Scheme to assure quality of environmental auditors

Proposals for an accreditation scheme for environmental auditors have been issued for consultation by the Institute for Environmental Assessment (IEA).1 In the face of the recent proliferation of often inexperienced environmental consultancies, the aim of the scheme is to provide prospective clients with information on the experience and qualifications of individual auditors employed by consultancies.

The proposed accreditation scheme comes just two years after the environmental consulting profession took its first step towards quality control with the establishment of the IEA (ENDS Report 186, pp 3-4). At the time the IEA's mission was confined to improving the quality of environmental impact assessments.

The Association of Environmental Consultancies (AEC) was conceived at the same time and launched in April 1991 (ENDS Report 195, pp 15-17). Its goal was to assure the quality of environmental assessments and audits by ensuring that its members had adequate quality control systems.

Since then the AEC has issued a code of practice on environmental auditing, the IEA has now broadened its role to encompass auditing, and the British Standards Institution (BSI) is preparing a sector guidance note for environmental consultancies under the British Standard on quality management systems, BS5750.

The registration scheme for environmental auditors, initiated by the IEA with the active support of the AEC and BSI, is not for consultancies but for individual consultants and in-house auditors within industry. However, potential clients will be able to use the facility to judge the quality of auditing teams assembled by consultancies.

Registration under the scheme, which will be administered by a National Environmental Auditors Registration Board, will be in one of three categories based on an individual's academic and professional qualifications, training and practical experience. Ten points will be needed to achieve the status of provisional environmental auditor, 30 for an environmental auditor, and 50 - equivalent to at least 180 days' experience - for a principal environmental auditor. A maximum of five points would be obtainable for academic qualifications, five for membership of professional institutions, five for training experience, and one point for each five days of relevant environmental auditing experience.

In addition, all candidates would have to sign a professional code of practice committing them not to undertake work beyond their professional capability. Principal auditors would have to submit a 5,000 word dissertation, subject to an oral examination, on an environmental auditing topic. This is a quality check to ensure that individuals who have clocked up the necessary number of days' experience but have carried out sub-standard audits do not qualify, according to the IEA's Director, Dr Tim Coles.

The IEA will keep a register of accredited auditors which will be available to the public. Registration would be subject to annual renewal, when continued professional development would have to be demonstrated.

The scheme may have a wider role. Both BS7750, the new British Standard on environmental management systems (ENDS Report 207, pp 20-1 ), and the draft EC Regulation on eco-auditing (ENDS Report 206, pp 18-20 ) will promote the use of accredited audit verifiers. The IEA says its register could be used by companies to locate suitable verifiers, as well as by insurers who need reliable audits of companies looking to obtain environmental impairment liability cover.

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