Environmental Audits: The Checkup that Keeps Your Business Healthy

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Jul 8, 2024

Time to Read 9 Minutes

Environmental Audits: The Checkup that Keeps Your Business Healthy

Why Audits Are the Secret Weapon to a Company's Environmental Success

Environmental audits are pretty common these days, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. They happen for all sorts of reasons. But if you’re not being forced to do one, why bother? After all, they can bring up liabilities and highlight compliance issues at your facility or within your company. So, if it’s not mandatory, why go through with it?

These concerns definitely highlight the potential downsides of environmental audits, but they miss out on the huge benefits that come with a thorough audit. In this article, we’ll dive into why conducting an environmental audit for your facility or company is actually a smart move - one that keeps your business healthy, saving you time, money, and headaches.

If you're already ready to take our word for it and want a seasoned environmental expert to audit your facility - reach out to our environmental auditing pros. We've seen and done it all.

Want more information before diving in? Let's explore deeper!

Environmental Audits: The Basics

Time out! If you're brand new to environmental audits and want the full story, consider checking out some of our other articles on environmental audits here:

Annual Checkup = Environmental Audit

Here's an analogy we use a lot when it comes to environmental audits. Why go to the doctor for an annual checkup? After all, you might just find out something is wrong with you! You know, that pain you've been having that just won't go away, that debilitating condition that's hampering your lifestyle, those concerns that are keeping you awake at night while you hope it's nothing, and that it'll just go away?

Does that sound like the best way to proceed when it comes to your health? If you're like most people, you're probably saying no, that's not the best way. Going to a doctor for a regular, head-to-toe checkup regularly (probably annually) is really the best way to protect your health, and to address any problems before they become larger and more harmful.

If you get that, then you understand environmental auditing. It's exactly like your annual comprehensive checkup that you get from your knowledgeable medical professional, probably your doctor.

Think of it like this. An environmental audit is your regular comprehensive checkup to make sure that you're not overlooking something, that you're in compliance, and that you've got all your bases covered. This will allow you to protect your business, and to address any problems before they become larger and more harmful. Just like your annual checkup!

wenvironmental consultant taking notes on a clipboard at an industrial site

Environmental Benchmarking with Audits

One of the problems with environmental compliance is unless you're an expert in the field, you probably don't really know how you're doing. You don't get an annual grade or report, your performance doesn't appear on your balance sheet, and for most companies, compliance is usually measured in negatives (thinking you did well since you didn't get any violations, or you only got a small fine this year, or something similar). That's not a good way of doing business!

Once again, enter environmental auditing. By doing a comprehensive environmental audit, you'll be able to tell where you stand - and you'll be able to avoid all those negative outcomes I mentioned such as violations and fines. Do a comprehensive environmental audit this year, and find out you have X things to address; address them and during the next environmental audit you should find far fewer things to worry about - until you are at the point where you have nothing to worry about!

Conducting regular environmental audits is a lot like getting follow-up medical checkups to ensure your treatments are working and nothing new has cropped up. In other words, audits are a tool for measuring, confirming, or benchmarking where you are relative to environmental regulations and other objectives you may have.

Who Can Conduct an Environmental Audit?

Conducting an environmental audit isn't something just anyone should do—it takes someone who really knows their stuff when it comes to environmental regulations and your specific industry. Sure, the guys on-site might be experts in your field, but they often don't have the deep understanding of environmental laws needed to catch everything during an audit. This can lead to missed compliance issues and potential trouble down the road. You might know a lot about your own body - but are you qualified to give yourself a medical exam? Probably not!

On the flip side, you've got environmental experts who know the laws inside and out. But if they're not familiar with your industry, they might miss some key details. Imagine hiring a consultant who specializes in solar energy to audit a petroleum refinery—it would be a steep learning curve for them, and you'd spend a lot of time just getting them up to speed. They're generally better than the on-site folks when it comes to regulations, but still not the perfect fit. In keeping with our analogy - while better than no doctor at all, a children's doctor is probably still not the best fit for an elderly person.

The sweet spot is finding an environmental professional who knows the regulations and has experience with your industry. For example, if you run a concrete plant, you'd want a consultant who understands environmental laws and has worked with concrete plants or similar industries like asphalt plants. If you run a stump-grinding operation, a consultant who has worked in the mulch industry will have you covered. This way, they’ll know exactly what to look for and won’t miss a thing, making the audit thorough and effective.

Here at RMA, we've spent decades working with all different types of businesses and know the regulations like the back of our hands. If you're interested in exploring if we would be a good fit to perform an environmental audit for your business, reach out to our experts. We'd be happy to discuss your specific needs and see how we can help ensure your compliance and environmental performance are top-notch. Whether you’re in manufacturing, energy, or any other industry, we have the expertise to make sure your audit is thorough and effective.

Conducting Environmental Audit

Other Reasons Environmental Audits Are Utilized

As if using environmental audits as a means to determine where you are (your checkup), benchmarking, and continual improvement aren't enough reasons to convince you that you ought to be doing audits, then consider a couple of other reasons that just might pop up eventually:

  • Regulatory Requirement: Screw up bad enough, and you may just be forced to implement a program of regular environmental audits. See, the government (as well as 3rd party environmental groups now) understand the value of regular environmental audits as a means of staying in compliance, and if you really screw something up (or are the subject of a 3rd party lawsuit), you may well be required conduct regular environmental audits to ensure it doesn't happen again.
  • Work Requirement: We are hearing it more and more. Potential (or existing) customers of yours are starting to ask if you conduct environmental audits yourself; and if not, they may either require you to start or may go elsewhere with their business. This is particularly true of larger businesses and government agencies who demand that their suppliers are not only compliant with government rules and regulations but also that they can depend on them to be around and not shut down due to environmental problems. Do you want to keep working with these types of people? - maybe it's time to consider environmental audits.
  • Environmental Management Systems: Most EMS standards, including the ISO14001 standards, require a regular program of comprehensive review of compliance with environmental requirements. In other words, environmental audits or something pretty darn similar. After all, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be certified to a high environmental standard if you're missing something important (or basic), now does it?
  • Insurance or financial requirement: Your business probably has some form of insurance which probably includes environmental incident protection. How is your insurance underwriter supposed to gauge your level of compliance, by guessing? No, they are now commonly requiring, or at least strongly suggesting, the use of environmental audits as a standard part of business operations. Same with your financial institution, if you're doing anything like seeking financing, credit, etc. They also want to ensure you're not a risk, across the board, including an environmental risk. How to confirm that? You guessed it - environmental auditing.

gavel sitting next to a stack of environmental regulations

A Common Misconception: We're not interested, since we're okay with our inspector.

Sure, you're okay with your inspector, right? He or she comes in to visit once per year (or less), usually just reviews one thing (like your NPDES stormwater permit), does their thing, and then disappears. Okay, you might be more or less okay on that one particular issue, but did that inspector also review your air quality permit compliance level? Your compliance with RCRA requirements? EPCRA reporting? SPCC plan compliance? TSCA, SARA, etc., etc.? In our experience, the answer is almost resoundingly no, they didn't. So your one inspector, doing one inspection in one area, didn't likely check anything else.

It's kind of like this. You haven't done that annual medical checkup we talked about now for quite a few years, and you decide to do it - by getting a visit from a podiatrist (a foot doctor). The doctor checks your feet or whatever else they look at, and pronounces you good to go. Your feet are fine! But what about other problems outside of that doctor's area of specialty? Might something have been missed or overlooked? Yes!

And that's why a comprehensive environmental audit is so valuable. It's that full head-to-toe checkup by someone who is reasonably familiar with every aspect of your operation (or at least should be - if not you're working with the wrong doctor, I mean environmental auditor!).

And as good as your inspector might be in their area, it's pretty doubtful they're experts in other areas that apply to your facility location or business - things that can get you in trouble. Again, the best option is usually to hire a consultant with experience in environmental regulations for your audit.

Key Takeaway: Have an Expert Conduct Regular Environmental Audits for Your Business!

By now, I hope you can see that there are ample reasons why you should be doing regular, comprehensive environmental audits. How about one more? Because it's the modern way of doing business, plain and simple. If you're hiding your head in the sand, really don't want to know where you stand, and hope that an inspector doesn't show up or cause you any problems, then you really aren't with the times. That's the old way of doing business, not the way businesses do things today.

Have an environmental audit done by someone who knows what they're doing, knows where you are, and addresses whatever concerns may arise, and then it'll be just like getting that summary of excellent health from your doctor once a year. You'll sleep just fine at night, and move on doing what's really important to you and your business.

If you want an environmental audit from a firm with a proven track record across industries, shoot us an email at info@rmagreen.com, click here to contact us, or give us a call anytime at 888-RMA-0230 to get started on the path to good environmental health for your business.

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