Environmental Compliance Audits: Define Your Goals

Environmental Compliance Audits help companies clearly define their objectives and turn vision into action. Find out more about Environmental Auditing here.

Why Do Manufacturers Need Environmental Compliance Audits?

The seeds of Environmental Compliance Audits were planted in the 1970s.

After numerous chemical spills in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began requiring all chemical companies to keep records of its chemical production and usage.

Since then, environmental compliance audits have expanded across industries and nations. They are now standard practice for all companies no matter what they produce.

In this article, we'll look at the types of environmental audits (EA), the benefits to manufacturers, and what's included in a standard environmental compliance audit.

What is an Environmental Compliance Audit?

According to the United Nations Environment Programme Industry and Environment Office (UNEP/IEO), an environmental audit is: “A management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of how well environmental organization, management and equipment are performing in the aim of helping to safeguard the environment."

There are two types of environmental audits (EA).

Global vs. Programmatic EA

A Global EA addresses all forms of environmental and safety violations at a particular facility. When a company seeks to achieve environmental compliance, they are required to undergo a form of Global EA by an accredited auditing body.

A Programmatic EA specifically looks at a single area or particular violation, like groundwater contamination, that is connected to the facility. This type of EA is recommended to address a singular problem that requires immediate observation and/or corrective action.

In addition, Programmatic EAs might be necessary after a company has been ISO 14001 certified. This type of audit can help identify and address a developing problem that could jeopardize the company's ISO 14001 compliance status.

Two types of violations commonly occur during an environmental compliance audit.

Environmental Compliance Violations: Near Losses vs. Losses

During environmental compliance audits, the auditors are looking for all forms of compliance violations in accordance with relevant laws and auditing specifications.

Of course, not all violations are equal in measure. Violations are generally classified as either:

  • Near Losses -- situations where there is potential for environmental or worker harm (consider it a serious 'yellow-light' issue), or
  • Losses -- situations presently causing environmental or worker harm (a 'red-light' problem).

To complicate matters further, auditors look at whether the environmental aspects are direct or indirect.

Environmental Aspects: Direct vs. Indirect

An Environmental Aspect is an element of an organization's activities, products, or services that can interact with the environment.

If a company is seen to have direct influence or control over an aspect, such as plant emissions, then it is considered to be a Direct Environmental Aspect.

Aspects not within the immediate control of the company, such as activities down the supply chain, are considered an Indirect Aspect.

Why Do Manufacturers Need Environmental Compliance Audits?

Numerous studies have linked the use of environmental audits to better environmental performance, including this study that analyzed the growing use of EA in the Gucha District of Western Kenya. Overall, the study reported that:

  • "The environmental audit quality was established to be fairly significant on compliance. Similarly, it was also determined that environmental monitoring frequency influences environmental performance by raising environmental awareness. 61% of environmental management plans were also found to be sufficient, well understood and with a good implementation of improvement orders. Further, commercial facilities were found to be fairly proactive in environmental management issues."

The key phrases here are 'audit quality' and 'monitoring frequency.' The study reiterates that lasting improvements require a well-designed auditing method, skilled auditors, and consistent monitoring.

How Can Companies Benefit from Environmental Compliance Audits?

Companies know that an EA is required if they are to legally do business, as well as avoid fines and costly corrective actions.

Smarter companies also see audits as an opportunity for guidance. These companies are proactive and enthusiastic about environmental protection. However, they may not know the best practices for achieving their goals.

Greater Impact: Environmental Audits Focus on the Role of Top Management

In order to help companies receive greater value from environmental compliance audits, today's EAs focus on top-down analysis and solutions.

An auditor first looks for non-compliance areas. From there, they may identify larger non-compliance trends that point to recurring knowledge gaps across departments.

Auditors may conclude that upper management isn't communicating properly with department managers.

An efficient audit report would point to this as the root of the problem instead of just reiterating similar failings department to department.

These findings can help companies focus on strategic and impactful changes that get to the root of the problem, instead of spending valuable time chasing symptoms.

What is Included in Environmental Compliance Audits?

Environmental compliance audits are based on ISO 14001 standards. Auditors often use an ISO 14001 checklist, which includes the four categories below. Planning, documentation, and (especially) communication echo throughout the auditor's report.

Environmental Policy

  • Has a policy been defined by top management?
  • Is it appropriate for the nature, scale, and environmental impacts of the business's activities?
  • Does it include a commitment to all environmental and safety regulations?
  • Are the environmental objectives subject for periodic review?
  • Are policy objectives being communicated throughout the organization?
  • Is the policy available to the public?


  • Does the organization have procedures for determining all Environmental Aspects of its activities?
  • Are all aspects organized by which have the most prominent environmental impact?
  • Is the company's prevailing policy influenced by those most important aspects?
  • Have environmental goals been established for every level and function of an organization?
  • Has the organization considered all legal requirements, environmental safeguards, and technological options when determining its objectives?

Plan Management

  • Have responsibility roles been assigned throughout the organization at every level and function?
  • Have clear objectives, along with timeframes, been established at every level and function?
  • Have the necessary resources been made available throughout the company?
  • Has environmental training been made available?
  • Are all activities linked to environmental concerns being frequently monitored and documented?
  • Are all plans, changes, and activities being documented?


  • Is internal communication clear at every level and function?
  • Has the organization considered its external communication procedures pertaining to their environmental activities?
  • Have all emergency procedures been established, communicated and/or rehearsed at every level and function?

How Can QIMA Help?

At QIMA, we provide ISO 14001-accredited Environmental Audits for all manufacturing industries -- up and down the supply chain. Our specifically trained auditors bring with them experience, technical expertise, and an environment-first ethos to every project.

And as experts in their field, they can help you establish a clear, legally-based policy. From there, methods to carry out all environmental objectives can be clarified.

Our online platform and mobile application make it easy for you to book environmental audits and receive your results at any time. Schedule new audits, view pending audits, and access results from your mobile device.

Our online platform provides valuable supply chain insights, including a summary of your quality control activity, all of your supplier’s quality stats, industry benchmarking data, and more.

Your Next Steps

An organized approach to environmental compliance will help your company succeed in fulfilling its ethical standards. You provide the vision, and we'll provide the framework.

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