EMAS requires an environmental review, which should consider some key areas and recommends items to consider when identifying environmental aspects.
The environmental review is the starting point for a good environmental management system.
Four distinct requirements are listed within the Environmental Aspects section of EMAS:
Identify the direct and indirect environmental aspects of your activities, products and/or services. In other words, the organisation must understand how it interacts with the environment.
Identify the environmental aspects that can be controlled or over which you have influence.
Arrive at a list of significant environmental aspects, based upon the relative environmental impact of each environmental aspect.
Develop a procedure to keep this information up-to-date.
Aspects and impacts
To understand the definitions of aspect and impact, 'cause and effect' provides a useful simplification. The aspect is the cause of the impact, that is the change to the environment, or the effect.
For example, global warming is a change to the environment, hence an impact. One of the causes is burning fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide. In your organisation, this could be, for example, in heating systems, electricity use (someone else does the burning at the power station), transport fuel and so on. Hence, the emissions of carbon dioxide from these activities are environmental aspects of your organisation.
Identifying Significant Environmental Aspects:
Guidance from the regulation
EMAS recommends four steps for the identification and evaluation of environmental aspects:
1. Select an activity, product or service large enough for meaningful examination and small enough to be sufficiently understood.
2. Identify direct and indirect environmental aspects of the activity, product or service, i.e. how does it interact with the environment? Annex VI and the guidance provide some useful ideas.
3. Identify environmental impacts, considering actual and potential, positive and negative impacts associated with each aspect. Examples are:
Handling of hazardous materials
Potential for accidental spillage
Contamination of soil or water
Reformulation of the product to reduce its volume
Conservation of natural resources
Reductions of air emissions
4. Evaluate significance of impacts: How much damage can it do to the environment?