What Is An Environmental Policy?
In this article, we answer the question “What is an environmental policy.” An environmental policy is a written statement, usually signed by senior management, which outlines a business’ aims and principles in relation to managing the environmental effects and aspects of its operations.
In recent years governments have started to set targets to try to reduce the impact that this and future generations have on the environment. This has resulted in legislation coming onto the statute books in an effort to ensure that these targets are met. Many businesses are playing catch up when it comes to complying with environmental legislation; indeed many do not realise nor think that it applies to them. No matter how small your business is, it will have an impact on the environment. We all have a part to play in trying to protect the world’s resources for the future. Putting in place an environmental policy is the first step in helping your business achieve these goals and in this article, I outline the first steps in putting together a practical environmental policy for your business to work with.
Firstly, what is the aim of an environmental policy? It is a way that a business can acknowledge their environmentally harmful actions or practices, and agree to address them in the future. It should not be a document that sits in isolation but should be the headline document in a wider Environmental Management System (EMS). So how do you approach the task of establishing your policy? As with most tasks, it is much more manageable if you break it down into steps.
Step 1 - Identify What Activities Harm the Environment
In order to have an effective policy, you need to understand how your organisation impacts on the environment in the first place. Think about the following areas:
- Resource use (both material and energy)
- Waste management
- Emissions to air
- Water pollution
- Nuisance (noise and dust emissions for example)
- Land contamination
- Impact on flora and fauna
List the activities your company carries out that have an impact on any of the above. Do not forget to consider abnormal events such as spillages and accidents in addition to routine inputs and outputs. The result of this exercise will give you the basis to produce an environmental aspects register. This register details the activities that impact the environment and how they do so.
Step 2 - Identify Control Measures to Reduce Environmental Impacts
From the register compiled in step 1 you can now look at how to reduce your company’s impact on the environment. For each activity and specific impact, identify one or two control measures that will reduce harm to the environment. Some examples are given over:
- Reduce use of resources by fixing leaking taps and pipes. Switch off lights and heating when rooms are unoccupied. Fit sensors to lights in areas such as corridors and washrooms.
- Minimise waste by procuring products that have less packaging. Reuse materials instead of disposing of them. Use more recycled products
- Reduce emissions to air by encouraging car sharing. Consider teleconferencing rather than travelling to attend meetings. Introduce a cycle to work scheme.
- Improve environmental awareness of staff by holding training sessions or presentations on control measures
Many of the most effective control measures are very simple and cheap to implement. Try to introduce these first rather than being too ambitious. You may even find that you are already carrying out control measures as part of routine tasks without having identified them as specifically “environmental”. Make sure if you introduce control measures, you set targets to monitor how effective they are. As with health and safety, environmental control measures should be monitored and reviewed regularly.
Step 3 - Compile your Environmental Policy
Now that you understand how your business impacts the environment and have identified ways in which to try to mitigate the harm, you are ready to write your policy.
The policy should include:
- a provision for setting environmental targets and objectives, as identified in steps 1 and 2
- a commitment to the prevention of pollution
- a commitment to continual improvement
- a commitment to comply with all applicable legal requirements
It should be appropriate to the nature, scale and environmental impacts of your activities. Your policy should also identify who within the organisation is responsible for implementing and monitoring the objectives. The responsibilities of employees with respect to their environmental duties should also be set out. Remember training may be required to help your employees to fulfil these duties.
Finally, outline how you are going to assess whether or not targets are being met. This can be done by official audits or by regularly monitoring records such as meter readings, sampling of emissions or skip loads. If targets are not being met then investigate why not; if they are, then set harder
What the Law Says
The primary pieces of environmental legislation in this country are The Environmental Protection Act 1990, Environment Act 1995, Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989. The main aim of these pieces of legislation is to reduce pollution.