C4.1 Environmental Audit


An environmental audit is a systematic and documented process of objectively obtaining and evaluating information (audit evidence) to determine compliance.

This compliance may be with a formal Environmental Management System audit, internal procedures or legislative requirements. Within an Environmental Management System, the Audit is the CHECK part of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

Many organisations also use the audit process to identify areas of best practice, ensuring that the audit process is looking for the good as well as the bad.

The key difference between an audit and an inspection is that an audit is a formal and documented process. The terms ‘audit’ and ‘inspection’ are often used interchangeably – which they are not.


Disadvantages to auditing are that it requires significant commitment of resources to operate a successful (by that I mean effective) auditing programme. You have to either pay external auditors, or release your own staff and pay to train them to conduct audits; either way there is a cost. You need administrative support to manage audit programmes and the associated paperwork.

When an audit is conducted, the auditee(s) will usually have to stop working for the duration. This may cause temporary disruption to the work activities and the lost staff time is not an insignificant cost.

If an auditor raises a problem, but no action is taken – you have a written record that you knew about the problem, but did not act. This may increase your liability should an issue arise.

If the environmental audit reveals several problems simultaneously, this can cause difficulties in setting priorities. Organisations must also carefully consider the confidentiality of the audit process. There is a danger in disclosing environmental information to the public that an environmental audit can reveal violations of environmental rules that might affect the company financially or can have negative consequences for its corporate image.