Environmental Legal Compliance Auditing – What is it and do I need to do it?

environmental protection
14 Sep 2020

South Africa boasts a unique and diverse variety of natural resources which are both intrinsically and economically valuable. Globally, there is an increased awareness of environmental challenges such as climate change, sustainability and pollution.

In response to the need to regulate the way in which we interact with our natural environment regulators continue to place new and more stringent legal demands on businesses to meet enhanced environmental standards.

A business’s operations may be subject to several environmental legal requirements, depending on the nature of the business. These environmental legal requirements may present an ongoing compliance challenge for many businesses as navigating the requirements can appear daunting and the standards for compliance may seem unattainable.

What is an Environmental Legal Compliance Audit?

Much like a financial audit, an environmental legal compliance audit is an independent evaluation of a business’s environmental legal requirements and an assessment of the way the business complies with those requirements (or not).

The purpose of the compliance audit is to ensure that the business is following the applicable external laws, regulations, and by-laws, as well as internal guidelines and controls, policies, and procedures.

Failure by a business to ensure compliance with the applicable environmental laws, policies and procedures can attract harsh penalties and even criminal prosecution. It is thus vital that businesses regularly conduct compliance audits to avoid attracting any unwanted penalties.

An added bonus to having an environmental legal compliance audit of one’s business conducted is that it ensures that the business operations are environmentally sustainable and cause the least amount of damage to the environment.

What is the Audit Process?

Essentially, an environmental legal compliance audit involves three steps:

  1. The auditor will determine which environmental laws, policies and procedures are applicable to the operations of the business.
  2. The auditor will conduct an assessment to determine whether the business is complying with the applicable environmental laws, policies and procedures. This assessment can involve a site visit of the business operations or simply a desktop study, or both.
  3. Finally, the auditor will compile an audit report which will detail the compliance status of the business. The audit report will indicate where the business complies with the applicable environmental laws, policies and procedures, where the business does not comply, and it will provide pertinent recommendations and actions on improving overall legal compliance.

As an added step, the auditor may compile a register of all applicable environmental laws, policies and procedures for the business as a means to assist them with ensuring that they maintain their legal compliance status.

Do I need to undertake an Environmental Legal Compliance Audit?

Many businesses are often surprised to discover that several environmental legal requirements apply to their business operations. Factors to consider when determining whether a business should conduct an audit or not may include:

  • The amount of electricity used;
  • The amount of water used, stored, or disposed of;
  • The amount of waste produced, stored, or disposed of;
  • Any processes which may produce the emission of air pollution (such as gas / coal heaters); and/or
  • The existence of pests or alien or invasive species on a property.

The Environmental Law team at Eversheds Sutherland has the necessary expertise, experience and passion to ensure that your environmental legal and sustainability requirements are met.

We accordingly urge you to contact us should you have any questions about environmental legal compliance auditing and whether it may be required by your business.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Donovan Avenant

Donovan Avenant is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (KZN) and heads up the litigation department. His focus is on commercial litigation for corporates. He also deals with alternative dispute resolution.... Read more about Donovan Avenant

Pascale de Froberville

Pascale is an associate in the Environmental and Sustainable Development department at Eversheds Sutherland KZN. Pascale specialises in environmental legal compliance, ISO 14001:2015 environmental management systems, auditing, sustainable development, land... Read more about Pascale de Froberville


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