What Is Environmental Management?

Environment By Matthew Coombes

Environmental Management is the process of evaluating risks posed by an organisation to the environment, then bringing those risks under control, and actively managing them.

Every single organisation has an impact on the world, and very few will have a positive impact. The frontrunners in environmental management are often trying to make their environmental impact neutral, while some use profits after environmental management to offset or give back to the environment, such as investing profits into atmospheric carbon capture.

Whether your organisation makes coffee, uses pens, makes digital content, or uses excavators doesn’t matter, it all has a cost and that cost needs to be managed by someone.

Environmental management is good for business

Often one of the main things that organisations look to tackle when it comes to implementing changes to improve their management of environmental risks will be waste. Not just waste materials, but also wasted materials and wasted resource.

The impact of 10 plastic-wrapped sandwiches is lower than the impact of 10 plastic-wrapped sandwiches which are needlessly thrown away.

The impact of a fridge used to prevent food waste is lower than the impact of an empty fridge left on needlessly.

Where things get complicated is the way that things interact. In our sandwiches and fridge example, which is the greater issue – the cost of running a refrigerator to keep the sandwiches fresh or the cost of not running the refrigerator and throwing them away?

This is often where sustainability and social sustainability will tie in with environmental issues.

Just because something is cheap to the purchaser doesn’t mean that it is therefore fine to throw away, and that it has a low impact on the world.

A great example is batteries.

Not only are they difficult to dispose of safely and cleanly, the materials to make them are often mined or processed in countries with less strict law or fewer worker rights, potentially having a significantly negative impact on those producing the batteries.

Let’s say that the consumer pays £4 for a pack of 8 batteries. That’s only 50p each, but the environmental cost of proper disposal, initial cost of creation, negative impact on the environment in the country which produced the batteries, and the social cost to the workers is probably far greater than what the consumer paid.

If the batteries aren’t disposed of properly (for example, by throwing them into household waste) and they cause a fire, the costs would quickly and vastly outstrip what the consumer paid, especially if the fire was substantial, such as if the batteries being left in household waste lead to a waste collection vehicle fire.

This is where sustainability comes in…

Sustainability in relation to businesses means to consume, use or affect something in a manner that results in its longevity and the ability for that resource to not be depleted. This can include purchasing sustainable products and equipment, producing sustainably, using things sustainably and not negatively impacting the world such as dumping waste into the local watercourse.

It is possible to use sustainable resources in a way that is unsustainable. For example, if you bought 10 reams of sustainably sourced paper then left it outside in the rain and it was destroyed. Similarly, if you had equipment designed to improve your environmental impacts and neglect or damage it, such as not maintaining solar panels or letting your warehouse of e-bikes burn down.

Environmental management looks at the bigger picture

How can environmental risks be eliminated, substituted, or otherwise controlled or offset?

Eliminate / substitute
Eliminating environmental risks can often be complicated, after all if you can afford to not do something that may be harmful to the environment, why have you been doing it in the first place? Processes, products and equipment are usually present for a reason, and it’s difficult to eliminate one without replacing it with something else that comes with its own set of challenges and hazards.

For example, if you fully digitised your entire organisation and use no paper, you have eliminated the environmental risks associated with paper, but you’ve substituted paper for another risk – power, batteries, and electronics.

It is unlikely that a small business, or one that rents or shares their premises, will be able to afford to install enough solar panels or wind turbines to result in their power generation being fully sustainable, and therefore having a lower impact on the environment. However, they may be able to choose an energy supplier that produces sustainable power.

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