An environmental audit is a detailed analysis of an organization’s products and processes that evaluates its performance from an environmental perspective. Environmental auditors can conduct two different types of audits: a compliance audit measures if a business is meeting internal and external environmental guidelines and legislation, and a management performance audit measures if a business is meeting the criteria for management systems. Environmental auditors are involved in a variety of projects, but all share a commitment to the conservation and protection of the environment.
Imagine you are standing on the edge of a large pond of industrial wastewater, watching carefully as a lab technician lowers a bottle to the water to take a grab sample. You are an environmental auditor and right now you are in the middle of a compliance audit for a large manufacturing plant. Compliance with environmental regulations is a requirement of the plant's operating licence, so the plant must periodically submit to an environmental audit, where a team of auditors is brought in to evaluate operations and make sure the plant is following all applicable laws and regulations.
That's exactly what you and your team are doing this week: you are at the plant site reviewing processes and observing workers to determine if the plant is in compliance with the necessary environmental regulations. As the lead environmental auditor for this team, you coordinate the many different aspects of the audit to ensure results are complete and accurate. When you arrived at the site, you assigned your team members to cover specific areas. For example, you have one person reviewing air emissions while another concentrates on chemical storage and handling.
You have assigned yourself the role of evaluating the plant's waste management. You start with sampling protocols, checking that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for collecting and handling samples are up-to-date and being followed. This includes interviewing staff and observing their activities to confirm they have the proper training and are following procedures. You also look at records of the waste itself, comparing lab test results to established criteria to make certain contaminants are kept below the legal limit.
Next, you look at how the plant is disposing of its waste, for example, that it is stored in proper containers or facilities or, in the case of treated effluent, that it is discharged to the proper environment at the proper dosage. Once all team members have completed their evaluations, you will put them together and compare the data to existing standards and criteria to determine if the plant is in compliance with the necessary environmental regulations. Finally, you will prepare an audit report that will be presented and discussed with the plant's management.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental auditor:
Environmental auditors work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
In the lab:
There are a number of places environmental auditors can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental auditor, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental auditor is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental auditor, the following programs are most applicable:
It is important for Environmental Auditors to seek third-party validation of their skills through Certification. The following Environmental Professional (EP) titles are important for auditors:
To find out more about these professional titles click here.
I have worked in the environmental field for twenty-six years. The first seventeen of these were with Environment Canada where I developed a strong background in environmental regulations. When I started with Environment Canada as a university student my interests were in water pollution programs. My current focus as a partner in a consulting firm is on environmental auditing and assessment. Companies who are required to comply with environmental standards need an evaluation of their facilities completed by a certified auditor to ensure they are following regulations. If you want to get started in this field you need to get certified as an environmental auditor and become a member of the Canadian Environmental Auditing Association.
My experience is both diverse and comprehensive. I have supervised and directed the development and delivery of numerous scientific and technical programs related to hazardous waste management, contaminated site assessment/remediation and compliance assessment/enforcement. To do this job well a person needs to continually adapt and transform to keep up with the issue of the day. The work is never static and the ability to apply my skills and knowledge to a variety of topics has enabled me to gain extensive experience. Adopting the professional responsibility to become a self-managed learner is essential to staying informed.
I attend conferences, read journals and research the Internet to gather information. The position I hold as an Adjunct Professor at a local university requires my skills as an effective environmental educator to be constantly honed. The rest of the information I need to continue doing my job well is gained through interaction with colleagues and lessons learned on the job. Over the next few years, there will be greater emphasis placed upon protection of water resources, contingency planning for environmental emergencies and voluntary conformance with environmental standards in Canada. There are significant opportunities for advancement in this area particularly for those who are flexible in terms of work location.
Positions can be found with private industry, government departments and educational institutions. One of the difficulties in getting started in this profession is the need to be certified as an Environmental Auditor. What makes this difficult is that the certification requires experience and the experience often requires certification. To get around this problem there are several methods you can use to gain experience. Job shadowing, volunteering and working in an assistant position for a company that does environmental auditing are ways to attain the skills needed. If you really want certification as an environmental auditor, you’ll find a way to get it.
I spend my days auditing as well as assessing and remediating contaminated sites. Another interesting aspect of my position is travelling to places like Africa and India. My workweek is usually a forty-five hour or more commitment with regular tasks like report writing, computer presentations, office administration, technical literature reviews and professional development filling the hours. Knowledge of safety equipment and procedures is mandatory when I work with dangerous goods. To do this job well a person needs excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to interpret technical information. Communication is also a very important skill when interacting with clients, regulators, hydrogeologists, chemists and economists.
The demand in Canada for environmental auditing services is significant. The most positive environmental impact I have made so far is to contribute to the development of a five-day training program that provides participants with the skills to do an efficient internal environmental audit on their company. Often the material contained in a program like this one can be very dry and uninteresting to participants. We are proud that our program is fun, positive and effective in delivering the information necessary to determine the impact of business activities on the environment.