that it regulates.  The important point is defining the regulatory agency’s environmental aspects that arise from the activities (e.g., setting water quality standards), products (e.g., discharge permits), and services (e.g., inspection) within its EMS scope.  Deciding which aspects are under the agency’s control or influence follows the same logic as for other organizations.

U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) 207 Task Group on Interpretations

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What are clarifications of intent?

The ISO 14001:2004 standard on environmental management systems has been negotiated over a period of years, with language carefully chosen to reflect delicate compromises and flexibility in their use and application.

Recognizing that questions of intent may arise from time to time in various settings, the U.S. TAG responds to questions regarding clarification of the ISO 14001 requirements. These responses reflect U.S. SubTAG 1’s understanding of the requirements as intended during its drafting. Responses are prepared by the SubTAG 1 Clarification of Intent Drafting Group, which consists of the Administrator, the U.S. SubTAG 1 Working Group experts and others who participated in the drafting of the ISO 14001 and 14004 standards. Responses are developed based on the group’s consensus understanding of the intent of the SC1 Working Group members who drafted the standard.

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