What’s an enviro audit?

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Environmental audits assess the impact of activities on the environment and measure performance against ISO standards. An EMS is a formal structure for environmental protection, and audits can suggest improvements. ISO standards are created through consensus and compliance is voluntary. Audits can include an overall assessment of EMS performance and provide guidelines for improvement.

An environmental audit is essentially a performance review of activities that have or may have an impact on the environment. Environmental audits are carried out by environmental auditors or consultants, generally registered with the Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA). An environmental audit typically measures the performance of the company, organization or country being audited against environmental standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland.

An environmental audit may include assessing performance in three main areas of environmental concern: responsibility, management and activity. A liability audit assesses compliance with environmental laws and regulations applicable to the company or organization. A functional activity or audit might focus on issues such as waste management or energy consumption. A management audit compares performance to established objectives as stated in an organization’s Environmental Management Strategy (EMS). Financial audits related to compliance with a corporate EMS can measure the financial impact of energy savings, increased efficiency and avoid fines and fines for environmental infractions.

An EMS is a formal organizational structure within a company established primarily for environmental protection. A typical EMS will include the organization’s position statement on environmental issues. In addition, the EMS will identify the planning, implementation and documentation of activities related to the EMS position statement. Suggestions for improving EMS performance are often made through an environmental audit.

Most EMS documents derive from environmental standards set by ISO. These standards are created through the consensus of ISO members, which include 163 countries around the world, as well as national and international business associations. Standards such as ISO 14001, updated in 2006, recommend the voluntary inclusion of beneficial environmental activities in corporate or government EMS documents. Separate sets of standards are established for special needs and groups, such as developing countries.

The process of creating standards such as ISO 14001 is consensual and compliance with standards agreed upon by members is voluntary. To establish or update a standard, each member nation develops a position paper. Drafts of these documents are then sent to all other member nations, and a series of negotiations take place until consensus is reached, with all member countries voting.

Within each ISO member country, various stakeholders participate in the creation of the member position paper. These interested parties may include government agencies, non-governmental agencies and commercial interests. When negotiations between members are complete and voting has validated a final standards document, members and their various stakeholders establish the individual EMS. Compliance with these standards becomes the province of an environmental audit.

The audit of an EMS, when the environmental audit is carried out by a registered auditor or consultant, may include an overall assessment of the performance of the EMS or specific components of the environmental activity. A comprehensive audit should include an assessment of the environmental impact of production, use and disposal. A report following an environmental audit will provide guidelines for continuous performance improvement.

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