Need to write an environmental policy statement for your company but not sure how? Follow these simple guidelines for a policy that lines up with ISO 14001.
By Cory Sander
What’s the definition of an environmental policy statement? Simply put, it’s a mission statement for your organization when it comes to all things environmental. Typically, it’s a one-page document where top management outlines the high-level framework for your environmental program, creating a formal framework of your intentions and overall direction.
As an EHS professional, you’re likely tasked with gathering input throughout the company, drafting the first version of your company’s policy statement and gaining buy-in from upper management. Often, it’s part of a larger effort to implement ISO 14001 or simply a general aspiration to comply with those environmental standards. Either way, it can be an intimidating process, but we’ve broken it down into some manageable steps.
Start with 4 Must-Have Elements
While your EHS management plan gets into the nitty-gritty details, this is just a one-page guiding document. But according to ISO 14001, it does need four essential sections you might think of as an environmental policy template:
- A clear statement that your organization has a commitment to continual improvement. This can be done in one or two quick sentences. But you might decide to make it a little longer and briefly outline your company’s core environmental values, too.
- A statement that your organization has a commitment to protecting the environment. Think of in broad terms that encompasses everything from waste reduction and lowering air emissions to not polluting the water. This section might be a few sentences or a paragraph or two, and it’s a good place to customize your statement with the kinds of pollution and prevention efforts applicable to your organization.
- Declare a commitment to your compliance obligations, including permits and regulations. You don’t need to list every requirement here, but you should outline the broad strokes of your requirements and a big-picture overview of how you meet them.
- Outline a commitment to non-regulatory requirements. Many companies belong to outside groups that involve commitments. In the auto industry, for example, there’s an auto alliance, and membership in this association means you agree with certain requirements. Spell out any similar community or industry commitments that apply to your company.
Review, Document and Communicate
You have a draft of your policy, but you’re not quite done yet. There are a few more things you need to do, especially if you’re following ISO 14001. First, read back through your policy and make sure it’s appropriate to the nature, scale and environmental impact of your business. If you’re in the beverage industry, for example, your policy should probably mention a commitment to recycling glass, plastic and aluminum associated with product packaging. Make sure you’ve touched on the key impacts your activities and products have on the environment.
It’s also a good idea to read back through the statement and check that it doesn’t sound like it could apply to any company. Cut out any empty words or phrases. Instead ask yourself: Does it capture the company’s focus? Values? And intentions for the future? You’ll also want to ensure you’re only listing things in the statement that you’re truly committed to carrying out. Don’t add in something that sounds good if it’s unlikely your company will follow through.
Finally, you must document and communicate your environmental policy statement. This means it can’t live inside your head. Ideally, you’ll have both paper and electronic copies. Maybe it even lives within your EHS software. The last step: You need to communicate the policy to everyone in the organization, and even contractors who work on behalf of the organization. The latter might include equipment maintenance contractors or environmental consultants.
If you’re implementing ISO 14001 to the letter, you also need to make your statement available to interested parties. This doesn’t mean you need to hand out flyers or publish it in the newspaper, but it should be made available to reasonable requests.
Once you’ve finished all these steps, it’s considered best practice to revisit the policy annually and make any necessary updates. Then you’ll have a living, breathing document to help you make major decisions. If you’re considering a renewable energy resource in five years, for example, you can pull back out this founding document and see if it’s something you called out as important.