Organisations use environmental management systems (accredited or not) to demonstrate that that are taking steps to reduce the risks of environmental harm and damage from business activities.

A key element of an EMS is the process of identifying and evaluating the organisation’s impacts on the environment (environmental impacts may be positive or negative, beneficial or adverse), and its activities, products and services that cause them e.g. environmental aspects.  In many ways this is the environmental equivalent of a health and safety risk assessment but the exact structure and format is more variable as each organization sets the frame work in which to complete its assessments.

The evaluation is important as it ensures that the EMS is focused on the environmental issues that really matter (those that are most significant) and that resources and management time are concentrated on controlling and improving them.


The identification of significant environmental aspects needs to take account of the legislative, regulatory and other environmental requirements that affect the organisation.  These may be pollution control permits, laws and regulations relating to the disposal of waste, or contractual requirements which specify environmental criteria required by customers of the organisation.  For each of these significant environmental aspects action needs to be taken to apply legal requirements and best practice.

Impacts or Aspects?


In health and safety the term hazard refers to “anything with the potential to cause harm” and a risk is the “likelihood of harm being realised along with the possible severity”, this terminology is not used generally for environmental issues but the principles are quite similar.


those elements of an organisation’s activities, products or services that do or could result in an environmental impact.’ i.e. using electricity to power a photocopier, petrol to run a vehicle etc.




environmental changes that occur, wholly or partly, as a consequence of an organisation’s environmental aspects.’ This could include the depletion of natural resources or air pollution resulting in more children suffering from asthma.

 The links between an organisation’s activities and its aspects and impacts are shown in the table  below:

Clearly this table is a simplification and a single activity may have several aspects, which in turn may have several impacts.  When assessing the environmental aspects associated with a particular activity it is useful therefore to have a check-list of categories to consider.


 This may include Hazardous material usage, Contamination to atmosphere and air emissions. Contamination of land, Contamination of aquatic environment, Effects on the community, Visual amenity, Loss of amenity, Effects on eco systems, Energy usage and Nuisance e.g. noise.

As each aspect is reviewed consideration will be given to whether the impact is “direct” e.g. Under the control of the employer or “indirect”  impacts which are not under the direct control of the organisation e.g. Methods used by suppliers or contractors.


Aspects must also be reviewed to identity which occur during normally day to day activities, which only occur occasional e.g. During maintenance and which will only occur if there is an emergency situation on site.


Evaluating the significance of  impacts is one of the most difficult parts of environmental management.  In many circumstances, professional judgement will play an important role in determining how to address significance.


Factors which effect the significance rating include:-

Nature of the harm which could be caused.

· Frequency, likelihood and duration of the environmental impact;

· severity of damage caused.

· the sensitivity of the receiving environment and the extent to which the impact is reversible;

· the extent to which the impact is covered by environmental laws.

· the importance of the impact to interested parties – e.g. employees, neighbours, regulators.


Once the significance rating is established, then an action plan needs to be established which aims to prevent or mitigate the environmental risks of all significant impacts. Timescales need to be set and action then taken.

There are a number of EA guidance notes which provide useful technical detail on some of the most suitable environmental solutions which can be considered.

PPG1    General guide to the prevention of pollution of controlled waters

PPG2    Above ground oil storage tanks

PPG3    Use and design of oil separators in surface water drainage systems

PPG4    Disposal of sewage where no mains drainage is available

PPG5    Works in, near or liable to affect watercourses

PPG6    Working at demolition and construction sites

PPG7    Fuelling stations: construction and operation

PPG8    Safe storage and disposal of used oils

The difference between aspects and impacts 




Aspect Impact
Vehicle washing Effluent discharge Water pollution and/or soil contamination
Paint spraying VOC emissions Air pollution / human health effects
Product distribution by road Exhaust emissions Air pollution / human health effects