How Often Should I do Environmental Assessments?

There are multiple benefits to carrying out environmental assessments (read more here), but a question we often get asked is, how often should they be carried out?  This blog will discuss how regularly they should be done.

What are environmental assessments?

While they can cover any number of topics, they are essentially a check against an agreed set of standards.  For example, an environmental assessment can check against legal standards, company standards, ISO 14001 (the international standard for Environmental Management Systems) or a combination of them all or other areas.

When do I carry out my first assessment?

If you have not had a full environmental assessment, the perfect time to have your initial assessment is now!  Make sure you have a clear idea of the objectives of your assessment and what you want to achieve.  At this stage, gathering more information is better than less and you can refine the scope later if necessary.  You want to get a good idea of your current environmental performance and identify any areas that need attention for improvement.

What should my regular assessments cover?

This all depends on your objectives.  Do you want to address pollution risk and make sure your activities are managed to reduce the risk?  Do you have internal standards (e.g. on spill kit arrangements) that need to be implemented and maintained across multiple sites?  Do you have ISO 14001 and want to satisfy the requirement for internal auditing?  You should have assessments that are comparable over time and also across multiple sites.

How often should I carry out assessments?

As a guide, ISO 14001 states that internal audits should be completed “regularly”, which is open to interpretation.  As a minimum, we would suggest annual assessments, with some exceptions.  You want to make sure your audit frequency allows improvements and progress against the action plan.  However, you want to carry them out regularly enough to ensure that standards do not slip and environmental performance decline.  If you have a site, or area that is performing particularly poorly, you may consider more frequent audits, for example every 3 or 6 months until standards have improved sufficiently.

What should I do with my assessment information?

The outcome of an assessment should be an action plan for improvement.  Actions should consist of areas to achieve compliance, but also suggestions to improve environmental performance, depending on the assessment objectives.  Progress against the action plan should be maintained in-between assessments.  You can also use assessments to benchmark performance across multiple sites, identifying those where standards can be learned from and those that may require additional support.  You may also be able to identify common areas where support is required for improvement.

Environmental assessments have multiple benefits and should be completed regularly to support your programme of continual improvement.  Frequency of assessments will be dependent on your objectives and overall performance indicated by your initial assessment, but we would usually suggest at least annual assessments.