Environmental policy: confirming your green credentials

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Demonstrating your commitment to managing, and where possible reducing, your company’s environmental impact is straightforward with an environmental policy.

But what should an environmental policy document contain? And how can you craft a policy that encapsulates an accurate demonstration of your intentions to meet green targets, and your ability to do so?

Why write an environmental policy – what are the benefits?

An environmental policy is a clear demonstration of your business’s commitment to green issues and a reduction in the wider environmental impact of your operations. It sets out a number of business improvements that can be measured in order to track performance. Creating such a policy can provide some serious benefits to your internal operations:

  • Staying within environmental legislation
  • Clearly defining environmental roles within the workforce
  • Reducing wastage of both materials and energy within your operations
  • Structures for monitoring and reducing your environmental impact
  • Preventing incidents that could result in a liability

And when you look outside the business the benefits become even more considerable:

  • Preferred supplier – many customers want to know about the green credentials of their suppliers and will choose a business that shows a clear commitment to the future of our planet.
  • Improved relationships – companies that take better care of their local environment, from less noise pollution to fewer vehicles on the road, have a better relationship with the local community.
  • Contractual advantages – using an environmental policy, especially one that’s stamped with ISO 14001 certification, can pre-qualify you for contracts where impact on the environment is a real concern — such as reducing carbon costs.

It is also important to remember that an environmental policy needs to have a management and implementation section that focuses on how the policy is actually delivered alongside effective systems for measurement. This is where certification like ISO 14001 excels, as it forces the business to create a  management framework for full implementation and continual improvement.

Selecting the best format

The first step before you even start on the environmental policy is winning support from the senior management team. The policy needs to make sense in terms of the wider objectives of the business. There is no point creating targets for waste reduction or new behaviours if these are going to detract from the overall function and performance of the business. Key factors to consider include cost and risk reduction and PR and sales benefits.

Once you have an idea of what the business wants to achieve then, as with all written materials, there are some basic rules that can ensure your message is heard loud and clear. These include the following:

  • Short and concise – work to condense your message until it is powerful and simple. When you have a high degree of clarity on your aims and objectives, these should be simple to explain.
  • Simple language – achieve maximum support for your policy by breaking down the complex ideas into clear, understandable language that makes sense to everyone.
  • Be realistic – creating unachievable targets and going for significant goals could be demotivating if the business does not hit the chosen metric. Make sure your targets and schedule for change are feasible for the company
  • Circulate the policy – send a copy to all your suppliers and customers. Get it made into a poster and put it up in the staff room. Make sure that everyone understands why the policy matters and can get behind the program for improvement.

What to include in your policy

Your environmental policy must have a high degree of relevance to your business. It has to examine the context of your enterprise and create a mandate for specific change. Don’t think about the outcomes, which may be standard aspirations such as the reduction of carbon emissions, instead concentrate on exactly how your business might complete this objective.

There should be a central section that outlines your company’s mission, providing the background for the overall policy. Next, statements need to be made that are backed up with performance indicators demonstrating your commitment to continual improvement of your environmental performance and effective management.

List your plans to empower your employees and suppliers in meeting your green goals. How are you going to make sure they understand the importance of the policy, and what tools will you give them to complete their responsibilities?

Finally, there should be indications of how you can monitor your progress and review your targets. This should also be backed with firm statements of how the policy will evolve once the targets are achieved.

Keeping your environmental policy up to date

If your business is regularly hitting its targets for environmental improvements, it is a good idea to update your policy document. Hold regular review sessions to get feedback on the progress has been made towards meeting performance indicators from different business departments.  

As business changes and new information regarding environmentally aware behaviour surfaces, it is vital that you update your policy in-line with this understanding. It needs to reflect the state of your company operations and the latest thinking. For instance, in the 1990s there was a move to use less paper. Now, businesses are trying to use less plastic and paper is seen as preferable — as sustainable rainforests become more prevalent.

Employees can also be an essential source of information regarding your environmental policy. As these workers are on the front line, watching operations and having to deal with the day to day running of the company, they are able to provide top-level insight into how your business can easily adapt and change to meet environmental targets. Often they will have a better, more well-developed ideas than the management team.

Adding to your environmental policy

A good environmental policy can form the basis for your corporate social responsibility and sustainable development policies. If your business operates in a heavy production industry or uses lots of machinery then there will be a significant degree of correlation between your responsibilities to the community and your environmental responsibilities.

Equally a sustainability policy should be highly correlated with your environmental policy. Consider your use of products and services. Check the sources and ensure they are renewable. Are you reusing or recycling your waste, or even selling it as a resource? Go beyond your legal obligations to ensure that your business is functioning in a sustainable manner.

Demonstrating your commitment to a clear environmental policy is about more than creating specific targets to reduce harmful behaviour. It is a clear indication about the mindset of your business and your company culture. When it comes to marketing in the future, this kind of policy won’t simply be preferable, it could well be expected. Get ahead of the game and underline a feasible and thoughtful policy for your organisation.

For more green tips and inspiration, follow us on Twitter @TheBABOfficial.

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Written by Neill Gatley

EMS Scheme Manager - Experienced management systems Lead Auditor and EMS Scheme Leader. Assessing clients management systems to the requirements of ISO 14001, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001, OHSAS 18001.