An environmental policy is an essential document every business should have in place to communicate their environmental responsibilities. Here are our top tips and examples for getting it right.
An environmental policy is a simple, often short yet thorough statement that – as a minimum – outlines your commitments and objectives for managing and reducing your environmental impact. It can also be used to outline your environmental management system, if you have one, and any actions or progress you have made so far.
Why have an environmental policy?
Having a single policy statement is important not only for showing customers and regulators you’re taking your responsibilities seriously, but also for setting expectations for staff, contractors and suppliers. It should act as a simple ‘north star’ that informs all of your sustainability activities and helps you to manage long-term environmental risks to your business.
Environmental policies are increasingly becoming a mandatory requirements for many businesses, especially those supplying the public sector or corporate customers who are integrating formal sustainability requirements into their tender process.
What to include
There is no universal standard or structure an environmental policy needs to follow, but there are a few best practice principles worth sticking to:
1. Set the scope and purpose
Start with a basic overview of your business and its operations, and identify which parts of your business the policy covers. For example, does it apply just to your physical on-site operations or to all the goods and services you procure?
2. Identify responsible parties
Your policy should detail who is responsible for ensuring it is adhered to. In practice, this should involve all your staff and third parties, but you should also identify who has ultimate accountability in your business and what resources are in place to support delivery.
3. Ascertain your key impacts and risks
Your policy should be tailored to the specific environmental impacts and responsibilities of your business. To make sure you are covering all the bases, it’s a good idea to conduct a full environmental review to identify all your environmental aspects – all the ways your activities, products and services interact with the environment.
Examples may include raw materials, equipment, packaging, waste, energy, water and transport, as well as the ways you might accidentally cause environmental damage (for example through spillages) and the legislation you need to comply with.
Once you’ve identified your environmental aspects and responsibilities, prioritise the areas where you have the most impact and ability to improve (this is also known as a ‘materiality assessment’).
Conducting a carbon footprint is a good starting point for helping to gather data and identify your bigger impacts, but remember that carbon is just one part of your overall environmental story.
4. Make clear commitments
List out the specific actions and commitments you are taking to manage, prevent and reduce your key environmental impacts, in bullet-point format. It’s important you make a commitment to continual improvement, so your objectives should be as SMART as possible – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
If you have a particularly complex business with lots of environmental impacts and aspects, it is worth considering implementing an environmental management system (EMS) that puts clear procedures in place to manage everything. ISO 14001 is a recognised global standard, but you can implement an informal EMS yourself.
5. Keep it under review
Environmental policies are living documents. They should be reviewed regularly as your impacts, risks and objectives will change over time. It is common practice for policies to be reviewed at least annually, and each version should be dated and signed and by a director or senior decision maker.
6. Keep it short
The best environmental policies are short, simple and straightforward. Ideally, you want it to fit onto a single A4 sheet. Remember, the purpose is to provide a snapshot of your environmental commitments and responsibilities. It is an overview, not an in-depth strategy.
7. Make it public
Your policy should be publicly available on your website. This will ensure full transparency and accountability, but it’s also a good opportunity to showcase your credentials in a concise, easy-to-read format. If you aren’t sharing your policy openly, you won’t get the full benefits from it!
Don’t forget to update the version on your website following every review.
Best practice examples
The environmental policy for The Growth Company, Green Economy’s parent organisation, is available online. As you can see, it covers all the core elements above in an easy-to-read, bullet-point format.
As a large organisation, The Growth Company also has specific separate policies for waste and procurement, but for most businesses everything can come together under a single policy statement.
For a more in-depth example, take a look at QPSL Ltd, a manufacturer in Greater Manchester that is doing great things to reduce its environmental impact.
QPSL’s sustainability webpage is a hive of useful information. There is a simple one-page policy statement that aligns with its ISO 14001 environmental management system, as well as separate statements on carbon reduction and sustainable sourcing. They have even produced a short video!