Assessing Environmental Performance in line with 14031
When ISO started revising 14001, the standard for environmental management systems (EMS), it emphasised the importance of measuring, monitoring and managing performance. Under the clauses in the draft standard covering objectives and targets and in the section on performance evaluation, organisations are required to adopt performance indicators. The definition of an indicator in the new 14001 comes from ISO 14031, which provides guidance on environmental performance evaluation (EPE).
14031 is referenced in the 14001 draft as well as in the proposed changes to 14004, the guide on applying the EMS standard, which is also being revised. Both drafts recognise that 14031 could make a significant contribution in assessing environmental performance, as well as potentially providing organisations with a means to track their progress towards a more circular and sustainable economy.
But this begs the question as to why the 14031 guidelines have had little impact so far, other than fragmented applications and often in research-focused investigations. After all, the current edition was published in 2013 some 14 years after ISO first brought out the guide. Surely if 14031 had any real value, it would have made a much larger impact.
The UK national standards organisation, BSI, says 14031 can help an organisation maximise the management of its environmental impacts. It does this by providing users with a set of tools to identify, measure, assess and then communicate their environmental performance.
14031 encourages the use of indicators to examine causes and effects, and hence manage an environmental impact better. The indicators that an organisation chooses will depend on its activities and its significant environmental aspects.
Raising the profile
However, use of 14031 has been fragmented and hardly widespread. This may simply be due to a lack of awareness. However, two things should change that. First, BSI has been publicising and promoting 14031, with support from bodies such as IEMA. Second, the references to 14031 in the revised versions of 14001 and 14004 will lead to a much greater awareness of its potential benefits.