We all agree protecting our environment from pollution and waste is a good thing.

Protecting our community and environment means more than just hoping there won’t be an issue. It means taking reasonable steps to prevent harm from the outset.

In Victoria, we all have a general environmental duty (GED). We are the first state in the world where there is a shared responsibility to prevent harm to the environment. This means we must each take reasonable steps to stop harm, and we must do so before damage is done.

This applies to everyone – from community members and local businesses and councils, right through to global corporations.


Take steps as a community member

Take steps as a business operator


Your duty to think ahead

Before starting a task at home or at work, ask yourself 2 questions. What's the harm? And, what can I do about it?

What's the harm?

All activities have risks. Even simple tasks like washing a car, getting rid of household rubbish, or cleaning up after an event could harm our environment.

Nobody intends to cause harm, but have you thought about the full impact of what you're doing? What are the risks? What would the consequences be if you didn't do anything to stop it?


Common hazards that can cause harm include:

  • chemicals that leak into our stormwater or waterways
  • chemicals that can contaminate the soil
  • household waste that isnt disposed of correctly
  • loud or persistent noise
  • smoke or airborne chemicals
  • any activities that create, or expose, dangerous types of waste

What can I do about it?

Once you’ve thought about the potential risks, the next step is doing something about them.

Risks can be reduced or removed in several ways. How much you must do depends on the level of risk. The higher the risk, the more you should do to reduce it. Even better if you can eliminate the risk entirely.


Risk is made up of two factors: likelihood and consequence. Likelihood is the chance that the hazard will cause harm. Consequence is the level of harm that a hazard can cause. 


How far should you go to reduce or remove risk?

When deciding what is reasonable, think about:

  • The likelihood your activity could harm the environment or the health of our community
  • How bad it could be, if you weren't able to eliminate the risk. 


What is reasonable for individuals: you should take steps to prevent harm in your day to day, and support businesses that have taken steps to prevent harm.

What is reasonable for businesses: you are expected to go to greater lengths to prevent harm to the environment, as your impact can be greater compared to an individual. Businesses are also more likely to have the resouces to explore a range of potential solutions. Learn more about your obligations.


The GED in your community

When it comes to protecting the environment, we all have a role to play. In Victoria, your role is outlined in legislation and at the heart of that law is the general environmental duty (GED).


When you do your part to reduce harm, it means the earth.


Every time you take steps to reduce the risk of harm to the environment from your activities:

  • you’re doing your bit under the GED
  • you're helping ensure Victoria’s environmental future.

Add a small act to your every day

Sorting your household waste into the different bins? Check.

Washing your car on the lawn, instead of by the stormwater drain? Well done!

While all these small acts may seem like they won’t make a difference, they add up.

Take a moment next time you’re cleaning your home, making choices at the supermarket or managing your day-to-day. Consider if what you’re doing places the environment at risk. If so, what could you reasonably do reduce that risk?


Visit Sustainability Victoria to learn how small acts can have a big impact


Someone not taking reasonable steps to prevent harm? Tell us about it

(External link)Lodge a pollution report if you believe an individual or organisation isn’t taking reasonable steps to prevent harm from pollution or waste. You should report cases if you believe there is a risk to human health or our environment. We respond to every enquiry and protect your privacy.

Show your support on social media

Show your support and share your actions that support the GED by posting on FacebookX/Twitter or Instagram with the tag #environmentalduty.


The GED and your business

EPA officers conduct more than 3,000 inspections each year. In every one of these our officers assess compliance with the general environmental duty (GED).

Every business in Victoria must comply with the GED. This means you must:

  • Assess how your activities may present a risk to human health or the environment
  • Take reasonably practicable steps to reduce or eliminate these risks.

What's the harm?

This is the core of the GED.

The more severe or likely the potential harm, the stronger the controls needed to prevent them.

What are the potential points of failure in your plant, your product and your processes? Consider the level of knowledge in your field. Now ask yourself what’s the harm? What is the potential for what I’m doing to harm the environment?

Some common risks businesses must manage include:

  • activities that produce noise, odour or runoff to stormwater
  • storing, using and disposing of liquids and chemicals
  • generating, transporting and disposing of waste.


Assess the risks and determine if you’re taking reasonably practicable steps to reduce or eliminate them.

If your business is already managing its environmental risks, the GED may mean little or no change.

Take control

Reducing or removing risks to the environment can be achieved in different ways.

Physical control examples

  • bunding to prevent chemical spills entering waterways
  • fencing to contain waste
  • sprinkler systems to reduce the impact of a fire.

Administrative control examples

  • choosing to work with materials that minimse waste
  • having clear processes to regularly test safety systems
  • turning waste into safe byproducts

Are you doing enough?

You can be confident your controls are reasonably practicable if you can demonstrate:

  • an understanding of the risks in your business
  • an understanding of the level of knowledge in your industry for reducing risk
  • how your controls are reducing your risks.

Reducing risks is good for business

Understanding and reducing risk is not just good for the environment and your community. It’s also good for your staff and customers. Having clear controls to prevent harm can reduce down-time and ensure a safer workplace for everyone on site.

Preventing harm also helps reduce:

  • costs of environmental clean-up and rehabilitation
  • potential civil and/or criminal charges.

Effective controls can save time while reducing insurance and other costs.

Our planet is not a cost of doing business. It’s what drives us to do business well.

How to meet your obligations

We have created detailed information for license holders in implementing the general environmental duty. And, if you have any questions, our contact centre is open 24 hours.


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Reviewed 15 May 2024