A well-written environmental policy statement can provide a unifying vision that will guide the actions of a company’s employees, management, shareholders, customers, and suppliers. It clearly outlines for staff, where a company stands on environmental matters for all stakeholders.
Before writing an environmental policy statement, it helps to know exactly how one is defined: A written set of principles that outlines a company’s mission to manage the environmental effects of its people, activities, and operations and helps to put its environmental commitments into practice. Basically, it is a company’s official declaration of its commitment to the environment and to continual improvement of environmental practices.
An environmental policy statement is meant to be long-lasting. While a company’s specific procedures or practices and associated goals may change each year, the policy statement should remain largely unchanged because it is the company’s guiding principle with respect to the environment.
As with any official statement, the goal of this document is to implement a new policy, which means its success will be determined by the ability of the authors to accurately and clearly convey its meaning and intentions effectively. This statement should help define the expectations and performance of all of the people associated with a company, and is usually the first step before developing specific procedures or practices that will realize the expectations of the policy. The more explicit the policy statement, the more likely that it will succeed.It should clearly state the aims and principles of an organization with respect to its impact on the environment.
Benefits: Why Write an Environmental Policy Statement?
In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, a good policy statement can have many rewards for a business. Environmental management can be a valuable investment in efficiency and could pay significant dividends by reducing overhead and boosting your bottom line. It can also act as an image enhancer, by assuring customers of a commitment to environmental issues. Or it can help also make a business more appealing to talented staff, who increasingly are looking to work for companies with beliefs that match their own.
The benefits associated with writing an environmental policy statement:
- assuring customers of commitment to demonstrable environmental management
- maintaining good public/community relations
- enhancing image and market share
- improving cost control
- reducing incidents that result in liability
- conserving raw materials and energy
- sharing environmental solutions
- improving industry/government relations.
Format and Style: What Should It Look Like?
While there is no standard format for writing an environmental policy statement, there are some general guidelines, which are outlined below. The bottom line, however, is that whatever is written should reflect an organization’s culture and be geared to their specific issues.
There are a few basic rules to follow:
- Keep the statement short, no longer than one page.
- Make it clear and easy to read and understand, since it is meant for everyone to see.
- It should be realistic, achievable and relevant to a company’s activities and practices.
- It should have top-level support (i.e., endorsement from managing director, president, chief executive or other).
There likely will be more detailed information and plans backing up what is stated in this policy elsewhere, but the statement itself should be kept short. It is meant for readers to understand where the company is in relation to the environment and where it hopes to be in the future. The details of specific goals, numbers, actions, should be included in the more detailed “action” plan.
Content: What Should It Include?
As a general rule, the policy should outline the specific commitments your company is prepared to make to reduce its effects on the environment. The written commitment should include efforts to reduce, prevent or eliminate the environmental hazards and impacts of a company’s people, activities, operations, and products. Objectives and targets may include reducing waste and the consumption of resources or redesigning products to minimize their environmental impact at all life-cycle stages, from design, to manufacturing, to customer use, and disposal.
It is also important that the opening statement show that company leadership is committed to a program of continual improvement. Finally, the statement should include a commitment to communicate its environmental goals to employees, customers and other stakeholders.
The list below will help individuals draft a policy appropriate to their business. Individuals, perhaps on a company green team, should choose examples of statements that would apply to their business and make then statements as specific as possible for their operations:
- Comply with existing environmental regulations
- Comply with applicable codes of practice.
- Assess the environmental effects of all operations.
- Continuously seek to improve environmental performance.
- Reduce pollution, emissions and waste.
- Reduce the use of all raw materials, energy, and supplies.
- Raise awareness, encourage participation, and train employees.
- Expect similar environmental standards from all suppliers and contractors.
- Assist customers in making environmentally sensitive choices.
- Work with the local community.
- Participate in discussions about environmental issues.
- Monitor progress and review performance (usually annually).
Specific issues relevant to your company that a company may wish to address based on where their operations are having the biggest environmental impact could include:
- Reduce impacts of transportation.
- Better recycling of materials and packaging.
- Minimizing waste generation.
- Maximizing recycling and reuse opportunities.
- Efficient use of water and energy.
- Use of biodegradable or alternatives to chemicals.
- Minimizing use of solvents.
- Use of timber products from sustainable (managed) forests.
To ensure successful implementation of an environmental policy, the statement needs to be applied company-wide. Getting input from a range of people in the organization will help to ensure commitment and ownership. It also helps to convey the message that environmental improvement is central to the company’s goals.
Most importantly once a policy has been finalized, it should be framed, hung on a wall, and revisited regularly. It should be used to continually involve staff in efforts to go green. The individuals that make up any business can each take simple actions both at work and at home that will greatly reduce the company’s overall impact, and they should be encouraged by the policy to create positive change.
Staff and company leaders should work together to define the company’s environmental policy statement and ensure that:
- It is communicated to all employees.
- Everyone in the organization understands the statement.
- Everyone knows what is expected of them.
- The environmental policy statement is made available to the public.
To develop an environmental policy that is engaging and which incorporates current good practice as well as realistic businesses goals, staff and leaders need to be educated on environmental issues, either through meeting with consultants, participating in workshops or researching policies of other companies in their sector. If a green team has been established, members should start with a brainstorming session to find out what areas the company is doing well in and where changes need to be made.
A good first step is to gather any existing environmental policies a company may need to follow. For instance, a company may already be required to comply with major environmental regulations or certain certifications. Or a company may have an “unofficial” environmental policy statement that is not yet written down anywhere. As a second step, a company should take a look at where its operations are having the biggest effect on the environment, so that the resulting policy is geared specifically to its people, activities, products, and services.
With this information, the green team can then address its specific issues in general terms in the policy statement. For example, if chemicals that are used in cleaning are a concern because of potential toxicity, then your company could make a commitment to review, and make changes to the types of cleaning products used.
Some questions to ask when drafting a company’s statement.
- Why are we implementing this policy? What do we hope to achieve?
- What change does your company hope to effect with this policy?
- Who does this policy affect?
- What is expected of employees, suppliers, contractors, and customers?
- Is this policy supported by senior management?
- Did employees from a cross-section of departments participate in defining the policy?
- Are employees aware of the policy?
There are many good environmental policy statements available online and elsewhere, but here is one generic example found online:
Sample Generic Policy Statement
Protecting our shared environment is of fundamental importance to Company X, as it is to our employees, customers, and other stakeholders. To support this common goal, we will:
- Comply with applicable local, state, and federal environmental regulations.
- Continually improve the environmental performance of our products and processes.
- Protect the health and safety of our employees and surrounding communities and ecosystems.
- Use natural resources, including raw materials, energy, and water, as efficiently as possible.
We will work to achieve these commitments by:
- Requiring environmental awareness training of all our employees and more specific environmental training where appropriate.
- Evaluating products and processes from the point of view of chemical risk, dedicating ourselves to finding better alternatives based on preventing pollution in the first place.
- Considering the risks of our raw materials and products at all stages of our product’s life, placing priority on risks present during our production process and during our customers’ use of our products.
- Working collaboratively with our customers, suppliers, and the surrounding community on environmental issues.
We will make every effort to ensure that environmental performance is an integral part of
Company X’s performance and of the performance of all of our employees. To this end, we will measure and periodically report on our progress in realizing these commitments.
Consultant and writer on sustainability and the environment
Helping you leave a green footprint on the world…