How to Set up a Corporate Sustainability Program Part 5: Impact Assessment—Your First Sustainability Audit

environmental-impact-audit_1Every organisation is different. Sustainability measures that may be trivial for one to change may seem beyond reach for another. Regardless of your size or sector though, a vital first step will be a comprehensive sustainability audit. The aim of an audit should be to take a non-judgemental snapshot of how you impact the environment. It will also provide a benchmark from which to measure progress. After you’ve completed your sustainability audit you should be able to:
  • Complete the sentence: “our organisation’s major environmental impacts are: ___, ___ and ___“ .
  • You should be able to quantify each area of impact e.g. kilowatt hours, litres of water or fuel, sheets of paper and kilograms of waste.
  • Target ‘low hanging fruit’ for low or no cost improvements.
  • Identify areas for future improvement, which need further investigation and capital expenditure.
There are three common types of sustainability audit: walkthrough audits, waste audits and detailed technical or engineering audits. A typical walkthrough audit will analyse past utility bills, and briefly review consumption habits at each facility e.g. lighting, heating / air conditioning and use of materials such as paper and plastic. Depending on how you use and account for transport you may also be able to audit fuel consumption as part of a simple walkthrough audit. A waste audit provides a sample measurement your waste output and composition over a number of days Detailed technical audits are a more advanced form of assessment normally carried out by an auditing / engineering or environmental professional. Walkthrough and waste audits will be sufficient for most small and mid-size organisations. Detailed technical audits are typically only required by larger organisations, complex sites such as manufacturing plants and those seeking environmental accreditation such as Carbon Neutral Certification.

Energy and Water Consumption Audit

In most cases gathering past data will simply be a matter of accessing past utility bills. Aim to gather figures for at least two years. If for any reason you can’t get hold of past bills, most utility companies will provide back copies, either free of charge, or for a small fee. While it can be useful to record historic costs, the key data for the purposes of your audit is the number of units consumed. That means kilowatt-hours (kWh) for electricity and mega joules (MJ), kWh or cubic feet for gas and litres or gallons for water Most utility bills will also provide an average daily consumption figure, and in some cases an estimate for each month. Make a point of recording these. As you develop your program you’ll want to monitor monthly and daily consumption numbers, taking into account season fluctuations

Transport / Fuel Consumption Audit

Benchmarking fuel consumption may be beyond the scope of a walkthrough audit. This depends on how you use vehicles and keep records. Ideally you should aim for accurate litre totals of various fuel types consumed over the course of the last 12 months. However, you may need to estimate. The simplest way to do this will be to ask your accountants to prepare a special report. Most annual accounts at least put a dollar cost on fuel consumption, and may record distances travelled for the purposes of vehicle depreciation. Either number can be used for estimation. The most accurate way will be to get an annual number for work related kilometres travelled for each vehicle. You’ll also need the average fuel consumption per 100 km for each vehicle. If the dashboard of the vehicle does not provide this information you can get the average fuel consumption for any vehicle from valuation sites such as These two numbers alone will give a reasonably accurate estimate

Waste Audit

In its simplest form a waste audit records the weight and volume of waste produced by your organisation over a fixed period, e.g. 10 days. You can then extrapolate these figures to give monthly, quarterly and annual estimates as well as a typical daily average. It’s important to break your waste output down into whatever waste streams you currently use:
  • General Waste / Landfill
  • Mixed Recycling
  • Paper and Cardboard
  • Glass
  • Plastic bottles
  • Cans
  • e-waste
  • Batteries
  • Toner cartridges
Some cleaning companies will be happy to conduct this kind of waste audit for you. Our parent company, The Planet Earth Cleaning Company regularly conducts waste audits for Melbourne clients. If your cleaner can’t do this a local recycling company will be able to help. In addition to recording your total waste output, it’s important to assess what proportion of waste goes into each stream. If more than 15%-20% of your waste goes to general waste / landfill an overhaul of your recycling procedures should feature high on your list of low cost improvement measures. Basic Consumables Audit Every organisation uses resources differently. Delving deeply into your consumption habits and supply chain is beyond the scope of a simple walkthrough audit. However, make a point of gathering whatever data you can easily source. Make a note of what you’ve not been able to find out too. Here are some common headings. Aim to quantify these where possible, also make a note of item types, e.g. compact fluorescent lightbulbs, plastic cups, their brands and suppliers:
  • Paper and other office supplies
  • Toner
  • Toilet roll and paper towels
  • Soap and cleaning fluids
  • Disposable cups
  • Bin liners
  • Light bulbs
Once you’ve completed your audits you’ll be ready to draft an action plan. We’ll be looking at that in part 4.
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