Environmental compliance as a business improvement strategy

By Craig Beyers

Environmental laws are constantly evolving and we have seen a regulatory shift in recent years across a number of states where companies and organisations must take steps to demonstrate they’re not causing any problems.

These laws are moving away from fixed limits and compliance being a process of staying within those limits. Increasingly businesses have to demonstrate they're not doing any harm, which requires a more systematic and ongoing approach of monitoring, record-keeping and innovation, and most importantly, someone helping the businesses with experienced and professional advice.

As a result, there will be greater pressure on businesses to understand and ensure compliance in an increasingly technical area, and established habits of compliance as an annual audit and reporting obligation won’t be sufficient in many cases.

This may on first consideration seem to be a time-consuming or costly inconvenience however, there is a way to make environmental compliance an invaluable business improvement strategy rather than a regulatory obligation or headache.

Treating compliance as an ongoing and integral part of your business, working with experts to address challenges and incorporate systems early, can save your business time and money, improve efficiencies and boost the organisation’s reputation.

When we work with out clients on an ongoing basis, we speak with them regularly to track what is happening and remain informed, and through that, our clients are able to use ongoing information and reporting as an opportunity to change or improve the business and operations.

Ultimately, the cost of dealing with notices and enforcement actions means you as the person running the business or organisation aren’t focusing on core business - you're putting out grass fires rather than growing.

 

Benefits of ongoing compliance

  • early detection and rectification of any potential breaches
  • operating and complying with environmental regulations becomes easier
  • potential to identify financial and environmental savings in re-using waste emissions as a resource instead. For example one AMG client is now capturing heat from their used gas emissions so they can use that in other processes rather than losing that energy as emissions to air.
  • improved reputation with regulators and a smoother pathway through compliance processes. When a regulator sees a business is working with a trusted and professional consultant such as AMG, they feel confident compliance matters are well in hand.
  • less likely to receive notices of noncompliance and therefore can avoid the time, money and effort required to deal with regulators, auditors and rectification works.

 

Common compliance mistakes

Leaving it too late.

Ideally, compliance should be an ongoing, year-round process, staying on top of what's happening in the business so that when the annual compliance check comes around, it's already under control.  

However for many businesses without a dedicated environmental officer or consultant, the reporting period is often ignored until the last minute, resulting in a panicked phone call to our office when there are only days left to deadline.

This leads to the business having to provide an explanation and request an extension of regulators, and ultimately, you would expect to end up with a regulator coming out do to a site inspection and audit to see how many other things have been ignored.

Not reading or understanding the EA.

Often we'll find that the Environmental Authority or Permit has been filed, more or less permanently, without being read and certainly not fully understood.

While this is understandable - management teams are busy operating their business and most are not conversant in environmental issues or language - it doesn't help the business, and can in fact be detrimental leading to uninformed and costly decisions.

Playing dumb

For long-standing businesses, doing what they've always done for two or more decades seems easy and correct, but is no defence when a non-compliance notice is issued.

A number of times confused business owners have said to us: “But we've always done it this way” or they'll claim it's not their fault because they didn't know any differently.

Neither of those excuses will fly with regulators - the onus is on the business to stay up to date and compliant.  

 

How to do compliance well

* Go over a copy of your Environmental Authority or Permit - have a good read of it, line by line. Do you understand it? Are there any areas you're not compliant? If there are any areas of doubt, pick up the phone and call a specialist consultant.

* Talk it through. Highlight the things in the EA that you're currently not doing or not sure of, and make a note if there are areas that no longer match your business at all. Businesses change and you may be operating outside of your authority, or you may no longer need to meet some conditions.

* Start now. Compliance should be continual, and the longer lead time you have until your deadline, the easier it will be to have a smooth time of the process. With most areas, anything that requires a change will take longer than a week or month - most environmental monitoring takes a minimum of four weeks - or in the case of a licence change, even six months. So the longer you have to bring things into order, the easier it will be.

* Stay with it. Once everything is reviewed and updated, and compliance has been met, don't leave it until next year. With regular catch-ups and updates, your consultant can help you stay on track and next year's compliance deadline won't even cause a ripple in your schedule.