The reasons for conducting an environmental compliance audit are well established. For the most part, compliance audits are conducted to ensure that business operations are in compliance with local, State, and Federal regulations. Other motivations include corporate policies, avoiding fines and penalties, and the drive to minimize the environmental impact of manufacturing or operations. There exist countless auditing protocols, tools, and scoring systems to ensure that no stone is left un-turned. The end result of most compliance audits is a set of recommendations to improve environmental compliance to avoid regulatory violations and fines.
A professional environmental audit can cost a significant amount of money, and involve a lot of time researching issues and pulling together files for the auditors. As a result, many small to medium sized businesses do not conduct voluntary audits unless absolutely necessary. Large corporations are much more active in conducting audits and have incorporated auditing into their sustainable business policies and practices.
Auditing can result in second tier benefits, aside from avoiding regulatory citations and fines. Both small and large corporations benefit. These include waste minimization, cost savings, and an improvement in public image. However, there is another dimension to compliance audits that is often overlooked.
During the course of an audit, a review of business or manufacturing of processes is conducted whether you realize it or not. In order to evaluate environmental compliance, you have to understand the process being conducted. During this review, and likely the focus of the audit is compliance and not the process, an opportunity arises. That opportunity is the opportunity for an outsider to analyze a manufacturing or business process and determine if there is better or less expensive ways to produce or conduct an operation. While an auditor may not know your business the way you do, the auditor is an objective party that is analyzing the physical operation of your business. Observations made about a process should not be wasted if not directly related to environmental compliance.
Such observations may include alternate ways to complete an operation that result in less time, less material used, or an alternate strategy to complete a task and reduce a capital expenditure at the same time. As a result, a compliance audit should be thought of as a tool to achieve environmental compliance, but also evaluate the efficiency of a process. During a recent heating fuel system audit, our audit team found that the Energy Management System (EMS) was not programmed as efficiently as it could have been. Based on our suggestions, the system was reprogrammed to reduce energy consumption. During another audit, we recommended the use of a mobile fueling truck at a facility instead of replacing an old stationary tank. The recommendation eliminated the need to replace the tank, build a secondary containment structure and storm water canopy, and manage the system under a Spill Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) Plan at substantial cost. The cost of a mobile fueling unit turned out to be far less.
The comparatively modest investment in a compliance audit can greatly reduce the risk of fines and violations, but should also be thought of as an opportunity to optimize your business, not just the environmental aspects of it.