The Compliance and Enforcement Review recognised the benefits of environmental improvement plans, particularly, in:

  • encouraging businesses to go beyond environmental performance standards required by EPA licences
  • improved accountability
  • transparency between businesses and communities.

Principles for the use of environmental improvement plans as a business and community engagement tool

An environmental improvement plan (EIP) is an effective tool to guide a business’s environmental management through a process of continued improvement. It is also a public commitment by a company to drive environmental improvements, typically beyond those required by EPA licences, through a series of agreed actions and timelines.

EPA recognises the valuable environmental improvements which can be made by businesses committed to the effective application of EIPs through responsible citizen engagement.

A number of fundamental principles should be considered by businesses and community members involved in the development and implementation of an EIP, as outlined below.

Key principles of environmental improvement plan development

Collaboration – An EIP will only be effective if it is developed in a partnership between the business and the community in which it operates. As such, the forum for developing the plan needs to be open, constructive and collaborative – the community will provide insight into areas of community concern but only where the environment is non-threatening. 

Genuine – When used as an aspirational tool, and in a voluntary capacity between business and the community, EPA has no mandate to regulate against the delivery of commitments. Businesses looking to implement an EIP need to show genuine commitment to a process of environmental improvement, reflected in the issues identified for action, which should be endorsed at a senior management level. EIPs should not be an opportunity for ‘greenwash’. 

Accessible – The information in EIPs should be easily accessible to the community. The language and style of plans should be appropriately pitched for the audience. The document should also be available both to community members who attend traditional community committee meetings and via the company’s website, in recognising that the Victorian community extends beyond the immediate boundaries of the site.

Integrated – EIPs should be integrated into existing environmental policies. The nature of this will vary depending on the level of sophistication of environmental management, and may involve integration into existing management policies and procedures; supporting the development of a holistic Environmental Management Systems (EMS), or alignment of an existing EMS with international standards. 

Site-specific – The issues and actions identified within EIPs should be tailored to the specific business and the specific site. In particular, they should reflect those identified as of community concern and should address any relevant issues which characterise the particular industry sector. 

Prioritised – Objectives within EIPs should be prioritised according to the need to eliminate, minimise and control the impact of a business’s operations on the environment and the associated risks. 

Monitored – A critical aspect of an EIP is that progress is monitored.  Objectives within EIPs should be ‘SMART’, specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Reported – As a dynamic document, the implementation of an EIP should be reported on regularly by the business and communicated to both senior management and to the local community. This will ensure continued management support and will encourage effective and efficient engagement between the business and the community. 

Businesses and community members interested in developing an EIP should refer to EPA publications 938 and 739 for more detailed information and advice.

For more information, contact us.

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Reviewed 23 January 2023