What’s it: An environmental audit is a systematic examination to assess a company’s environmental responsibility. It aims to identify environmental compliance, verify environmental responsibility implementation gaps whether they meet stated objectives, along with related corrective actions.
The audit examines the potential hazards or risks posed by the company. Areas examined may include company environmental policies and procedures, energy use practices, recycling, waste, conservation, and pollution. Then, the company can use the results to determine what changes need to be made for compliance.
What is the importance of an environmental audit?
In a broad sense, environmental auditing aims to help protect the environment and minimize the risks of business activities to the environment and human safety and health. Whereas, in the company’s perspective, it aims to check whether the company has complied with the environmental regulations and requirements and achieved the previously set environmental goals.
Environmental audits are important for several reasons:
To build a good company reputation. Environmental audits can strengthen the company’s image. For example, although it may not be fully compliant, the improvement efforts made will be seen as a positive step by the public. And, if it is compliant, it can lead to positive publicity, encouraging the public not to hesitate to continue buying products from the company.
- Audits help businesses become more sustainable. It also creates new marketing opportunities with other consumers. For example, companies use formal recognition or accreditation as a tool to create preferences for the company’s products.
To avoid negative campaigns. Increasing external demands for environmental responsibility by pressure groups and environmental activists are forcing companies to check their compliance with environmental requirements. The increasing concern for the environment has made these demands more and more popular. If the company is not compliant, for example, they can campaign to boycott its products.
To adapt and comply with more stringent environmental regulations. Governments adopt more stringent environmental regulations and standards, usually by international consensus. It forces companies to comply if they do not want to be penalized.
Then, when done properly, a comprehensive environmental audit can uncover problem areas and provide recommendations for follow-up. So, the company can fix it before its reputation is destroyed and regulatory problems arise.
Finally, environmental audits have several objectives, including:
- Assess the company’s compliance with laws and regulations and other relevant requirements.
- Establish a performance basis for planning and developing an environmental management system.
- Promote good environmental management.
- Maintain credibility with the public.
- Raise awareness and enforce the company’s internal commitment to environmental policies.
- Minimize risk exposure from environmental issues to health and safety.
What do environmental auditors do?
Environmental auditors are responsible for examining and reviewing the company’s environmental policies and procedures. From the results obtained, and if they are not satisfactory, they then prepare protocols to implement better environmental policies and standards.
In addition to thoroughness, communication skills, report writing skills, and strong organizational skills, environmental auditors must also understand environmental management systems, including environmental management laws and ISO 14001.
Then, the environmental auditor’s duties can vary widely between jobs. That could include:
- Plan audit methodology and procedures.
- Check the company’s facilities and operational procedures, for example, by conducting field visits.
- Conduct interviews and meetings with key company people.
- Assess the company’s compliance with environmental regulations and guidelines set by the government and the company.
- Analyze audit documentation and data to prepare audit findings reports.
- Present audit findings.
The auditor may also have to make recommendations to correct nonconformities or improve the company’s environmental performance. They can also contribute to developing an action plan to implement the recommended changes.
What are the types of environmental audits?
Three main types of environmental audits:
- Environmental compliance audit – evaluates a company’s environmental performance and environmental responsibility practices, whether the company has complied with legal requirements and other requirements such as ISO 14001. It is usually the most comprehensive and, perhaps, the most expensive.
- Environmental management audit – verifies whether the company has met the environmental objectives, policies, and performance set by management.
- Functional environmental audit – focuses on one element or impact of a particular activity, such as wastewater management audits, materials, and air quality monitoring.
What are the benefits of an environmental audit?
Environmental audits and their results provide useful input to:
- Provide management with information about the management and performance of the company’s environment as input for making decisions,
- Identify risks related to environmental responsibility and take action to implement them,
- Ensure company operations comply with environmental laws and requirements and, if not, take necessary corrective actions,
- Identify environmental management system weaknesses before they cause problems,
- Develop organizational culture and increase environmental awareness among people within the company,
- Identify opportunities for improvement in environmental management and performance to drive increased efficiency and cost savings,
- Improve company transparency to stakeholders such as government, customers, and investors to support long term good relationships with them,
- Encourage positive publicity by publishing audit results, thereby enhancing the reputation and image of the company, and
- Develop marketing strategies and strengthen brand equity, encourage consumers to remain loyal to the company.
What are the limitations of an environmental audit?
While contributing to supporting environmental sustainability, there are some limitations to environmental audit, including:
- Audits can be time-consuming and expensive to perform and are therefore not suitable for small businesses with limited financial resources.
- Companies may simply take advantage of positive publicity without actually intending to be environmentally responsible.
- Internal audits can be biased and lead to a consistently good environmental record, but this is not the case.