Learning if you need an environmental audit is critical to your corporate success and financial well-being.
We're big advocates of being 100% in environmental compliance here at RMA. But frankly, our message seems to fall on deaf ears a lot. Environmental audits are a critical part of a company's environmental performance. But most companies still either don't do them, don't think they need them, or don't do them properly.
A lot of folks we talk to have heard of what an audit is, but don't think they need one, or don't want to spend the money since they are unsure how much an audit will cost, or don't think they'll get any value out of one. They constantly come back to the question of "do I need an environmental audit?"
Here's why we not only think the answer is a resounding YES, but that it is absolutely and completely a critical requirement for any business today.
Do I really need an environmental audit?
I could make analogies all day long about audits. Let me give you two:
- The Human Body - You only get one chance with it, and if you operate it correctly, get it regularly inspected by an expert (your doctor), and correct any deficiencies, you can expect a long, healthy, and happy life. On the other hand, if you avoid the doctor and regular checkups, ignore or fail to recognize any deficiencies found, and hope that you'll be okay without ever really getting yourself checked out, you're likely in for trouble.
- Paying Taxes - Speaking of audits… Whether a corporation or in your own personal life, assume for a second you didn't know about filing income tax returns. Imagine one day an IRS agent shows up and wants to know how come you haven't been paying your taxes. Sure it might take a while for them to figure it out, and by then you'll have a false sense of security, but at the end of the day, you'll get caught. What can you expect? Fines, penalties, extra paperwork, headaches, and possibly even jail.
An audit is analogous to both of those scenarios.
An audit performed by an independent expert (that means third-party, not someone associated with your company) will provide the regular checkup. Without it, you don't know where you stand, you won't know if you're in compliance, and you won't be able to find and address any problems found. The annual checkup by the doctor, which most of us do, is the best analogy. Very few of us risk our personal health by avoiding this, but frankly, a very large percentage of corporations risk their businesses, every day, by not having audits done.
And chances are, you're going to need that 'checkup' because there's a ridiculous amount of environmental rules and regulations that apply to every business, including yours. Honestly, I have yet to meet a company with "their own people" on staff who know it all. And if they do, they are usually, shall we say, at least a little concerned about the outcome of their internal reviews.
Imagine telling the IRS, "I didn't know I had to file taxes". Would that excuse get you off the hook? How many companies know it all when it comes to environmental regulations? Do you know if you are fully compliant with every little detail of the permits you do have, let alone those more complicated regulations you may have never even heard of?
So, ask me to convince you that you need an audit, and I'll just as likely ask you to convince me that you don't.
I can't stress it enough. If you're not thinking about audits, using the services of an independent, third-party expert, on a regular basis, you are playing with fire. Eventually, you're going to get burned. I guarantee it.
An Example of Why You Need an Environmental Audit
Here's an example.
I know of a great company, with multiple locations, very well-trained staff, and some pretty good procedures in place to make sure everything goes smoothly. They're a shining example of good environmental practices.
They were found to be consistently missing conducting one relatively minor (at least to them) type of inspection on one of their environmental permits, and had been doing it for years. They thought they were following the rules to a T all along. They figured their competent staff was handling things and knew what they needed to know.
I'm sure you know where this leads…
That failure led to a serious violation with their regulators, and a hefty financial penalty. Now, their lofty reputation has suffered, they're out-of-pocket money spent (wasted?) in fines, and are under a lot more scrutiny. They need to conduct new training for their staff members, and they're heavily considering audits.
Why did all this happen?
Sure you could blame it on the staff, or lax procedures, but at the end of the day, this all happened because they didn't have audits performed. There was no outside expert identifying deficiencies. If there was, this problem would have been corrected years ago and saved them a considerable amount of money. That money spent on fines could have been used for new equipment, new personnel, heck maybe even a bonus for the environmental manager!
That also points out the costs, which I'll cover another time. I don't care what it costs, a solid audit, conducted by an independent expert on a regular basis, is still way cheaper than being fined by the government. No question there at all.
We are becoming so serious about environmental audits that we're considering making it a requirement of working with us. Frankly, if you take your business seriously, you have too much to lose to do anything else. And like a doctor who wouldn't (and shouldn't!) stand by and watch a friend's health deteriorate due to lack of checkups and years of unhealthy habits, we're not going to stand by and let that happen to clients of ours who put their business's future in our hands.
And if you're reading this now, and don't want to consider hiring us here at RMA to conduct your audits, that's fine. Just get someone to do it - they're that important! Find someone who is competent, professional, and knows the regulations that pertain to you, and isn't afraid to tell you the truth about where you stand, regardless of the consequences. It's that important.
Don't delay. Literally, as you're reading this, an inspector could be on their way to your facility to do an inspection, or a zealous intern could be poring over the records you've submitted to the State, or your neighbor could be on the phone calling in an environmental complaint against you.