Keep it legal: Environmental audits

Increasingly, not-for-profit organisations are realising the need to take responsibility for their environmental impact.

They are becoming aware that environmental issues can no longer be left for someone else to deal with. This has led to increased interest in the practice of environmental auditing. 

Environmental auditing covers a range of activities, including appraisals, reviews and assessments. They all aim to obtain information on the environmental impact of an organisation, from which management decisions can be based. Audits can consist of a review of a specific subject, such as energy use. Or they can be more general, such as an initial assessment of the overall environmental impact of an organisation.

Environmental reviews are often the first step towards an accredited environmental management system, which is a tool designed to enable organisations to target, achieve and enable continuous improvement in environmental performance. There may be widely different reasons for undertaking environmental audits: compliance with legislation, pressure from suppliers or stakeholders or requirements from insurers to demonstrate environmental performance to the public.

Recently, the London-based funder City Bridge Trust has been conducting a pilot scheme to review the current position and practices on waste, energy use, water, transport, raw materials and carbon emissions of 12 of its grantees, with the objective of trying to improve the environmental performance of the third sector.

Christine Frost, director of Merton Voluntary Service Council, one of the organisations reviewed, says: "The results have been phenomenal." She stresses that her organisation's trustees were entirely supportive of the auditing process and would ensure that the findings of the review were implemented.

Environmental audits have a number of benefits. Importantly, they can ensure that organisations' activities comply with environmental legislation so that they do not fall foul of the law. By saving resources, they can also lead to the double whammy of helping your organisation to save pounds as well as the planet.

- Jane Kenyon is a solicitor in the third sector team at the law firm Clarkslegal.

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