When it comes to audit management, poor preparation will mean you have to pull yourself out of a nosedive...often with some very unsavory results.
At ERA, we're big fans of our clients doing regular EHS audits as part of long-term sustainability planning. It can be a great way to communicate your environmental performance to shareholders, the public, and key executive decision makers. Most importantly though, it can highlight the areas that you can improve.
But recently, there has been a rash of internal environmental auditing from big corporations, which have backfired and added fuel to critics, leaving environmental watchdogs skeptical rather than singing their praises (see Walmart and BP's recent self EHS audits for examples).
The internal EHS audit, when done right, is an incredibly useful way for keeping your company on track and in compliance.
After all, you need to know where you stand and where you can improve in order to better your business. And making the result public can be a great PR booster.
But if your audit management is insincere or inaccurate, an internal EHS audit can also be used to reinforce bad habits or can make your business look out of touch with reality.
It's definitely worth incorporating internal environmental auditing and benchmarking as part of your sustainability planning, but you have to do it right.
So here are the 4 most important audit management tips to keep in mind when you undertake and internal audit you plan on making public so that it won't come back to haunt you.
1. Be Honest
If you skew the results in order to achieve a preconceived goal, then you aren't actually learning anything from your data.
Only by being honest with yourself and the public are you able to learn anything new about your business and develop action plans.
When businesses lie, inflate, or obscure the truth in a published environmental audit, they actually do damage to their public image and tarnish the actual improvements that they did make.
This information always eventually comes out and when it does, it makes the liars look like untrustable fools.
2. Be Objective
This is perhaps the most difficult thing for businesses to do, and its why many skeptics prefer external audits to internal one:
Businesses have trouble being objective about their environmental performance, since they usually only want to present a positive image.
But deliberately trying to only have positive results devalues your overall audit.
The easiest way to be objective is to find a quantifiable KPI like total air emissions, waste generated, or total utility costs.
Boiling down environmental audits to things like dollars and cents makes it easier to want to make more realistic efforts, since you'll see a clearer ROI.
Subjective metrics, like "how important is the environmental to our staff" doesn't give you any data to work with, has no clear ROI, and won't win you the public's respect.
3. Use Concrete Environmental Data
Real environmental data is essential for getting you the most out of your internal EHS audit. Having excellent environmental data management practices and accurate emissions inventories will result in real, concrete data that is impervious to skepticism.
Of course, most companies aren't willing to show their hand completely, and would never dream of revealing all of their environmental data to the public. But even just having accurate numbers to present to key shareholders can earn you a lot of support where it counts. And real numbers are still the best way to fight accusations of greenwashing.
4. Set Realistic Goals... and Live Up to Them
When you set achievable goals and then reach them, the public gets on your side. People would rather see progress than promises. One example of a great sustainability plan is P&G's, in which they aim to go 100% renewable energy in the long term but have set the goal of reaching 30% renewable energy by 2020.
P&G strikes the right balance between choosing a realistic goal and one that makes an actual difference.
When it comes to setting your own goals, make sure you can achieve them, but also that they will make a genuine difference in your environmental impact. Setting the bar too low and then celebrating it will only look like greenwashing. You’ll want to use your objective metrics and concrete environmental data to help you gauge exactly where your goals should be.