EMS audits assuring compliance 'long way off'

16th May 2013


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Certification ,
  • EMS ,
  • Auditing ,
  • Management



Third-party audits of environment management systems (EMS) are not capable of providing the level of assurance needed by regulators, say researchers

Many UKAS-accredited certification bodies lack the knowledge and skills to complete audits of firms to the necessary standard to guarantee legal compliance, according to new research backed by the UK’s environment agencies. Introducing such third-party assurance is seen as a way of reducing the number of regulatory inspections carried out.

The study, by sustainability analysts Sniffer, examined the approaches taken by UKAS-accredited certification bodies to assess EMSs and the potential for third-party audits to help support the government’s deregulation agenda, by providing assurance over legal compliance.

However, the researchers concluded: “Many certification bodies and their environmental auditors lack the underpinning environmental knowledge to be able to ensure that the processes in place within an organisation are appropriate and effective.”

The report concludes that the competence of bodies and auditors is generally limited to assessing the presence of procedures, rather than auditing for effectiveness and therefore whether those processes will ensure the organisation is operating within its environmental permit, for example.

Despite all the bodies studied being UKAS accredited, the researchers found significant disparity in their approaches to assessing an EMS and their attitudes towards taking on responsibility for assessing legal compliance.

Certification bodies displaying a proactive and engaged approach provided sufficient evidence of being able to deliver assurance of an organisation’s legal compliance in line with regulators’ expectations, according to the research. Others, however, were “indifferent”.

When evaluating how well EMS audits mirrored regulator inspections for legal compliance, 92% of certification bodies said they believed their audits reflected the regulators conclusions “very well” or “quite well”. When asked the same question, 16% of regulators said third-party audits reflected their results “quite well” and just 1% stated they did so “very well”.

On a more positive note, the research concludes that if regulators, certification bodies and UKAS work together, EMS audits incorporating legal compliance assurance could be developed and delivered in future.

The study outlines 35 recommendations, including that UKAS reviews it internal procedures to ensure that certification bodies are working to high standards and that the focus of EMS audits should shift from processes to outcomes.

It also calls on certification bodies to inform regulators when they discover an auditee is breaching environmental legislation.

The environment agencies, meanwhile, must provide clearer guidance on how firms can meet legal requirements, to help certification bodies consistently assess compliance.

The researchers also conclude that the Environment Agency’s ongoing EMS+ trial should be expanded to enable regulators and certification bodies to undertake joint audits, and that the next iteration of ISO 14001, due to be published in 2015, could play a key role in ensuring legal compliance assurance is the “accepted norm” in EMS audits.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

SBTi clarifies that ‘no change has been made’ to its stance on offsetting

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

Senior consultant, EcoAct

3rd April 2024

Read more

Around 20% of the plastic recycled is polypropylene, but the diversity of products it protects has prevented safe reprocessing back into food packaging. Until now. David Burrows reports

3rd April 2024

Read more

IEMA presents a digital campaign to share knowledge and inspire action in sustainability

2nd April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close