Review and improve your environmental management system (EMS)

What is internal environmental auditing?


Internal environmental audits are the regular examination of your business' actual operating methods - comparing them against those set out in your environmental management system (EMS) manual. These can be reviews of procedures and areas of operation, and are designed to assess effectiveness.

Aims of an internal environmental audit

An internal environmental audit should help you identify:

  • where your environmental management processes are working well
  • where they need to be improved
  • whether there are any new potential environmental risks

More specifically, the aims of the audit are to assess whether clear objectives and targets are being met and that your site:

  • complies with the agreed policies, objectives and targets of your EMS
  • has effective emergency procedures and control systems
  • meets legal requirements
  • meets the requirements of a formal EMS standard - if you are following one
  • makes sure employees, contractors and suppliers have the skills needed and are given appropriate training
  • makes provision for adequate communications

Internal audits also provide a valuable tool for gauging commitment within different parts of your business.

If you are seeking ISO 14001 standard certification or Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) registration, you will also need to have all elements of your EMS checked by an independent and accredited body.

What areas should your environmental audit focus on?

The audit should focus on areas of environmental significance and legislative compliance. You should carry out a series of small audits that focus on a particular procedure, process or part of the site. Environmental issues you may need to consider include:

  • solid waste disposal
  • gas emissions
  • solvent management
  • liquid effluent discharge and treatment
  • energy management
  • materials storage
  • occupational hygiene
  • chemical handling
  • incident response
  • noise
  • environmental programmes
  • pollution control

How frequent should environmental audits be?

The frequency of audits will depend on the significance of your environmental aspects, but you should audit all procedures and areas at least once a year.

You should use your register of environmental aspects to identify the most significant environmental aspects, and areas where the business has failed to meet legal requirements in the past.

You should use the information to compile an audit timetable showing which areas are to be audited and when, and which auditors will be involved.

A well-designed audit with suitable checklists should take 20-40 minutes, although the process may take two to three hours the first time each audit is carried out. The environmental audit is often a part of existing internal audit activities and so can use existing resources.