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Can sustainability be measured?

While an organisation’s intention to embrace sustainability must be commended, actually integrating sustainability into its operations is easier said than done. Sustainability norms must be studied, the current on-ground situation measured, best practices benchmarked and monitorable plans be set into motion, that can also be quantified to ascertain their success or failure.

All this begins with understanding the problems, flaws and gaps in a facility’s present operations. Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal, explores the discipline of sustainability analytics and audits, the first step on the path to sustainability.

Going green is a massive change and requires a great deal of preparation to actually commit to the process. An organised way to see if certain measures will work for a building or in favour of a business is to test them out beforehand. This can start with conducting sustainability analytics, which can provide a good overview of the facility’s current sustainability status. Once facility managers have this information, it’s a lot easier to work alongside the management to craft strategies for future rollouts.

Sustainability analytics

This is data collected to help facility managers understand the impact, cost and performance of their previous and current initiatives. It allows for more accurate insight into the future conditions and requirements to achieve a more resilient and efficient enterprise. Such an audit needs to be conducted to see where there are inefficiencies and where energy is being wasted, to gain perspective on various ways to make facilities more environmentally stable.

A full sustainability analysis and audit draws on current practices within an organisation and highlights room for improvement and change. These can be benchmarked against similar organisations or by comparing via a full year-on-year comparison of how current sustainable practices could be improved. Studies have shown that such audits can help facilities save up to 20% of their costs on energy and water.

Examples of effective questions to be asked when preparing the analysis are:

  • What is the environmental impact and what could we be doing to reduce waste?
  • What is the business doing to reduce its carbon footprint?
  • Which of our suppliers has a sustainable vision and are we doing everything to support it?

Energy audit

It is always a good idea to conduct an audit and gain insight into where certain facilities may be wasting energy. An audit gives you access to all sorts of useful data – usage based on occupancy, seasonal rises in energy use or inefficient equipment. This data can help you make more accurate decisions, which may ultimately end up being greener for your company too.

Environmental audit

An environmental compliance audit is an investigation of the compliance status of a facility and/or the extent of environmental liability. This process is a systematic, documented evaluation of a facility, focusing on current operating and administrative procedures and processes.

An environmental audit includes an examination of:

  • Business operations
  • Waste streams
  • Permit requirement compliance
  • Regulatory reporting and recordkeeping requirements
  • Chemical and hazardous material usage and handling
  • Discharges to air, land, or water

Impetus for audit

An audit of commercial properties usually focuses on compliance with regulations. A lender or insurance provider may require, or an owner or manager may voluntarily initiate, an environmental audit to evaluate environmental health and safety issues, as well as potential contamination risks associated with current operations at a particular property.

Non-routine audits represent only a snapshot of a facility’s operations. During a property transfer, a buyer might contract for an audit if the transaction involves acquiring and continuing operations similar to those of the previous owner. In this instance, there may be no mechanism included in the audit process for tracking identified deficiencies and implementing corrective actions.

Environmental compliance audits are used by private and governmental facilities to help confirm the effectiveness of EMSs (environmental management systems) and to identify compliance issues. Environmental auditing is a management tool you can use to assess and monitor your company’s internal performance and compliance with environmental regulations and standards.

Scope of audit

The scope of an environmental audit depends on the nature of the facility being audited. A facility with few environmental aspects can be reviewed relatively quickly, while a large industrial facility may require a team of auditors to spend weeks on-site to develop a thorough understanding of the operations.

The audit sometimes begins with a questionnaire that must be filled out by the facility manager. This questionnaire helps to prepare the audit team for what will be encountered at the site. The site visit includes visual observations, interviews with employees, and a review of documents.

Data collected

During an environmental audit, officials collect pertinent environmental performance data and then compare the data to defined performance standards. Assembling and managing the data supports all subsequent environmental management decision making. Collected data may include:

  • Hazardous material inventories
  • Waste generation data
  • Point and nonpoint discharges to air, water, and soils
  • Applicable regulations
  • Training records and requirements
  • Health and safety requirements
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Numerous other facets of environmental management

Only after this data has been analysed and the analysis understood can the appropriate sustainable solution be selected and implemented.

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