What Is an Environmental Audit?

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An environmental audit helps organizations meet climate requirements for the protection of the environment and boost their reputation among customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

These assessments provide a systematic evaluation of the business’s environmental performance, revealing whether its documentation and on-site practices work as intended. The auditor will ensure that all relevant environmental risks have been accounted for and highlight any opportunities for improvement.

What’s the Purpose of an Environmental Audit?

Environmental audits can serve many purposes, but they are generally conducted to evaluate the environmental impact of your operations. This helps you identify potentially damaging activities—through excessive energy consumption, pollution, or hazardous material use, for example.

What you do with this information will depend on whether you’re performing a compliance audit or a management system audit.

Environmental compliance audits assess your practices against legal requirements, such as the Clean Air Act, and any contractual agreements you’ve made regarding environmental management. These audits highlight any weaknesses that could result in non-compliance, helping to ensure you avoid a fine or lawsuit.

By contrast, a management system audit is conducted against the specifications of standards such as ISO 14001, the international standard for environmental management. Like other ISO standards, auditing is an essential part of the certification process, with the assessor checking to ensure that the management system has been properly implemented and meets its desired outcomes.

Environmental audits can also include broader objectives, such as assessing compliance with company policies, evaluating the effectiveness of environmental management systems, and contributing to continuous improvement initiatives.

Environmental compliance audit

Benefits of an Environmental Audit

Beyond their ability to help you meet legal requirements or certify to ISO 14001, there are also broader business benefits of environmental audits.

For example, the process can pinpoint ways for an organization to cut its carbon footprint and operate more sustainably, which can have direct financial benefits from reduced energy costs.

For instance, reducing waste output and energy use can drive efficiency and save money. Similarly, many clients and customers value environmentally responsible practices—with a Harris Poll survey revealing that 55% of respondents would pay more for sustainable products.

The same study found that most recipients believe that organizations overstate their commitment to environmental sustainability. An ISO 14001 certificate is the perfect way to tackle that skepticism, as it provides independent verification of your commitment to the protection of the environment, including the prevention of pollution.

Discover more benefits of environmental audits with our free ISO 14001 training course.

What Is an ISO 14001 Environmental Management Audit?

An ISO 14001 environmental management systems audit is a structured process that examines an organization’s implementation of the standard’s specifications.

These specifications outline the requirements for establishing and maintaining an EMS (Environmental Management System). It comprises policies, processes, and procedures designed to identify and address environmental risks.

An ISO 14001 audit is essential for any organization looking to certify to the standard. It scrutinizes the efficiency and effectiveness of the EMS, aiming to uncover any discrepancies between the organization’s environmental policies and their practical implementation.

The auditor will conduct a thorough review of the organization’s EMS to ensure that:

  • All relevant documentation has been completed.
  • Environmental risks have been identified.
  • Appropriate controls have been established, implemented, and maintained to address these risks.
  • The aims and objectives of the EMS have been met in line with the commitment to the protection of the environment.

ISO 14001 audits can also highlight opportunities for the organization to strengthen its EMS. Continual improvement is a key principle of ISO management systems, and it helps organizations ensure that they are not simply conforming with their requirements but doing so as efficiently as possible.

Learn more about the principles of an environmental management system.

Learn more about the expected outcomes of an accredited certification to ISO 14001.

What are environmental audits?

When Are Environmental Audits Necessary?

The need to conduct an environmental audit will depend on your requirements. The process is ideal if you want to improve your environmental performance, but this will usually come as part of an ISO 14001 implementation project. While ISO 14001 is a voluntary standard, in some cases ISO 14001 certification may be required by customers as a condition to do business.

To complete this process, you must perform several audits.

  • Internal audits occur after you adopt your EMS. They help you check whether your policies, processes, and procedures align with the standard’s specifications and that your requirements have been fully accounted for.
  • Certification audits are performed by an independent third party if you plan to obtain accredited certification to verify that you meet the requirements to receive an ISO 14001 certificate.
  • Surveillance audits are a form of internal assessment that certified organizations must complete at a defined frequency. They ensure that the EMS continues to work as intended and help you identify any new environmental risks that may have emerged. For organizations with an accredited certification, these surveillance audits must be completed annually by an independent third party.
  • Recertification audits must be conducted every three years to renew your accredited certificate. The process is essentially the same as the initial certification audit.

Download our free guide for more information on the ISO certification process.

Environmental Audit Checklist

Whether you’re preparing for an internal or external audit, there are several steps you can take to help the process go as smoothly as possible.

The first step is to prepare for the audit. You should schedule it with plenty of time to prepare, being sure to inform all relevant departments and personnel about your plans.

Likewise, you should gather documentation that outlines roles and responsibilities related to the EMS. These individuals may be responsible for providing documentation, and the auditor might speak to them directly to determine their level of awareness regarding the management system.

Next, you should review previous audit reports. The auditor will check this to determine any pre-existing issues or areas to focus on during the assessment, so gathering this information in advance is a good idea.

Similarly, you should collate data about applicable environmental regulations, as well as any relevant contractual agreements. The EMS must account for your overall environmental requirements, so it’s worth checking these records as soon as possible.

It’s also worth compiling data on your organization’s environmental performance, such as energy usage, waste generation, and recycling rates. You might be required to present this data to the auditor and discuss your performance targets or benchmarks. This information is also useful to set priorities for audit planning and focus areas.

Read our ISO 14001 compliance checklist to learn more.

Environmental audit checklist


Environmental Management Success With Orion Registrar

For more information on meeting your environmental management requirements, speak to Orion Registrar today. We provide a range of services to help you complete your ISO 14001 certification project.

As an ANAB-accredited certification body, we’re authorized to conduct certification audits for various ISO management system standards. We also offer specialist ISO 14001 training courses to help you lead your implementation project.

Want to learn more? Read our guide on E Waste and The Importance Of Becoming R2 Certified.

Get started with an ISO 14001 certification audit here.

Written by

Julian Russell

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