In South Africa, we generally deal with three main types of environmental audits in the industry. These are compliance, functional and management audits.
Environmental Compliance Audits
Environmental compliance audits, focus on determining compliance to a specific and defined checklist.
Compliance audits assess and verify aspects related to or undertaken by an organisation against a specific objective. These compliance commitments can be found in various regulatory approvals such as an Environmental Authorisation or a specific management licence (related to waste, water, the atmosphere and more). The approval document sets specific legal management measures for the activity in order to prevent environmental harm. These measures, or conditions, must be adhered to when undertaking the activity. The competent authority requires the holder of these authorisations to ensure that these conditions are adhered to.
An environmental auditor, as an independent party, can monitor and report on the compliance of the activity undertaken in an objective manner. All conditions and requirements as set in the authorisation is reviewed by the auditor and a report is compiled of the status on complying with the requirements as set out therein. The result of this audit process is an audit report that can be submitted to the Component Authority, detailing compliance to the obligations as set for the project. Aspects for improvement is recommended in the audit report to guide the actions of the holder of the authorisation towards improving overall compliance to the requirements set for the activity.
Compliance audits inherently determine aspects (or risks to the continued operations) requiring direct intervention, be it from a management viewpoint or a specific job title, to prevent environmental harm and indirectly, ensure continued operations of the activity as undertaken.
Functional Environmental Audits
Functional Environmental Audits are conducted to determine compliance of a specific aspect undertaken by an organisation for instance, the specific management of waste in accordance with a Waste Management Plan, or the review of the implementation of an Atmospheric Emissions Management Plan in accordance to air quality monitoring requirements. Functional audits relates both to compliance and Environmental Management System audits as it fills a verification & check role within these. Functional audits can also be incorporated into a combined audit programme to determine specific compliance or aspects of a system requiring improvement. The benefit of a functional audit is the ability to be incorporated into another audit programme, or to be kept as a single assessment with a focus on a known area requiring management input.
These audits ensure that quick action can be taken on a specific aspect without waiting for a regulatory process to run.
Environmental Management System Audits
Environmental Management System (EMS) Audits refer to an audit process of evaluating an EMS to ensure that the system is working effectively and showing continual improvement of the systems functioning. The EMS Audit is guided by the ISO 14001:2015 Clause 9 setting out the manner in which Performance of the EMS must be evaluated. The performance evaluation is set to ensure:
That the EMS is effective.
The EMS is assessed in terms of its performance.
The evaluation of objective and targets is undertaken.
To identify new targets or opportunities.
Verification of the extent meeting organisational, stakeholder and legal requirements.
Reviewing the continued suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the EMS.
Continual improvement occurs.
EMS Audits benefits an organisation through the verification of aspects conforming to the intended outcome of the EMS and by identifying aspects which leads to non-conformance of the intended outcome, even possibly negatively affecting the intended outcome of the EMS. The EMS audit assists organisations to follow the project management cycle of plan, do, check and act and continual improvement.
The benefit from Environmental Auditing is clear cut in that be it a regulated process, a self-assessment or a company review on environmental performance, the intended outcome is the improvement in overall environmental performance of the activity undertaken. The audit process is pertinent in detailing findings made during the audit process and assist in finding fatal flaws or areas of concern where a future focus can be placed on to sufficiently ensure that avoidance, management and mitigation of environmental impacts associated with the activity is managed.