Greater awareness and understanding of environmental issues over the past 20 years have led governments (at the national, sub-national, and local levels) to rethink their roles and responsibilities as environmental stewards. Over this period, there has also been increasing concern that organizations should be held accountable for their actions that affect the environment. With regard to national public agencies, it has been the traditional role of supreme audit institutions (SAIs) to hold these state-level organizations to account for their financial transactions. Increasingly though, SAIs around the world are also holding federal bodies to account for their environmental performance through the use of environmental auditing tools and techniques.
The term “environmental auditing” is a convenient label generally used to describe a variety of activities, including management audits, product certification, governmental control measures, and many other activities, which bear little or no relation to an external audit. SAIs also often carry out activities that, by definition, do not qualify as audits, yet contribute to improving government practices. In this context, the term “environmental auditing” is used solely in reference to an independent external audit of environmental issues.
Environmental auditing, in principle, is no different from the audit approach practised by SAIs, and it could encompass all types of audit. In this context, audit attention may be devoted to the disclosure of environmental assets and liabilities, compliance with national and international legislation and conventions, and to measures instituted by the audited entity to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.
The information has been extracted from the 2001 document titled Guidance on Conducting Audits of Activities with an Environmental Perspective (pdf 708k) produced by the Working Group on Environmental Auditing. The purpose of the guide is to provide SAIs with a basic understanding of the nature of environmental auditing as it has developed in the governmental sphere, and to provide a sound starting point from which SAIs can create an approach to develop environmental auditing responsibilities within the context of their own jurisdiction and mandate.