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environmental audit

  In its broadest sense, an environmental audit is either the process, or the product that emerges from the process of checking, assessing, testing or verifying an aspect of environmental management. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) defined environmental auditing as \'a management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of how well the environmental organization, management and equipment are performing\' (in Ryding, 1992, p. 414). Buckley (1995) notes how the definition of an environmental audit has changed over time: for example, environmental benchmark audits are alternatively known as state-of-the-environment reports, while environmental product audits are often now known as environmental purchasing.

Audits may be either internal to a corporation or undertaken by an outside organization (see ICC, 1991): they may be undertaken either voluntarily or to fulfil legal requirements. Environmental audits have grown in popularity in recent years due to the increase in public concern over environmental issues, the incorporation of environmental issues within business culture and the complementarity of this process with existing business practices. From a European perspective, Eden (1996) identifies this development as a reactive move in anticipation of the then European Commission\'s legislation which came into effect in 1995 and is popularly known by its acronoym EMAS (environmental management and audit scheme). There are also environmental audits at the level of individual countries (e.g. BS 7750 in England) although participation in these schemes is voluntary and is currently at low levels (Eden, 1996). From an American perspective, Cheremisinoff and Cheremisinoff (1993) identify various types of audits, establish when to do an audit and demonstrate the importance of environmental audits in relation to cleaning up environmentally degraded sites.

Environmental audits may be undertaken for governments, aid agencies, financial institutions and community groups. They may assess the predictions of environmental impact assessments, compliance with environmental regulations, the performance of equipment, strategies and legislation, the compliance of corporations and government departments with their stated environmental policies and objectives or the effectiveness of an environmental management system. Environmental planning audits, or planning environmental audits, may be undertaken to improve environmental or resource management practices.

Environmental auditing developed rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. From a corporate perspective, internal environmental auditing helps companies to meet environmental regulations and their own environmental goals in a cost-effective manner. It also assists them to avoid the rising legal, financial and public relations costs of poor environmental management. Chapter 30 of Agenda 21 (see sustainable development) encourages private corporations to report annually on their environmental records (Buckley, 1995). From a state or community perspective, mandatory external auditing verifies and encourages compliance with environmental regulations. The questions of who will undertake the environmental audit, and who will have access to the resulting document, are central to the regulation of industry and commerce. Should corporations and government departments be self-regulated, or should there be outside regulation? Thus, the process of environmental auditing is situated within larger debates about how to achieve and maintain high environmental quality. (PM)

References Buckley, R. 1995: Environmental auditing. In F. Vanclay and D. Bronstein, eds, Environmental and social impact assessment. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 283-301. Cheremisinoff, P. and Cheremisinoff, N. 1993: Professional environmental auditors guidebook. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Publications. Eden, S. 1996: Environmental issues and business: implications of a changing agenda. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons; International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) 1991: ICC guide to effective environmental auditing. Paris: ICC Publishing S.A.. Ryding, S.-O. 1992: Environmental management handbook. Amsterdam and Oxford: IOS Press.



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