Environmental audits play a substantial role in sustainability by helping keep companies and organizations accountable when it comes to their practices. Environmental auditors carry out audits to detail a company’s practices and make recommendations on what needs to be done to make the relevant environmental regulations are being followed.
The environmental auditing process can be varied and requires knowledge of environmental management methods and techniques, environmental laws, regulations and related documents, environmental management systems and standards, and audit procedure, processes and techniques.
Let’s take a look at what an environmental audit is and what’s included in environmental management audits.
What is an environmental audit?
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act defines environmental audits as:
“Environmental audits are internal evaluations by companies and government agencies, to verify their compliance with legal requirements as well as their own internal policies and standards. They are conducted by companies, government agencies and others on a voluntary basis, and are carried out by either outside consultants or employees of the company or facility from outside the work unit being audited. Audits can identify compliance problems, weaknesses in management systems, or areas of risk. The findings are documented in a written report.”
There are two main types of environmental audit that environmental auditors can conduct. One is a compliance audit in cases where a business is meeting internal and external environmental guidelines and legislation. The other is a management performance audit which measures if a business is meeting the criteria for management systems.
Audit criteria might include types of compliance requirements, such as regulations or management practices, which work to benefit the environment.
Audits provide information about the organization’s operational status compared to management’s expectations of environmental performance. In other words, if management expects the organization to comply with the regulations, then an audit provides information as to whether or not compliance has actually been achieved.
If the organization has not achieved compliance, the environmental audit process will also reveal what specific measures are required to address this shortcoming.
One way to think of audits is as diagnostic exams or operational tune-ups. When businesses take the exam, they gain a better understanding of just where they stand in regard to specific criteria, including:
- Management Systems
The audits also allow businesses to determine what they need to change and what actions they should take to improve their overall operational efficiency. Like a tune-up for a car, these exams should be done periodically or as needed.
The 5 Stages of Environmental Audit – The steps of environmental audit
What does an environmental audit involve? Here are the 5 environmental audit phases.
When businesses consider conducting an audit or implementing an audit program, they need to first review information about the benefits and limitations of auditing. These informational sources could include journal articles, case studies, or books that describe environmental auditing programs, various types of audits, and the lessons learned from such audits.
This necessary background information gives businesses a better understanding of the scope of auditing, allows them to make informed decisions based on their audits, and demonstrates the best way for them to apply the information they’ve learned to their operations.
Step 1: Schedule the Audit
The process of an environmental audit starts with an organization’s Environmental Management Representative (EMR) scheduling audits at an appropriate risk-based frequency. Environmental managers can determine how frequently the audit should be performed through consultation with relevant Government Agencies and/or a review of specific project requirements.
When scheduling the audit, EMRs should coordinate the timing to minimize disruptions to project operations. They also need to record the audit in each Environmental Management Plan (EMP) using the appropriate template from their Environmental Management Systems (EMS) manual.
Step 2: Plan the Audit
The next step in the environmental audit is for the EMR to establish and document the Area/Contractor to be audited, the reason and scope of the audit, and the contact names for the Area/Contractor.
The EMR must also appoint and notify a qualified Lead Auditor or audit member if required. If warranted, the EMR can appoint themselves as the Lead Auditor.
Step 3: Conduct the Audit
All relevant personnel in the Audit Team should meet to discuss the scope of the audit, the proposed audit agenda, the audit objectives, any project personnel that need to be contacted or interviewed, and a tentative time to hold the exit meeting.
Step 4: Develop an Audit Report/Action Plan
The environment audit team needs to prepare a report based on all the objective evidence that was collected during the audit.
This report must be forwarded to the Contractor within 2 days of completion of the audit. The final report must be distributed to the Auditor, Contractor, Independent Reviewer and Environmental Auditor, the State, and all other relevant personnel.
Step 5: Audit Follow-Up
The EMR will follow up on the closing out of any remaining contract items by the Contractor. It can be done separately and can even be done whenever the next relevant audit takes place, depending on how significant the finding is.
For more information on environmental management auditing and how to become an auditor, visit the Auditing Association of Canada.