Have you ever wondered what is an environmental policy and how to write it? An environmental policy is a written statement, which an organisation will write and publish in relation to how it will manage the environmental impacts of its activities and operations. Therefore, use the information in this post as a beginner’s guide to writing an environmental policy.
Who will need an environmental policy?
Why do I need an environmental policy? This is a common question asked by many small businesses. There are several reasons why you should have an environmental policy. The policy is a way of demonstrating your commitment to improving the organisation’s environment performance. As a result, organisations will publish an environmental policy for reasons including:
- Manage and improve their environmental impact,
- Showcase their environmental performance,
- Attract more business,
- Work with multinational corporations,
- Applying for public tenders and
- Maintaining existing customers.
Benefits of an environmental policy
There are many benefits of having an environmental policy. Some of which include:
- Maintaining compliance with environmental legislation that affects the organisation.
- Acting as a communication tool with employees, customers and stakeholders.
- Enabling the organisation to identify areas of efficiency in processes so as to improve costs and reduce consumption.
- Identifying opportunities to conserve raw materials and energy.
- Improving how an organisation monitors and reports on environmental impacts.
- Demonstrating commitment to improving environmental performance. And this is a plus point when planning to gain further business opportunities.
How to write an environmental policy
Below are areas to include when you start writing the policy. The level and detail in the policy will depend on the size, nature and type of business you operate. As a rule of thumb, the policy should not be longer than 1 page.
Keep the policy statement and commitments simple. Do not overdo it. Why? Because nobody will pay attention to a policy that is too long and unrealistic. It will sit in a folder gathering dust. Think of the policy as a living document, which should be reviewed every year. So, as you continue on your journey towards sustainability, you can add more commitments.
The environmental policy must be signed by the most senior manager and it should be reviewed annually. However, the policy, must be reviewed earlier if there is a significant change in the organisation’s operations or activities.
An environmental policy should address how your organisation will reduce impacts. For example:
- minimising waste,
- reducing carbon footprint,
- improving energy usage,
- using less packaging,
- adhering to environmental legislation,
- improving processes and equipment,
- communicating to staff etc.
How to identify your environmental impacts
First of all, carry out a braining storming exercise with your team. While you are doing this, you will collectively identify how the business affects the environment. Then think about how you will reduce the impacts. You can also draw a picture or write a paragraph about what the business does and how it does it. In doing so, you will start to see patterns form in your activities. These patterns will highlight your business’ impacts on the environment.
Once you have completed this exercise, pick 3 to 5 areas which you can see have the biggest impact on the environment. For example, you might find that your organisation uses a lot of fuel to transport materials. You realise that fuel use is a significant impact on the environment, but you cannot change the transport of materials straightway. But you can make smaller changes to reduce the number of times you transport the materials. Therefore in your policy, you should state that you will commit to reducing fuel consumption by assessing transportation.
When writing your commitments make sure they are realistic and achievable. Let these areas be the starting point for your policy – these are called quick wins. Start with quick wins because they are more cost effective to change and they will start to improve your impact on the environment fast. Above all quick wins act as great motivators to get people thinking about what else they could commit to in the next policy review.
Writing the Environmental Policy
The following sections should be covered in your policy statement. You will not need more than one or two sentences for most sections. Remember, it is a living document. Unless there is a significant change in the business, in which case the policy must be reviewed immediately, pledge to carry out the first review within the six months and then once a year.
You should start by writing a sentence or two about the business. Also write about what you do.
For example: ABC Limited manufactures high end coffee pods for retailers in Europe. We are committed to improving the environment and subsequently communities our business impacts.
In section 2 then write a statement about complying with environmental regulations and laws.
For example: We will comply with the environmental legislation and regulations that relate to ABC Limited.
In this section state your commitments. This is the section where you will use the information from the brainstorming exercise. Therefore return to step 1 and use the information you gathered to complete this section. This section should outline the commitments you are making to reduce your business’ environmental impacts. As a result this section should be about the areas that have significant impact. Your commitment can be generic or itemised and you should write a minimum of three to five sentences when you are first starting out. Below are examples of sentences you can use in this section.
For example: We aim to:
- identify inefficient processes so we can reduce our of energy consumption.
- promote the use of sustainable travel for staff such as cycling, public transport and car pooling.
- assess our vehicles and replace with ‘green’ vehicles where possible.
- promote reuse, reduce recycle with staff so as to reduce waste going to landfill.
- carry out training programs so staff are aware of reducing water and energy consumption in the office.
- reduce fuel and transport cost by promoting alternative methods such as video and phone conferencing.
- instead of conventional cleaning products, seek cleaning materials which are environmentally friendly.
- reduce the amount of paper we use by promoting digital forms of communication and storage.
- purchase furniture that is made from reclaimed or recycled materials.
- work with a local charity and promote conservation projects.
- carry out engagement activities with our local community in order to increase our presence in the community.
- reduce the carbon footprint of our business by measuring and implementing efficient processes.
In section 4 of the policy you should write a sentence about the following:
1. How and who you will communicate your policy to.
For example: We will digitally communicate our environmental policy to our staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.
2. How often the policy will be reviewed so you can ensure continual improvement in your business’ environmental commitment.
For example: This environmental policy will be reviewed annually. During the reviews we will identify and extend our scope to continually improve our environmental performance.
Finally, the policy should end with a signature from a senior manager and the date of issue.
To Sum Up
To complete this guide, below are links to environmental policies that I have found easy to understand. Consequently, they will serve as good examples of how to format your environmental policy and get you started:
- PwC Environmental Policy
- EnviroPrint Australia Environmental Policy
- In Kind Direct Environmental Policy
- Icelandair Hotels Environmental Policy
Please note, the steps above are of a generic nature and provide basic guidance of how to write an environmental policy. The extent and depth of the policy will depend on the nature, size and type of business. Therefore, this article should be used as a guide to get a basic policy in place. You should seek professional advice for further guidance.