Review and improve your environmental management system (EMS)

How to conduct an environmental audit


To ensure that your environmental management system (EMS) is properly set up and effectively maintained, you need to plan and carry out environmental audits. Each audit should consist of a planning stage, the audit itself and post-audit activities.

How to carry out an environmental audit

You should follow a systematic approach to your environmental audits:

  • Plan the audit - decide which area, process or procedure you are going to audit according to the plan. Speak to the manager responsible to ensure that resources will be available and that there is no conflict with operational requirements.
  • Prepare checklists - read through the procedures applicable to that area and then prepare an internal audit form.
  • Obtain and review relevant background documents.
  • Review your EMS documents.
  • Conduct and document the audit - ask questions and observe. Record the replies and your observations on your audit form immediately - download an example internal environmental audit form (DOC, 56K). Try to carry out your audit when people are carrying out the process or working in the areas being audited.
  • Identify and summarise all non-conformances and observations.
  • Request corrective actions - write down your suggestions and get agreement from the person responsible for the area being audited.
  • Complete any administrative tasks.
  • State the date for the next audit.

Non-conformances and observations in an environmental audit

Non-conformances are failures within the system and usually relate to employees not following work procedures.

When a non-conformance is recorded, the auditor should suggest a way of correcting the fault to stop it from happening again. They should prepare a non-conformance report or corrective action request form that details:

  • what has gone wrong
  • how to rectify the fault
  • who will do the remedial work
  • when it will be completed
  • how to prevent the fault from happening again
  • a follow-up date

Download an example corrective action request form (DOC, 30K).

Observations recorded by the auditor may relate to areas in which there are no specific non-conformances, but where the auditor feels that the system or environmental performance could be improved in some way.

How to complete an environmental audit report

An audit report is essential to ensure that the results of the audit are passed on effectively. Your final environmental audit report should consist of:

  • a brief description of the areas that have been audited
  • a review of the audited areas
  • non-compliances
  • corrective actions agreed
  • other areas of potential risk
  • opportunities for improvement
  • a summary list of non-compliances

The findings of the audit should be reviewed and assessed, and any actions implemented according to a specified programme. In some cases - for example where you have discovered a breach of legislation - you will need to take immediate action.

The aim of the audit process is to provide objective evidence about the effectiveness of the EMS, not to allocate blame for any areas of non-compliance.