Environmental Audit

Discover what environmental audits are, why they are important, and how to conduct them for a company.

Auditor que realiza una auditoría medioambiental sobre el terreno

What is an Environmental Audit?

At its core, an environmental audit evaluates a company’s environmental performance. Environmental audits can be done on specific procedures and operational areas to assess their effectiveness and compliance with environmental rules and regulations.

Environmental audits are in place to ensure companies do what they can to preserve the environment. Additionally, these audits aim to control a company’s environmental practices and ensure compliance with the different regulations that may apply to them.

Generally, an environmental audit aims to:

  • identify which environmental management practices are working effectively;
  • find different areas of improvement when it comes to environmental compliance; and
  • assess any new and potential risks to the environment.

Why Companies Need an Environmental Audit

Environmental audits aim to accomplish numerous goals. From a broader point of view, these audits assess a company’s environmental impact. It can show managerial teams what they can do to improve environmental sustainability, prove which environmental processes positively affect productivity and efficiency, and find pinpoint risks before they manifest themselves.

However, the main goal of environmental audits is to ensure compliance with environmental laws. Different territories and jurisdictions have their own environmental regulations, rules, and requirements that all companies need to follow. Failure to comply with these rules and regulations can result in severe consequences such as hefty fines and more, depending on the jurisdiction.

Environmental audits are crucial in standardizing these compliance measures across the organization. Through environmental audits, companies can understand where training is needed and whether they have the right control systems in place. They can also determine whether the company has adequate streams of communication in regard to environmental compliance.

For ISO 14001 certification, companies must go through checks conducted by an independent third party. However, before the third-party inspection, companies can perform internal audits to gauge where the company is and whether they can qualify for the certification during the inspection.


There are three main types of environmental audits that a company may conduct. These are as follows:

  • Environmental compliance
  • Environmental Management System (EMS) audits
  • Functional environmental audits

While most US-based and worldwide companies focus on environmental compliance audits, all three types are important. Depending on the needs of a company, it may need one or more of these audits.

Environmental Compliance

The environmental compliance audit is companies’ most common type of audit, especially within the US. These audits focus on checking whether or not the company meets certain requirements and follows specific regulations using a definite checklist.

Environmental compliance audits verify whether or not a company meets certain requirements while handling a specific task. Depending on the company’s industry and operations, they may need to conduct audits on different processes. However, these audits are usually required for different environment authorizations or for obtaining specific licenses.

Companies can assess whether or not they are doing all the required actions to reduce environmental harm. The requirements for different industries are usually clearly laid out by the organization that provides the authorization and certification, making it much easier for companies to check their compliance.

Environmental Management System (EMS) Audit

Also known as EMS audits, they aim to evaluate the different management systems in place and determine whether they are working effectively. The ISO 14001 standards clearly state how companies need to conduct an EMS audit to ensure that the company’s EMS is working properly.

The primary goal of an EMS audit is to certify that a company’s EMS is working effectively. Additionally, an EMS audit aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • Evaluate the key objectives of the EMS and whether they are being met
  • Find new opportunities for an EMS
  • Determine the areas of improvement for their EMS
  • Review the EMS’ sustainability
  • Ensure that the company is taking steps to continually improve their EMS

EMS audits allow companies to ensure that their systems do the job and provide them with the required benefits. Additionally, they enable companies to identify where improvements are necessary and take steps to improve their EMS.

Functional Environmental Audits

These audits aim to determine whether or not a company complies with specific regulations for certain tasks. For example, companies can audit their waste management facility to ensure compliance with the waste management plan of their jurisdiction.

Another example of these audits is the air quality monitoring audit. This ensures that the company’s atmospheric emissions management plan is effective and meets the necessary requirements.

This also allows companies to check certain aspects of their operations and ensure compliance before regulatory boards conduct their own inspections. These specialized audits provide companies with specific information they may need in the future.

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Conducting an Environmental Audit

Conducting an environmental audit doesn’t have to be complicated. To paint a clearer picture of the process of conducting one within a company, it’s best to divide it into three phases:

  • Pre-audit phase
  • Audit phase
  • Post-audit phase

Pre-Audit Phase

During the pre-audit phase, companies can build the team, create an auditing plan, determine the documents they need, make the appropriate requests, and do as much prep as necessary. This involves creating a list of things that regulatory bodies may ask for, figuring out the material needed, and ensuring that the company is prepared for an audit.

Audit Phase

From there, the team can proceed with the audit. When conducting an audit, it’s crucial for the team to follow the ground rules put in place during the first phase. During the audit, teams may conduct site inspections and interviews, evaluate teams and perform document reviews. This is to ensure they gather as much relevant data as possible.

It’s important to have daily meetings when conducting an audit to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This also makes it easier to check whether all the goals were met during the closing meeting after conducting the audit.

Post Audit Phase

During the post-audit phase, the team gets to interpret all the data. This also involves creating the environmental audit reports, identifying areas of improvement, and creating an action plan to meet the shortcomings found during the audit.

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Documents Needed for an Audit

Conducting an audit can be daunting, especially with all the documents required to create a comprehensive report. Companies generally need maps and floor plans of their facility to figure out where to perform the audit and how to do it. Additionally, companies may need to submit the following documents:

  • Environmental compliance certificates
  • Environmental permits
  • All raw materials used in company procedures
  • Environmental plans
  • Employee training records

Coming up with all these documents is challenging enough. And considering that gathering the documents is only the start of the audit, modern companies need to incorporate different tools to make it much easier to conduct these audits.

One of these tools is SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor). This all-in-one auditing tool is made for modern companies and comes with features that can simplify gathering documents and conducting audits for the team.

Leon Altomonte
Article by
Leon Altomonte
Leon Altomonte is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He got into content writing while taking up a language degree and has written copy for various web pages and blogs. Aside from working as a freelance writer, Leon is also a musician who spends most of his free time playing gigs and at the studio.