Once you have assessed the resources needed, gained commitment and started raising awareness of the environmental management system (EMS), you should carry out an initial environmental review (IER).
What is an initial environmental review?
The IER is the first step in the implementation of an EMS - where a business considers all the factors affecting its 'relationship' with the environment. It should form the baseline and foundation for the other parts of your EMS.
Your IER should enable you to:
- identify how existing site operations have an environmental impact - eg the impact of normal operating conditions, abnormal conditions and emergency situations
- establish which of these impacts are significant and need improvement by setting objectives and targets
- identify breaches or potential breaches of environmental legislation
- identify relevant EMS documentation which needs to be put in place
- quantify emissions, discharges, and material and utility use
- identify opportunities for improving performance and minimising waste
- evaluate previous emergency situations and accidents
- develop your environmental policy
The IER will help you implement either a formal EMS - eg certified to ISO 14001 - or an informal EMS. If you already have an environmental policy, the results of the review should let you see how your current policy is performing and make any policy changes. It should also help you to draw up and implement an action plan to deal with any issues.
Gathering data for the initial environmental review
The main tasks involved in an IER are data gathering and analysis. You should identify which documents you will need to determine your business' environmental impacts. You should make sure they are available and make copies for future reference.
You should also collect the information needed for an IER of the site. This may involve walking around the site and interviewing key staff. Common areas for review include:
- site history and issues
- inventory of raw materials
- aqueous waste
- solid wastes
You may also need to look at other areas of interest such as:
- gas emissions
- the site setting and environment
- any other management systems already in place, eg for safety or quality
- health and safety issues
- materials storage and handling
- noise and vibration
Making use of your initial environmental review
The IER should give you a better awareness of the environmental issues affecting your business, and so make it easier to compile a register of environmental aspects and identify relevant environmental legislation. An environmental aspect is any element of your business' activities, products or services that can interact with the environment.
Spending more time on your IER - perhaps as much as 40 per cent of your total EMS implementation time - can save you work and time later on in the EMS process.