Environmental policy development

Last updated 2015.

Time to develop your organisation's environmental policy? If so, the following information may assist your organisation.

What is an environmental policy?

An environmental policy is a statement about an organisation's environmental position and values. The ISO 14001 standard states that an environmental policy is the organisation's overall environmental performance intentions and direction formally expressed by top management.

What are the benefits of developing an environmental policy?

An organisation can publicly advertise that it has considered its environmental performance and has adopted best practice or is working towards improving its environmental performance. It's all relative to the organisation and the type of industry but the environmental policy can advertise the environmental status and environmental objectives of the organisation to all stakeholders.

Current and potential clients can read the statement and are able to determine whether they would like to continue or start business with the organisation. It also can provide clear direction to all stakeholders about the organisation's environmental values.

Who should develop an environmental policy?

A senior manager or managing team should endorse the environmental policy but not necessarily be directly responsible for developing the policy. They should appoint someone talented, familiar with the organisation and who has the ability of writing interesting factual statements.

There are already too many meaningless, unrealistic and dry environmental policies out there so choose someone which can inspire and communicate the true environmental policy of the organisation. When an organisation doesn't have any environmental programs to describe then perhaps they could develop them or develop an environmental management system so it has something meaningful to discuss within the environmental policy.

What is the usual procedure for maintaining an environmental policy?

Similar to an environmental management system environmental policies should be regularly be reviewed. When there has been change or change is planned, or when there has been a significant performance issue the environmental policy should be reviewed. Otherwise, more general reviews should be occur periodically (e.g. annually).

What should be included in an environmental policy?

The ISO 14001 standard is probably the best reference standard for the development of an environmental policy. In summary, an environmental policy must be:

  • appropriate to the organisation;
  • include a commitment for continual improvement and prevention of pollution;
  • include a commitment to comply to relevant legal and other requirements; and,
  • provide the framework for setting and reviewing environmental objectives and targets.

Also, consideration should be given to the reader's expectations. From a customer perspective they would like to clearly know:

  • what the organisation does and how it does it (e.g. do they follow best practice and embrace cleaner production, if so how?);
  • understand whether the organisation is greener or browner than similar organisations;
  • understand whether the organisation presents a direct environmental risk to their operations;
  • understand whether the organisation presents a risk to public perception if they are engaged;
  • understand whether the organisation present an environmental risk by not understanding and not complying with legal & other requirements; and,
  • understand whether the organisation has any environmental programs to their reduce environmental impact and improve their environmental performance.

The level of detail is up to the organisation. Consideration however should be given to making it meaningful as first impressions last.

What should be excluded from an environmental policy?

Really uninteresting or untruthful statements! The purpose is for the environmental policy to be read and understood, not for the readers to turn off or to be misled.

Organisations should think about what the environmental policy says about it and if it's untrue or cannot be proved it should be left out. Organisations should be prepared to be able to demonstrate statements such as comply with legal requirements, reducing energy usage, no longer using toxic chemicals in its products, etc. At the end of the day, organisations could be prosecuted for misleading and untrue statements when it comes to their environmental performance and its activities, products and services. Having an effective ISO 14001 environmental management system should help organisations prove that the environmental policy is truthful and current.

Organisations should think about who their readers are such as customers, blue and white collar personnel, the EPA if it causes damage to the environment and runs the risk of prosecution, the public who are interested in a new development in their neighbourhood, etc. The environmental policy should be written for them as well as providing internal direction for the organisation.

If it's too long then it should be cut down. Out of experience anything longer than three quarters of a page should be redeveloped and reduced, otherwise the messages can be lost by its readers. Also don't be afraid of redeveloping or even tearing up your existing environmental policy and starting from scratch.

What to do if you require help?

Developing a good environmental policy can be difficult. Have a read of other organisations' environmental policies found on the internet and discover yourself what makes a good environmental policy and what doesn't. Experienced and talented Environmental Consultants could assist your organisation with developing a suitable environmental policy.

Environmental policy