Information and Advisory Note Number 45 Back to menu
1.1 There is now a range of practices which come under the label of environmental auditing. This Note is provided as an introduction to an activity which is of increasing interest in the public and private sector.
2.1 Environmental auditing originated in the United States in the 1970s. At first
reactive in focus, environmental considerations were dealt with by 'end of pipe'
solutions. Control measures were heavily influenced by the need to reduce
remediation costs and fines which might stem from industrial accidents, and from
the need to manage environmental liabilities.
2.2 Environmental auditing was introduced to the UK and elsewhere mainly by multi-national companies who began to apply the audit procedures corporately and via subsidiaries (horizontally). It is now being encouraged down the supply chain when large companies demand that their suppliers have green credentials (vertically). Environmental auditing has also become more proactive as organisations have recognised potential market and stakeholder benefits, efficiency gains, financial savings, and the importance of improved public relations.
2.3 Historically, environmental auditing has been developed for industrial (chemical and manufacturing) applications. Interest has also occurred in the public sector, resulting from the various Charter initiatives to open up activities to greater public scrutiny. Local authorities now apply auditing in their work. This can be expected to grow more rapidly as a result of new commitments towards sustainable development and the implementation of Local Agenda 21.
3.1 The term 'environmental auditing' is broad. Many definitions cover auditing in
the private and public sector.
3.2 Private sector environmental auditing has been variously defined as:
'a management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of the performance of the organisation, management system and processes designed to protect the environment with the aim of: (1) facilitating management control of practices which may have impact on the environment, and (2) assessing compliance with company policies'. (CEC, 1993); and
the systematic examination of the interaction between any business operation and its surrounding. This includes all emissions to air, land and water legal constraints; the effects on the neighbouring community, landscape and ecology; and the public's perception of the operating company in the local area' (CBI, 1990).
3.3 Many types of audit have been carried out by companies (ERM, 1996, Thompson and Therivel, 1991):
3.4 The above have been described as partial environmental audits (Welford and
Gouldson, 1993) to distinguish them from the more specific environmental audit
and, in particular, the periodic audit that forms a crucial step in
environmental management systems (EMS). Each is discussed below in sections 4
and 5 respectively.
3.5 In the public sector, local authorities have led the way in environmental auditing. Two forms have been defined (LGMB, 1991):
External audit - 'An assessment of the condition of the local environment, usually resulting in a State of the Environment Report (SoE or SOER)'and
Internal audit - consisting of two areas:
3.6 'Strategic Environmental Assessment' (SEA) has emerged in recent years as a way of appraising the environmental impacts of polices, programmes and plans (Bedfordshire County Council/RSPB, 1996). As such it is a method for Policy Impact Assessment. Many local authorities in England and Wales have undertaken or are currently preparing one (Therivel, 1994,). In Scotland SEA was piloted in Gordon District in 1994, followed by Clackmannan District Council in 1995. SEA is also being explored as a way of identifying the potential environmental impacts of some of the Structural Fund Programmes (Objective 1,2 and 5B).
4.1 The more specific type of environmental audit involves the collection, collation, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of information which is used to:
4.2 The systematic, periodic, documented and objective aspects of environmental auditing are fundamental to effectiveness. It is fast developing as an important and powerful tool in the corporate environmental assessment and management toolkit. The requirement periodically to repeat audits ensures that there is an ongoing commitment and a systematic process to improve environmental performance (Grayson, 1992). The scope of repeat audits can also broaden to become more comprehensive as experience and expertise are accrued or as new issues or legislation emerge.
4.3 Sometimes the terms assessment, appraisal, monitoring or review have been used interchangeably with audit. Audit implies detailed statistical verification with a periodic cycle between audits. An assessment or review is usually a one-off event which is carried out in less detail and with less direct checking of data.
4.4 Environmental Reviews provide a baseline overview of current environmental effects or impacts, relevant environmental legislation and a statement of existing environmental performance. The Reviews provide a basis for establishing a management action plan. They can become part of an environmental management system to help implement the plan. When they are undertaken as the first of a series of periodic environmental audits they have been referred to as a 'Baseline Environmental Audit'.
4.5 Environmental audits should be appropriate to the particular circumstances. As environmental auditing draws upon various methodologies, each organisation will define its own system depending upon its size, its activities and its corporate culture. The scope and style of audits vary, but common stages and activities include:
4.6 There is an increasing demand for the results of auditing to be disclosed. Recent European initiatives on access to environmental information (CEC, 1990) and the requirement of the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (CEC, 1993) for participants to publish environmental statements confirm the importance of this.
5.1 An EMS is a tool designed to enable
organisations to target, achieve and
demonstrate continuous improvement in
environmental performance. It is one
integrated management process with a
number of stages, which includes an
environmental audit. There are a number of
standards (e.g. the British Standard BS7750
(BS11992), the European Eco-Management
and Audit Scheme for Industry (CEC, 1993)
and the DoE Eco-Management and Audit
Scheme for UK Local Authorities (DoE,1995)). These consist of most or all of the following elements depending on the
1. adopt an environmental policy to confirm and promote commitment to continual improvement in environmental performance;
2. undertake an environmental review to identify significant environmental issues and effects;
3. set up environmental programmes of objectives, targets and actions;
4. establish an environmental management system to ensure the implementation of the necessary actions to achieve these objectives;
5. undertake periodic environmental audits to assess the performance of such components;
6. prepare an environmental statement on environmental performance; and
7. obtain independent verification of the environmental statement.
5.2 Many companies have set up internal environmental standards which are applied world-wide. These may be more stringent than local legislation.
6.1 Increasingly, public sector bodies and local authorities are adapting auditing
methods to establish baselines of environmental performance. These then inform
6.2 Interest and action was stimulated in the late 1980s by the Friends of the Earth (1989). A number of authorities prepared environmental charters, follow-up environmental strategies and action plans, which are generally referred to as Green Plans (Raemaekers et al.. 1991 and Raemaekers, 1993). It was not long before leading authorities also realised the greater corporate performance and environmental benefits of the broader and deeper approaches of the internal and external auditing (COSLA, 1992).
6.3 In 1989, the first local authority environmental audit was undertaken by Kirklees District Council with the assistance of Friends of the Earth. Since then a number of Scottish local authorities have produced environmental audits, notably Fife and Grampian Regional Councils, Ross and Cromarty, Gordon, Falkirk, Clackmannan and Dundee District Councils. The scope of public sector audits is different from that of the industrial sector in that the effects of service provision are considered as well as the direct effects of the activities of the local authority:
6.4 Additionally, audit techniques have been adapted to prepare State of the
Environment Reports. After several authorities, including Fife Regional Council
and Ross and Cromarty District Council, piloted the approach, the DoE published
a guide to implementing environmental management systems within local
authorities. It is referred to as UK-EMAS, as it was derived from the European
Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (DoE, 1993).
6.5 Typically public sector audits cover a number of target areas such as:
6.6 Inevitably there are issues which may have been overlooked or might be misinterpreted, and further and clearer guidance will be necessary. SNH along with the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales have commissioned guidance on the treatment of countryside and conservation issues within State of the Environment Reports (SNH, in prep).
7.1 While environmental audits are designed to identify environmental problems, there may be widely differing reasons for undertaking them: compliance with legislation, pressure from suppliers and customers, requirements from insurers or for capital projects, or to demonstrate environmental activities to the public. The benefits of environmental auditing include:
Management System (EMS) standard;
8.1 Audit programmes are becoming a standard environmental management tool and
pressures for the disclosure of audit results are increasing. Public statements
of environmental information with external validation are required by those
participating in the European or local authority Eco-Management and Audit
8.2 The utility of environmental audits vary from organisation to organisation. It is likely that audits will be used increasingly to:
8.3 Environmental audits have traditionally dealt with the environmental effects of industrial processes and, to a lesser extent, with resource consumption. Guided by the legislation and compliance procedures, the environment has usually been considered in terms of air land and water. Considerable conservation benefits could be achieved by broadening the focus of auditing to include natural heritage features and objectives. This would include natural heritage legislation and by the application of audit techniques to habitats and land use, such as farm units (Edwards et al.. 1992, LEAF, 1994), forest management units, or sporting estates. Generic approaches could contribute to the development of conservation management plans.
Bedfordshire County Council and RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds), 1996. A step by step guide to environmental appraisal. Bedfordshire
County Council, Bedford.
BSI (British Standards Institute), 1992. Specification for Environmental Management Systems. BSI, London.
CBI (Confederation of British Industry), 1990. Narrowing the gap: Environmental Auditing Guidelines for Businesses. CBI, London.
CEC (Council of the European Communities) 1990. Council Directive (90/313/EC) on the freedom of access to information on the
environment. Official Journal No. L158, 23/6/90.
CEC (Council of the European Communities). 1993. Council Regulation (EEC) No 1836/93 of 29th June 1993 allowing voluntary participation by companies in the industrial sector in a Community Eco-management and audit scheme. Official Journal No. L168, 10/07/93.
COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities), 1992. Guidelines on environmental auditing. COSLA, Edinburgh.
DoE (Department of the Environment), 1993. A guide to the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme for UK Local Government. HMSO, London.
Edwards-Jones, G, Gotts, D. and McGregor, J.M., 1992. Environmental auditing and its relevance to agriculture. Farm Management, Vol 8, No 2, Summer 1992.
ERM (Environmental Resources Management), 1996. Environmental audit and assessment: concepts, measures, practices and initiatives. SNH Review No 46. SNH, Battleby.
FoE (Friends of the Earth), 1989. Environmental Charter for Local Government - Practical Recommendations. FoE, London.
Grayson, L, 1992. Environmental auditing: a guide to best practice in the UK and Europe. The British Library, Letchworth.
LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), 1994. The LEAF environment audit (1995). LEAF, National Agriculture Centre, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.
LGMB (Local Government Management Board), 1991. Environmental auditing in local government; a guide and discussion paper. LGMB, Luton, Bedfordshire
Raemaekers, J., 1993. Corporate environmental management in local government:: the quality and management of action programmes, internal audits and State of the Environment Reports. Research Paper 48. School of Planning and Housing, Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
Raemaekers, J., Cowie, L. and Wilson, L., 1991. An index of local authority Green Plans. Research Paper 37. School of Planning and Housing, Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
Scottish Natural Heritage, fin prep). Local State of the Environment Reports: the treatment of countryside and conservation issues. SNH, Environmental Audit Branch, Edinburgh.
Therivel, R., 1994. Environmental appraisal of development plans in practice. School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.
Thompson, S. and Therivel, R., 1991. Eds: Environmental auditing. Working Paper No 130. Oxford Brookes University, Schools of Biological and Molecular Sciences, and Planning, Oxford.
Welford R. and Gouldson, A., 1993. Environmental management and business strategy. Pitman Publishing, London.
This Note is based partly on a study commissioned by SNH, which was carried out by Environmental Resources Management (ERM, 1996).
Environmental Audit Branch
Research and Advisory Services Directorate
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EDINBURGH EH6 5NP
Tel: 0131-446 2455
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