Self-assessment first step to setting up new policy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 1996, 12:00am

Businesses planning to set up an environmental management system need to first make a self-assessment, a consultant said.

This will allow a company to find out the strengths and weaknesses of its existing environment management practices and also identify areas that may require action, according to Sophie le Clue, senior consultant of the Environmental Management Division of the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC).

An initial review involved an audit of the organisation's activities, operations, products and services to identify key issues as a basis for establishing or making changes to an environmental policy, she said.

It would also provide an assessment of gaps between the requirements of ISO 14000 standard and the organisation's system, Ms le Clue said.

On completion of this assessment, an environmental management system is set up according to the five main elements of the ISO 14001 standard: environmental policy; planning; implementation and operation; checking and corrective action; and management review.

'The first element of the standard, environmental policy, requires an organisation to set up a policy which outlines its goals, intentions and also areas in which it wants to improve environmental performance,' Ms le Clue said.

An organisation has to identify the main environmental issues, or areas where its activities have a significant impact on the environment. This needs to be done to conform with the second element - planning.

'When a company has identified these issues, then it has to draw up targets and objectives and define a programme to meet them and allocate resources to achieve them,' Ms le Clue said.

Implementation and operation element requires a company to develop procedures to ensure environmental performance, train its staff and set up a document control system.

Monitoring the environmental management system and procedures that have been laid down to prevent breaches of laws or licence parameters, comes under the checking and corrective action element.

This also meant regular audits to find out whether the environmental management system initiatives were being followed and whether they were effective, Ms le Clue said.

To conform to requirements of the final element - management review - a company's management has to look at the system, taking into account external factors such as changes in legislation and community pressure.

Ms le Clue said an environmental management system could only succeed if there was commitment from all levels in a business. Continuous improvements were also necessary.