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An Easy Guide to Writing an Environmental or Sustainability Policy
This guide has been produced by SBP CIC as a free resource to help organisations get greener, win more tenders and celebrate good practice to customers and stakeholders. Please give us a shout out on social media if you have found this document useful @sustbusnetwork or LinkedIn. If you want support developing your policy, we can help with that too.
An Environmental Policy sets out an organisation’s environmental direction, intentions and values.
The International Environmental Management System (EMS) standard ISO 14001 defines an Environmental Policy as:
“A statement of the overall intentions and direction of an organisation related to its environmental performance as formally expressed by top management. The environmental policy provides a framework for action and for the setting of environmental objectives and environmental targets”.
It is important to recognise the difference between the policy and the strategy / action plan. The policy should be the guiding principles and headline targets that sit above a more detailed action plan. The policy is a public document aimed at customers, suppliers, stakeholders and staff. The action plan is usually an internal document that contains the SMART details of how you will achieve your objectives and targets. By all means, have a look at the policies of other businesses in your sector, but don’t copy them as the process of writing the policy yourself is important to making it relevant to the organisation.
The difference between an Environmental Policy and a Sustainability Policy is that a Sustainability Policy may also include references to social, ethical and economic commitments, such as volunteering or specifying local suppliers. Be sure to also include the good stuff you are already doing.
What to include in your Environmental Policy
Although there is no standard format for writing an Environmental Policy, there are three things that you should commit to if you are following the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System:
- Compliance with relevant legislation
- Prevention of pollution
- Continuous improvement
In addition, here are a few basic rules to follow to ensure clarity:
- Keep it short – if it’s longer than a sheet of A4, then it’s probably too long
- Introduce the business and state the overall aim of the policy, including global context
- Describe the significant environmental impacts of the business (3-5 and not just the bad ones!)
- Get the policy signed, dated and endorsed by the Managing Director or Chief Executive
- Include the name of the person to contact with any queries
- Make it available to employees, customers, your suppliers and the public. Put it on your website, in your reception area and include it in marketing material and tenders
- State that you will review the policy annually to make sure it is still relevant
Policy Traps – You’ll be discovered! Things to avoid:
- Setting aspirations or making claims that are open to misinterpretation, can’t be substantiated, or can’t be achieved: e.g. becoming carbon neutral or producing zero waste
- Making promises that cannot be kept
- Committing to underachievement to avoid failure
- Using non-committal language like ‘where possible’, ‘where practical’ or ‘we aim to’
- Creating ‘smoke screens’ for difficult issues
Why not check our own Sustainability Policy for ideas and inspiration?!