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Environmental auditing: how to assess your organisations impact

Pressure on organisations in the UK has never been stronger when it comes to legislation and regulation to promote environmental protection in industry. Public awareness and involvement in environmental concerns is growing, and the expectation of consumers on those who supply goods and services to reduce harm is relentlessly gaining momentum.

This combination of increased regulatory pressure, alongside a more perceptive public stakeholder, means that it no longer makes sense to not proactively address the impact that a business or council’s operations are having on the wider environment.

A multitude of benefits can be derived from addressing such impacts, including avoidance of legal liability, reducing the threat of fines or criminal prosecution, and increased consumer appeal; not to mention the potential for reductions in insurance premiums due to fewer incidents and generating more profit from less waste, alongside a genuine desire to ‘do less harm’.

As such, progressive employers and individuals alike are recognising the benefits of adopting environmental considerations into their standard operating procedures, developing Environmental Management Systems, and action plans.

One of the key ways to implement environmental change into a business, and benefit from a reduced regulatory risk, is to frequently ‘audit’ the business’s operations.

What does an environmental audit include?
Auditing is essentially a systematic and documented method for investigating and assessing the environmental performance of an organisation, or a specific operation within a wider business. An audit can be designed to be highly focussed and target a particular area of interest or of high risk; or it can act as a ‘top-level’ assessment of general performance, addressing those issues which are deemed key to safeguarding the environment by complying with best practice and regulatory requirements.

How often should an audit happen?
An audit should be periodic to ensure that standards are maintained, and objective to avoid bias. The standardised documentation of an audit is critical to the longevity of its usefulness, and is key in allowing the findings to be understood by all stakeholders.

Who can undertake an audit?
Training to become a skilled auditor is essential prior to undertaking an effective audit. As such, the Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has created guidelines for a Foundation Environmental Auditing course, designed to provide a pathway for those in industry to gain the necessary skills to audit their own, or third party, operations.

The University of Brighton runs such a course, certified by IEMA and tutored by auditors from Argyll Environmental, which is a specialist environmental consultancy. The course aims to equip trainee environmental auditors with a basic knowledge and awareness, to a level where they can participate in environmental audits. It is open to all those developing careers in environmental auditing, or where they have responsibility for the management of an operational aspect of an organisation, particularly where there is the potential for environmental harm, i.e. industrial operations, waste management, construction, manufacturing etc.

We are seeing increasing interest from local authorities, as well as commercial organisations, in this course.

The course, which takes place over five days, broadly covers the principles of auditing and includes a practical exercise where delegates carry out an audit of a live operational premises.

Photo by Kevin M. Gill

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