Environmental Audits: What Are They And How Do You Conduct One?

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Climate change is already having an impact on our environment, with some devastating consequences on our lives and those of our fellow human beings around the world.

Action is now imperative from both individuals and businesses to help slow down Global Warming and meet net zero targets. One way to start measuring and changing your businesses environmental impact is to conduct an environmental audit.

Key Points:

  • Environmental audits should not be viewed as a ‘box-ticking exercise’ – they are essential in ensuring your business responds to environmental changes now and in the future
  • Good communications will galvanise staff to help improve processes that cause harm to the environment
  • Environmental audits help you to monitor your company’s progress – so you can share successes and make improvements where needed

With increasing environmental legislation and consumer pressures, the clock is ticking for businesses to achieve meaningful change to respond to the challenges now and plan how they will respond to future developments.

Most businesses now mention sustainability in their corporate policies – but it is often down to only a few people within the company to make these pledges a reality. The road from pollution and waste to sustainability and innovation can be difficult and costly.

But with the right support and training, it can reinvigorate a business and encourage staff loyalty.

Why do you need an environmental audit?

A good starting point for any business is to conduct an environmental audit. This essentially involves reviewing a business’s processes and materials to assess its performance regarding the environment.

  • An environmental audit allows the business to gather the information and evidence it needs to measure the challenges it faces and devise plans to meet those specific challenges.
  • Not all businesses face exactly the same challenges or require exactly the same response – there is no one-size-fits-all environmental audit.
  • An environmental audit might benefit from regular company meetings to report findings and will require collaboration from colleagues in sourcing the information needed to identify issues.

For example, monitoring, taking samples or site inspections may be needed to assess emissions and pollutants. It could also be useful to interview key members of staff who may be able to further areas where there are weaknesses in performance.

An environmental audit equips a business with the knowledge and evidence it needs to respond to environmental legislation, emerging issues and queries from its customers regarding its commitment to the environment.

Realistic science-based targets need to be set following such an audit, and continuously measured, so a company can review its progress and take further action where needed.

Achievements in reducing environmental harm can also benefit a business’s reputation, with opportunities for public relations work to communicate efforts and progress.

Staff support

It is essential that an environmental audit is viewed by colleagues as a positive action being taken for the good of the company and the environment, rather than a monitoring of their work for which they could be reprimanded. With a strong internal communications plan, the entire workforce can be united in their goal to improve processes to help save the planet.

Training should also be made available to inform staff and keep them up-to-date on emerging issues and legislation. TSW Training offers a range of sustainability courses at various levels to help businesses meet sustainability demands. From a one-day practical environmental skills course that introduces workers to environmental sustainability to a Certificate in Environmental Management, all courses are awarded by the IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment).

Unfortunately, not every environmental audit ends with a utopian collective response and level of achievement.

For example, in 2018 fashion retailers in the UK were found to be failing to commit to reduce their harmful impact on the environment. And in 2020, the NHS and Public Health England were found to be failing to do enough to tackle harmful emissions.

Although one option is to secure an external environmental audit instead of in-house, there is certainly benefit in utilising existing relationships with colleagues and company knowledge to take an honest appraisal of processes and procedures.

Uncovering problems, finding solutions

If environmental legislation continues to increase and consumers continue to demand progression from businesses across sectors, it is definitely better to discover issues yourself and take action as a company than someone else pointing them out and the business ending up in hot water.

How to conduct an environmental audit

Although environmental audit’s will inevitably vary from business to business, the following checklist will enable you to steer your business’s environmental audit in the right direction:

  • Planning – identify departments, processes, resources and useful contacts
  • Prepare checklists
  • Review existing environmental policies
  • Create or download an internal environmental audit form and update the document in a timely manner
  • Identify and keep a record of all examples of non-conformance and observations
  • List suggestions
  • Share findings and suggestions with relevant colleagues
  • Set a date for a follow-up to the audit

Most importantly, an environmental audit must not be regarded as simply a tick-in-the-box exercise. When done right, it empowers the company to act to make improvements in its systems and procedures, which can ultimately lead to better efficiency. Good for the environment, good for business.

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Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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