In times where businesses are expected to practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) and with Australia being a part of the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and consumers prioritising conscious consumption, it is a good idea for your business to write an environmental policy to manage your environmental impact and enhance your reputation. While there is no one-set law on what should be included in your environmental policy, there are legal duties that apply to you and your business and general guidelines that you can follow. This Business Kitz article will provide you with the top tips for constructing an environmental policy, the tools you can use to assess your carbon footprint, and the many benefits that come with it.
What does an environmental policy entail?
An environmental policy is a written statement outlining how your business manages its environmental impact through its supply chain activities and internal operations. While there is no legal requirement to have an environmental policy, many businesses are voluntarily choosing to in order to communicate their positive actions to their stakeholders. From a marketing perspective, an environmental policy can give your business more credibility, show transparency and convince consumers that by making a purchase from you, they are ‘doing the right thing’. Generally, an environmental policy will set out the commitments a business is making to meet their environmental obligations and minimise their impact. This will usually include commitments to legal requirements, frameworks for environmental goals or targets, measuring the impacts of their operations such as waste and emissions, reducing energy usage, partnering with responsible suppliers and advocacy or awareness efforts.
What is the process of environmental management?
Where exactly do you begin and how should you go about setting up an environmental policy? Whether you are a small local business or large corporation, following these steps is achievable and a lot less overwhelming than it seems:
- Complete an environmental audit of all business activities to identify your current impact and how this could be reduced. Small to medium businesses can use the Queensland Government’s ecoBiz program to receive coaching and assessments to reduce waste, water and energy costs.
- Establish an environmental management system (EMS) that continuously measures your environmental impact, outlines responsibilities, objectives and emergency or high-priority procedures for environmental protection: you could also get this credited by adhering in part or entirely to the ISO 14001 standard.
- Report your impacts by issuing environmental publications such as CSR reports to update the public on your eco-friendly path.
What are my environmental obligations and duties?
You may be wondering what exactly your legal duties of environment protection are besides not releasing 130 million gallons of oil into the ocean, like BP did in 2010. For businesses operating in Queensland, under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, the two key duties of you and your business are:
- General environmental duty – not taking actions that may actively cause harm to the environment without taking precautionary measures to minimise or prevent this harm; and
- Duty to notify of environmental damage – to inform the relevant authorities when there has been a case of evident environmental harm, or if there is knowledge that there will be.
In short, your business activities must not actively cause environmental damage. If you have a specific environmental authority (EA) for an environmentally relevant activity, these duties must be met as well as what is set out in your EA terms and conditions, ie. paying annual fees. It is also best to check whether you have industry codes that you must comply with, for example if you work in the transport or construction industry or are involved with natural water sources, there are certain environmental codes of practice to prevent you from unlawfully causing environmental harm.
What are the penalties?
If you have failed to meet the general duties, report a ‘notifiable activity’ of environmental harm caused by your business to the administered authority or have not complied with direction and clean-up notices, you can be prosecuted under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
The endless benefits
Writing an environmental policy and communicating your active participation in the fight for climate justice by reducing your environmental footprint is one of the best ways to boost your business’ reputation, as people are more likely to support businesses that care about this. As well as ensuring you are complying with the law, environmental management also provides you with the benefits of cost savings on energy, waste and water bills and raw materials, profits from recycling resources and improvement of workplace health and safety.
If you require assistance complying with your environmental duties, we recommend seeking legal advice through our sister company Legal Kitz. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with their experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.