Assess the environmental impact of your business or organization are many and varied. They range from air pollution to water quality, and surface contamination to habitat loss. But…How does one assess the environmental impact of a business or organisation?
There are several approaches available for assessing the environmental impacts of your business. The best approach is the one that works for you, your company, and your stakeholders. Regardless of the approach, you take, conducting an environmental impact assessment is a very valuable exercise. The insights it provides can be used to help your organization identify areas where effort and investment could have the greatest benefit.
In this article, we discuss the steps involved in undertaking an environmental impact assessment of your organization.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Identify Environmental Aspects
The first step in conducting an environmental impact assessment for your organization is identifying the environmental aspects of the organization as a whole.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, environmental aspects are any elements of an organization’s activities, products, or services that interact or can interact with the environment in some way.
As you begin to create a list of environmental aspects for your organization, think about activities that cause:
- waste (e.g., faulty products)
- resource depletion (e.g., use of rare material for production)
- land or water contamination (e.g, hazardous runoff from production)
- emissions (e.g., delivery trucks used for distribution)
- hazardous exposure (e.g., smog)
Throughout this process, it’s crucial that you consider the entire life cycle of your products and services. This means thinking about how they are created, transported, used, and disposed of.
Example: The ovens used by a bakery are an environmental aspect of the business because they consume fuel (e.g., gas or electricity) and produce emissions (e.g., CO2).
Step 2: Identify Environmental Impacts
Environmental impacts are the negative effects caused by an organization’s environmental aspects. This step requires a lot of research and investigation because impacts vary from organization to organization—even within the same industry.
To learn about your organization’s environmental impacts, begin by identifying the categories of environmental impacts that each aspect could have.
The main categories include:
- Inputs: Inputs are materials used by an organization’s aspects (e.g., water used for coolant, minerals used in production, fuel, etc.). Inputs typically impact the environment by degrading habitats or depleting resources.
- Outputs: Outputs are materials created by an organization’s aspects (e.g., emissions, chemical runoff, waste, etc.). Outputs typically impact the environment via pollution.
- Processes: Processes are actions performed in an effort to maintain or support an organization’s aspects (e.g., cleaning, repairing, transporting, etc.). Processes typically impact the environment via pollution.
We recommend you start by mapping each organizational aspect to the corresponding impact category. From there, research the specific impact of the aspect in question and record your findings in an organized table.
|Baking bread using commercial ovens.||Emits CO2, which is damaging to the ozone layer.|
|Produces particulates which reduce air quality for employees.|
|Requires solvents for cleaning that contaminate land near the bakery.|
Step 3: Prioritize Impacts
The next step in the process is to prioritize environmental impacts based on severity and how much control you have over them:
Obviously, the more severe a negative impact is, the more time and resources should be invested in remedying it. The severity of environmental impacts can be evaluated based on various factors, such as:
- risk to human health
- risk to ecosystem stability
- risk to future generations
In general, severity should be balanced with immediacy to determine priority. That means severe risks which are of immediate danger take precedence over severe risks that pose a danger some time in the future.
In addition to severity, the degree of your organization’s control over environmental impacts can also affect their priority. For example, if you own a landfill that contaminates local soil and water with hazardous waste, the resulting contamination is 100% under your control.
On the other hand, if you operate a toy manufacturing company whose products are frequently left plugged in by customers (thereby using a significant amount of energy), the impact is more or less out of your control.
Step 4: Identify Causes Of Impacts And Implement Solutions
Once you have identified and prioritized your organization’s environmental impacts, it’s time to start taking action. Remember: the ultimate goal is to make as small a negative impact as possible while still being an effective business.
Typically, this process begins with a critical review of current practices. In other words, try to pinpoint exactly what specific activities are causing the negative impacts. If you have a hard time determining which activities are causing environmental problems, one helpful technique is to brainstorm with your team and/or conduct a process walk-through. The goal of a process walk-through is to identify each step in an organizational aspect or service, as well as any potential areas for improvement.
Identifying the causes of negative impacts can be very challenging. If you have exhausted all efforts and are still having trouble, it may be time to bring in outside assistance from a consulting firm capable of completing a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). An LSA is a useful tool for evaluating an organization’s complete environmental impact because it considers the entire life cycle of a business’s products and services.
Using a LCA may help you determine where your largest impacts are coming from, which will in turn allow you to prioritize environmental impacts for mitigation. Once prioritized, create an action plan of how to best reduce each impact. Keep in mind that some solutions may be more effective or feasible than others, depending on the severity and control of impacts.
Step 5: Monitor And Maintain Mitigation Activities
If you have been able to successfully reduce the negative environmental impact of your organization, it’s time to implement processes for ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Monitoring is essential because it allows you to identify the effectiveness of past mitigation efforts, as well as ensure that previous mitigation activities are not having a negative effect on other aspects of your organization.
Regular environmental impact audits, regular process walk-throughs, and regular meetings with all employees that work in the areas that were previously impacted should allow you to accomplish effective monitoring. If necessary, adjust mitigation activities as needed to ensure any previous impacts are effectively reduced or eliminated.
The goal of this article was to provide you with a step-by-step guide for assessing and mitigating your organization’s environmental impacts. We hope that you now have a better understanding of how to identify, prioritize, and address these impacts using the five steps we outlined.
Keep in mind that although it takes some effort to get started, reducing negative environmental impact is definitely possible and can even be beneficial for your business. It’s important to remember that no one solution fits all. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find practices that work best for your organization.
About the Author
When he’s not in the office Peter enjoys playing squash, often more times than his knees can cope.
At Sandpaper We have been around long enough to realize the importance of good report writing, research, and design. A thoroughly planned and executed report builds loyalty and trust among stakeholders.
In the 10 years of service, Sandpaper has managed a stay ahead of its competition; by developing and adapting to changes in both the global and local corporate landscape in the United Arab Emirates.