Firstly, what is environmental compliance?
Businesses of all sorts may have requirements to comply with environmental legislation, regulations or other guidelines. This includes where:
- a business operates under certain legislation or regulations which needs to be complied with
- environmental approvals have been granted and conditions of that approval need to be met
- a business has an accreditation that needs to be complied with, in order to maintain that accreditation.
Compliance with these environmental requirements is environmental compliance.
What is environmental compliance reporting?
In order to demonstrate compliance, as explained above, environmental compliance reporting may be required. Environmental compliance reports are usually submitted to the regulatory authority that issued the licence, permit or approval.
Typically, environmental compliance reporting is on an annual basis and will continue until certain criteria are met, or until the activity, such as construction or mine site operation, has ceased.
Most authorities that enforce environmental compliance reporting will have guidelines in place that explain what is required for compliance reports. Occasionally, the compliance reporting requirements may reflect the project-specific monitoring and auditing requirements, which will need to be reported. For example, certain monitoring programs may be required as part of the compliance period for an approved activity. Such a monitoring program will require the development of a monitoring plan, followed by the monitoring itself, the outcomes of which must then also be reported. These compliance reporting components are usually then summarised in an overarching compliance report, typically and annual environment report (AER) or a compliance assessment report (CAR).
Why is environmental compliance reporting important?
Environmental compliance reporting can be complex, time-consuming and requires an investment of funds. So why is it important?
The key drivers for meeting environmental compliance reporting requirements are to ensure that legal obligations are met and thus avoid:
- unnecessary or unintentional negative impacts on the environment
- costly fines
- suspension of permits and licences which would prevent operation and approved activities
- other penalties
- damaged company reputation
Forward-thinking organisations with the best intentions for their environmental responsibilities are increasingly incorporating environmental compliance activities with corporate performance goals.
What is the best way to approach environmental compliance reporting?
The key to effective and efficient environmental compliance reporting is communication. Ensuring that compliance reporting commitments are well-defined and well-understood is the first step in this communication. Clarifying these commitments, requirements and expectations with the relevant regulatory authority from the outset is imperative. Following this initial clarity, open communication about the status of reports, feedback on reports submitted and ongoing reporting requirements can all be managed via good communication.
Another effective tool in meeting environmental compliance commitments is to engage a suitably qualified and experienced environmental consultant to assist. Ideally, a consultant engaged to support environmental compliance reporting efforts will have a demonstrated track-record in environmental compliance reporting and a relationship and track record with the relevant regulatory authority. Such a consultant will be aware of the pitfalls to avoid, the subtle expectations and preferences of the regulator and the best way to approach the reports required.
Once the right consultant is entrusted to assist with environmental compliance reporting needs, this important task can be easily navigated, to ensure that all obligations are met, and that environmentally responsible business operations can continue without any unforeseen disruptions.