Last edited 06 Jan 2016

Environmental policy for building design and construction

Preparing an environmental policy (or environmental policy statement) is often the first stage in setting and managing environmental objectives for a company or project.

Generally an environmental policy will be part of an environmental management system (EMS) and will sit within a hierarchical suite of documents:

The environmental policy is the over-arching high-level statement of mission and principles in relation to environmental performance and management. It creates the framework for setting environmental objectives and targets and is often a public document.

It is generally a short document (usually one page) and may make general statements about adopting a particular approach to environmental management as well as more specific commitments in relation to areas that might be of particular importance, such as energy use, waste management, the reduction of pollution, compliance with best practice, training and so on (although detailed targets and objectives should appear in the environmental plan, not the environmental policy). It may also commit to adopting a specific Environmental Management System (EMS) such as ISO 14001.

The policy should be signed by a senior director in order to demonstrate commitment and should be dated, and reviewed regularly (usually annually) to take account of changes in organisation, legislation and so on.

Corporate environmental policies are increasingly common as they are often a requirement of an invitation to tender (along with other policy documents such as equal opportunities, health and safety, corporate social responsibility and so on). Environmental policy templates do exist, but can be so generic as to be meaningless and unless they are supported by a properly thought out environmental management system, they are unlikely to produce beneficial effects.

A specific project, such as a construction project, might adopt a corporate environmental policy, or a project-specific policy might be prepared.

It is important that everyone involved in the project is aware of the environmental policy and environmental plan, and that they are bound by their requirements. Appointment documents should make clear the extent and standard of environmental performance and assessment that is required as well as requirements for monitoring and reporting. These requirements need to be cascaded down throughout the entire supply chain.

This means that a company may have to prepare a project-specific environmental policy to comply with the requirements of an invitation to tender.

Environmental policies should not just be warm words, sat on a shelf or on a distant page of a website. If an environmental policy makes commitments, then the environmental plan should set out how these will be tested and a system put in place to ensure that those tests are undertaken, results are fed back and the policy reviewed to assess whether commitments are being met and whether changes need to be made.

Environmental management systems require policing, and this can be done at a number of different levels:

  • A senior client champion should be appointed to take responsibility for environmental matters.
  • A client environmental representative should be appointed to manage environmental matters on a day to day basis. On a large project this can be a full-time job for a specialist.
  • Contractor’s environmental manager.
  • Contractor’s site environmental representative.
  • Contractor’s site foreman.

These individuals need to carry out regular inspections, audits and reporting and must be empowered in order to be effective. It is all too easy to ignore environmental requirements, particularly when there are time or budgetary pressures, or when ‘emergencies’ crop up.

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