What are environmental and sustainability policies?
Environmental and sustainability policies are policies and action plans adopted by governments and organisations to help them protect the natural environment and promote sustainable practices.
An Environmental policy is a statement about an organisation's environmental position and values. It serves to identify environmentally harmful practices and highlight more environmentally friendly ways of working. A good environmental policy demonstrates to your organisation and to the wider community a commitment to protect the environment in a responsible manner.
A sustainability policy, on the other hand, aims to promote sustainable practices that balance economic, social and environmental considerations.
In practice, this means that environmental policies are more applicable to businesses and other organisations, while sustainability policies are often adopted by governments.
Why should I use an environmental policy?
An Environmental policy can provide significant benefits to your business, including:
helping you to stay within the law
keeping employees informed about their environmental roles and responsibilities
improving cost control
improving your monitoring of environmental impacts
improving the efficiency of your processes
An environmental policy can also highlight cost savings, as well as more environmentally friendly ways of working. Be aware, however, that the benefits are unlikely to materialise unless you put your environmental policy into practice. By setting up an action plan, you can set out the actions to be carried out to help your business meet its environmental objectives, when this will be done and the responsibilities of those involved.
Minimising harm to the environment
Your organisation will need a policy that reflects your specific needs and practices. Once you have identified any harmful actions, you can consider ways to minimise the damage.
Reducing energy use
There are a number of things you can do to use less energy, for example, you could put up posters to remind people to turn the lights off when they leave an empty office. It may even be possible to get hold of more energy-efficient light bulbs or have a professional energy audit carried out.
Reducing water use
You can reduce your organisation's water use by checking for and rectifying any dripping taps or pipes. You could also examine your organisation's toilet facilities to see if you can install a more efficient flushing system.
Minimising waste and recycling more
If your organisation creates a lot of waste, there are a number of actions you can take to create less in the future, for example, recycling all the waste you can. Moreover, try to buy products which are not over-packaged and buy local produce or products that are environmentally friendly/from sustainable sources.
If your organisation prints a lot of documents, you can also reduce your carbon footprint by encouraging staff to print double-sided.
Promoting the use of non-motorised transport
Encourage staff to walk, cycle or share cars wherever possible, by carpooling, ridesharing or car sharing (ie giving each other lifts).
Raising awareness of environmental and sustainability issues is vital to the success of any environmental/sustainability policy. All employees can be involved in the development and implementation of the policy from the outset and should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns.
Making your policy publicly available also provides an opportunity to showcase how environmentally aware and proactive you are. You can place your policy on your website so that interested parties can read it. Notice boards, staff meetings and intranet pages can also be used to communicate your policy.
Monitoring and reviewing
Once your sustainability policy is in place, it’s a good idea to carry out regular reviews and monitor the policy regularly. This will help ensure your business activities comply with the policy and provide an opportunity to set more specific targets. Bear in mind that if your business activities or operations change significantly, the policy may need to be amended.
It's a good idea to involve staff in the reviewing and monitoring process. If staff are expected to deliver on policy commitments, they'll be a good source of ideas for improvements.
For more information on business sustainability, read How to make your business environmentally sustainable, How to create an environmentally sustainable workplace and Fair trade.