Writing an Environmental Policy

An environmental policy is a written statement, usually signed by senior management, that sets out a company’s objectives and principles relating to the management of the environmental effects and aspects of its operations. Although its implementation is voluntary, more and more companies are choosing to do so.

Having an environmental policy is essential if you want to implement an environmental management standard, such as ISO 14001. It is also vital if you currently work, or intend to work, with large organizations, or if you need to demonstrate to customers and other stakeholders that you are committed to managing your environmental impacts in a responsible way.

This guide mentions the benefits of having an environmental policy. It makes suggestions regarding the choice of the appropriate format and content. It also gives useful tips on how to keep the policy up to date and how to extend its scope to include corporate social responsibility and sustainable development.

Benefits of an environmental policy

An environmental policy forms the basis for the environmental improvements made to your business, as defined by senior management. It stipulates the key objectives and principles.

Having an environmental policy can provide significant benefits to your business . These include:

  • help to comply with the law
  • improved information for employees about their environmental roles and responsibilities
  • improved cost management
  • fewer incidents resulting in liability
  • conservation of raw materials and energy
  • improving your monitoring of environmental impacts
  • improving the efficiency of your processes

However, the benefits are not limited to internal operations only. By demonstrating a commitment to environmental management, you can develop positive relationships with external stakeholders, such as investors, insurers, customers, suppliers, regulators and the local community. This in turn can lead to improved company image as well as financial benefits, such as increased investment, sales to customers, and market share.

It is important to bear in mind that these benefits are unlikely to be achieved if you only have an environmental policy in place.

If you are developing an environmental management system (EMS), this requires that you implement a program to consistently deliver your policy strategically.

External certification of your EMS will help you prove to customers, investors, regulators, and other stakeholders that the claims you make in your environmental policy are credible, reliable, and have been verified. independent verification.

If you choose not to develop a formal EMS, it is best to implement at least some of the measures to ensure your policy is effective.

This may include assessing your company’s environmental impact, developing appropriate key performance indicators, setting goals and targets, and periodically reviewing them.

Choosing the right format for your environmental policy
There is no standard format for writing an environmental policy, but in order to give it the best chance of success, it is important that you plan it carefully. In order for your policy to be successful, you need to get management buy- in, focusing on key benefits such as lower costs, improved risk management and better marketing.

Once you have obtained this commitment, it is best to assess your company’s current position in terms of environmental management. This could include writing an environmental history of your business, its impact and the risks it faces.

You can also perform a benchmarking exercise to establish how you can compare to similar companies.

It is important to customize your environmental policy to reflect your business and its culture. A good place to start is by gathering and reviewing examples of policies written by other companies and deciding on the most appropriate format and style for your own company. However, avoid copying someone else’s policy.

There are a few basic rules to follow:

  • the statement should be brief – if it’s longer than an A4 page, then it’s probably too long
  • the statement is meant to be seen by all, so make sure it is easy to read and understand
  • the statement should be realistic, achievable and relevant to your company’s business and practices
  • demonstrate a commitment to making this policy work and have the statement signed, dated and endorsed by the owner, general manager or other senior manager
  • publish the policy on your website
  • ask new employees and suppliers to read a copy of the policy

 

Creation of the content of an environmental policy

There are no standards for the content of an environmental policy, although policies normally contain the same topics. Keep in mind that your policy should be personal to your business, reflecting the activities, priorities and concerns that are most relevant to it.

Before writing your policy, you should assess the aspects of your business that have an influence on the environment and their possible impacts. There are several techniques you can use as part of the assessment.

The content of your policy should be based on the results of your assessment, which should have identified the key issues that apply to your business.

Your policy should contain brief statements regarding the following criteria:

  1. The company’s mission and information about its operations. Keep in mind that if your business activities or operations change significantly, the policy may need to be changed.
  2. A commitment to continuously improve your environmental performance
  3. A commitment to effectively manage your significant environmental impacts.
  4. Your company’s expectations of external parties such as suppliers and contractors.
  5. Recognition that you will comply with relevant environmental laws as a minimum level of performance.
  6. Education and training of employees about environmental issues and the environmental effects of their activities.
  7. Monitoring progress and reviewing environmental performance against targets and objectives on a periodic basis (usually annually or, initially, within the first six months). See the page in this guide on how to keep your environmental policy up to date.
  8. A commitment to communicating your company’s environmental goals and objectives to all staff, as well as customers, investors and other external stakeholders.

Additional issues relevant to your business that you may wish to address as part of your environmental policy include:

  • transportation
  • recycling of packaging materials
  • waste reduction
  • efficient use of water and energy
  • the use of biodegradable chemicals
  • reducing the use of solvents and lead-based paints
  • the use of lumber or wood products from sustainable (managed) forests
  • procedures to minimize noise pollution
  • phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances
  • If your company is closely linked to key customers through the supply chain, obtain a copy of their environmental policy, so that your statements reflect their requirements and needs.

Your policy should demonstrate commitment from senior management and is usually signed by the Managing Director or CEO.

You may want to integrate your environmental policy with other policies relating to health and safety, quality management, corporate social responsibility or sustainability.

Checklist: Best Practices for Environmental Policy Writing

The checklist below may help you write an appropriate policy for your business. Choose sample statements that would apply to your business and write the statements to be as specific to your operations as possible:

  1. comply with environmental laws and other requirements, such as approved codes of practice
  2. the importance of environmental issues for your business
  3. the assessment of the environmental impact of all past, current and probably future operations
  4. constantly seek to improve environmental performance , eg. e.g., periodically inspecting your business to see if you are using energy and water efficiently and if waste and pollution reduction measures are effective
  5. reduce pollution, emissions and waste , e.g. e.g., emissions from transportation, oil leaks and spills, excessive noise, heat or vibration generated by your business operations
  6. reduce the use of all raw materials, energy and supplies
  7. raise awareness, encourage participation and train employees on environmental issues
  8. expect similar environmental standards from all suppliers and contractors
  9. help customers use products and services in an environmentally sensitive way
  10. liaise with the local community
  11. participate in discussions concerning environmental issues
  12. communicate environmental goals and objectives to employees and external stakeholders
  13. accept commitment to environmental principles and continuous improvement at the highest level within your company
  14. Keep your environmental policy up to date

In order to verify that your company’s activities continue to comply with your environmental policy, it is best to carry out a periodic review , usually annually, or, at the beginning, during the first six months. They are fundamental to ensuring that there is continuous improvement in environmental performance and that more specific environmental targets are set on an annual basis. Keep in mind that if your business activities or operations change significantly, the policy may need to be changed.

If your policy is outdated and not backed by some form of environmental improvement (such as a formal environmental management system or less formal improvement program), other organizations might think that you don’t take your environmental responsibilities seriously. Therefore, they might decide to do business elsewhere.

Similarly, if your policy states that you take your environmental responsibilities seriously, but you don’t follow it, you may face questions about the quality of operations in other areas of your business. This could tarnish your reputation with customers and suppliers.

It is best to involve employees in the review process. If employees are expected to meet environmental policy commitments, they can be a good source of ideas for improvements. The environmental policy should be available to all new employees to read, and to all existing employees if it changes significantly.

Extending the scope of your policy

Your environmental policy does not have to exist in isolation. In fact, it may be useful to extend the scope of your policy to cover corporate social responsibilities and sustainability. You could choose to develop this within a single policy or choose to create separate and linked policies. A comprehensive policy recognizes that different groups of people rely on your business and outlines how you are going about minimizing your impact on the environment.

By developing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy , you show that you:

  • Deal with suppliers and employees responsibly – for example by being open and honest about your products and services and avoiding hard selling. It also means going beyond the minimum legal obligation when dealing with employees and promoting best practices.
  • Build a good relationship with the local community , for example by supporting a local charity or sponsoring a local event.
  • Minimize your impact on the environment and reduce pollution and waste by using energy efficiency measures, e.g. eg, turning off lights, reducing water use. You can also consider minimizing waste and reducing the environmental impact of your business in general, e.g. eg, buying locally to reduce fuel costs.

Similarly, you can show that you take sustainability seriously by:

  • taking into account the life cycle of your products and services and designing them to be as sustainable as possible
  • purchasing materials and resources from renewable sources
  • reusing or recycling your waste, or transferring it to other companies to use as a resource
  • going beyond your legal obligations and anticipating changes so you can make adjustments before the law takes effect
  • involving employees and other stakeholders in sustainability – involving them in training and incentives to encourage engagement with your strategy

Eleanore Frinqois

Eleanore Frinqois, Lead Editor at BusinessGrowthCoaching.co.uk is a business leader with over 30 years in both start-up and enterprise level organisations. Previously Operations Directer at a £1.8BN media group, alongside setting-up and later selling 3 digital brands - Eleanore has expertise across all aspects of business growth.

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