How to add Value to Environmental Auditing

Are you, an Environmental Auditor or a Senior Manager looking to get the best value out of your environmental auditing? But struggle how to understand how to maximise the value from your environmental audits the here is the answer to your question.

This article will explore the value proposition of environmental auditing, which is a topic that has not been fully explored in the past with most of the attention going towards environmental management systems and certification audits.

So, whilst environmental auditing is recognised as having a critical role to play in ensuring that organisations fulfil their commitments to environmental management, their environmental performance and compliance.

It is, often, inextricably linked with either, internal auditing of an Environmental Management System (EMS), such as ISO 14001:2015 or external audits as a route to certification.

Indeed, much is written about Environmental Management Systems, such as ISO 14001:2015, both from a technical perspective for their implementation and maintenance and for the wider benefits to meet stakeholder expectations including environmental regulators.

However, much less is written about the environmental auditing process and even less about the relationship and interaction between senior managers and Auditors within an organisation.

It is against this backdrop that there has been a positive initiative to promote best practice and foster better understanding of this nexus that the IEMA have filled this vacuum with a new Briefing Paper: The Value of Environmental Auditing. I had the privilege to contribute to the development of the Paper and want to ensure that its contents are promoted more widely.

In this article, I will concentrate on the main focus of the Briefing Paper and look at the four key points covering the role of the Senior Manager in planning the audit programme, the Auditor in their role of delivering an effective audit & the components, which make up a good audit & add value.

Senior Managers
Senior Managers are looking for an effective environmental audit to provides a true and fair view of the organisation’s environmental performance and compliance status & provide comfort over the accuracy of their management or revealing any weaknesses or opportunities for enhancement.

Auditing is critical to decision making for an organisation placing reliance on environmental management performance. The process through which an audit is undertaken challenges the robustness of the internal controls and processes an organisation has in place, giving an unbiased perspective and valuable feedback.

In exploring the role of the Senior Manager in planning environmental audits, the Paper looks at five key traits to add value to the environmental auditing programmes:

  • They should appreciate that environmental audits contribute to the achievement of environmental and sustainability strategy, and to broader business objectives, as well as improving the effectiveness of the Environmental Management System
  • They should demonstrate their support for the audit process with emphasis on the need for all functions to make time available, encouraging all staff to co-operate in the audits and ensuring optimal audit resources
  • A key part of this support is to allocate resources and time to consider and address audit findings, so that genuine opportunities are taken to improve performance and contribute to business goals
  • Ensuring that internal auditors are supported with resources, such as training to develop their audit competence and time to carry out the audit effectively; and
  • where appropriate, support the integration of environmental auditing into other business processes, for example integrated auditing or corporate risk auditing programmes. Where this occurs, environmental issues should have an appropriate allocation of audit effort.

Equally, Auditors need to know that they have the full support of their senior managers to conduct their audits including promoting a culture that enables and supports auditing as a valuable and integrated business function rather than a siloed activity divorced from the business and its objectives.

Here the Paper provides that the Environmental Auditors have a role to:

  • Ensure that they develop and maintain appropriate technical competence but also need to possess the personal behaviours that contribute to successful audits
  • Ideally, they will have a combination of knowledge, skills and experience in environmental auditing and develop good soft skills by being empathetic and able to communicate with individuals at all levels are important to effective auditing
  • Equally, being able to apply these skills and their understanding of the organisation to effectively audit within the Auditee’s activities
  • Auditors must be diligent and committed, genuinely striving to help improve environmental performance
  • They should be able to plan their audits so that they focus on priority areas, and be able to produce relevant, evidence-based findings, and;
  • They should be capable of presenting findings in a way that clearly explains the benefits of taking action and be prepared to explain to senior management opportunities for adding value.

What is a good Audit?
Within this relationship between the Senior Management and Auditors, a good audit will be one that:

  • Meets the requirements of the commissioning organisation,
  • Is fully supported by the audited organisation; and
  • Is delivered in an impartial and objective way by a competent auditor.

How audits add value
Environmental auditing, whether internal or external, can add value specifically by:

  • Updating senior management on environmental performance, especially in relation to significant risks or implications for strategic issues
  • Identifying actual failings or potential weaknesses in environmental management processes, before they can detract from environmental performance, and stimulating evaluation of the underlying causes to encourage genuine and lasting improvement
  • Highlighting areas of non-compliance with legal requirements or other commitments (e.g. contracts with suppliers)
  • Establishing areas for potential improvement in environmental performance, which could lead to increased efficiencies, cost savings and enhanced compliance
  • Confirming that the organisation has robust processes in place for ensuring compliance, resulting in better relationships with regulators
  • Demonstrating to stakeholders that the organisation has effective environmental management processes and is achieving planned levels of performance
  • Providing the basis for reliable and transparent reporting of performance
  • Raising the awareness of relevant environmental issues and guiding them in improving their ability to apply environmental management processes
  • Demonstrating to external certification bodies, in the case of internal audits, that the organisation meets the requirements of ISO 14001.

In conclusion, the article has taken the four key points from the IEMA Briefing Paper and covered the role of the Senior Manager in planning the audit programme, the Auditor in their role of delivering a effective audit & the components, which make up a good audit & add value. By following these best practice points, there are clear opportunities to build upon your current Environmental Auditing and create greater value.

Key Action Points
There are key Actions Points for Senior Managers and Auditors to take from this article especially in the mutual support that they can give to each other’s roles & the environmental management of their organisation.

  • Senior Managers can support the audit programme through their commitment, resources and participation
  • Auditors can play their role in maintaining the competence and skills for effective auditing
  • All parties need to be aware of “What is a good audit”
  • And, how they can contribute to add value to the auditing process

With so much to consider from this article and from the content of the IEMA Briefing Paper: The Value of Environmental Auditing, you should start by downloading a copy of the IEMA Briefing Paper here

I hope that this content will promote your own ideas on how to add value to your involvement in Environmental Audits. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

If you enjoyed this article, you should check out our YouTube Channel – EMSmastery, where you can watch our videos, such as our video accompanying this article on How to add value to Environmental Audits and subscribe in our YouTube channel for new videos released each week.

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