In 2015, BP was hit with the largest environmental non-compliance fine in United States history. The company agreed to pay more than $20 billion for violating the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations as a result of its 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
While BP’s environmental misconduct cost the company billions, the reputation damage was just as costly. For years after, BP’s name became synonymous with the oil spill that damaged the shorelines of four Gulf states and threatened more than 65,000 acres of wildlife refuge.
To protect the environment and your company from a similar fate, it’s important to understand and comply with environmental regulations.
Ensuring compliance within your organization can be time-consuming and stressful.
Case management software can help you reduce fines, avoid reputation damage, decrease your chances of prosecution and boost your compliance program. Learn how in our free eBook.Get the eBook
Every jurisdiction has its own environmental laws and regulations. Before your company can do certain operations, you may need a permit to ensure environmental compliance. For example, you might need permission for:
- Air, noise and waste sewage emissions
- Taking water from natural sources (e.g. river, lake, groundwater)
- Managing toxic or hazardous waste
- Using pesticides
The United States has more than 30 laws and executive orders that protect the environment and regulate how
companies interact with it. Some of these include:
- Clean Water Act
- Clean Air Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
For more information on complying with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations, visit their compliance help page here.
Canada has its own set of environmental protection laws, including:
- Canadian Environmental Protection Act
- Fisheries Act
- Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
- Species at Risk Act
- Migratory Birds Convention Act
- Nuclear Safety and Control Act
You can find helpful information on environmental compliance from Environment and Climate Change Canada here.
Who Must Comply
“Although it may be obvious that businesses involved in automotive services, metal work, paints and coatings, agricultural services, and chemical production are subject to environmental regulations, other more innocuous ones, such as dry-cleaners and printers, are as well,” says Valerie Pinkerton of Priori Legal.
If your company affects the environment in any way, you probably need to comply with environmental laws. Do you take anything from the environment? Do you emit anything into it?
Some regulations offer exemptions for certain operations or on a case-by-case basis. Talk with an environmental lawyer for help figuring out which laws apply to your organization and what you need to do to comply with them.
Penalties for non-compliance vary depending on the law and the severity of the behavior. Civil fines can reach up to tens of thousands of dollars per day, plus potential jail time for criminal prosecution. These penalties, in addition to reputation damage, make the risks of non-compliance much higher than any possible rewards.
Rewards of Environmental Compliance
Environmental compliance is necessary to avoid penalties, but has other benefits, too.
First, eco-friendly products are trendy these days. “Green” items are in high demand and customers are willing to pay a premium for them. Using environmentally friendly packaging and selling fresh, organic, natural and/or sustainable products can boost your sales.
Similarly, many consumers want to support companies with environmentally friendly business practices. Going green can help you pull customers away from competitors with less sustainable operations and products.
Many jurisdictions offer tax benefits, rebates and incentives to businesses that go green. In addition, seek out grants and subsidies that help cover the cost of new or retrofitted systems to make them eco-friendly (e.g. lighting, hot water, HVAC). Applying for these will not only promote environmental compliance, but save you a bit of money, too.
And finally, environmentally conscious companies attract environmentally conscious employees. An ethical workforce is likely to place environmental compliance high on the list of priorities, making it more likely that your company will operate safely and responsibly into the future.
Read this case study to learn how case management software can help you improve compliance and reduce the risk of lawsuits.