By: Yoser González
More and more companies are showing interest, becoming informed, joining, and implementing policies, programs or compliance management models focused on environmental matters, or seeking to review or update their existing policies. But what should we understand by environmental compliance, and why is it important to implement a compliance program in the company? And more importantly, who should implement it?
Let’s start by mentioning that environmental compliance is a broad concept that encompasses not only the legal and technical framework that regulates environmental matters, but also those risk prevention and management actions related to a company’s operations -whether commercial or not- and their impact on the environment.
The right to a healthy environment has recently been recognized by high international organizations as a human right. It is worth noting the important precedent set by Advisory Opinion No. 23-17 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which represents an important advance at the regional level in this matter, since prior to its issuance environmental rights were not subject to protection within the IACHR.
It is precisely since its promulgation that this paradigm has changed since it expressly recognizes the existence of the right to a healthy environment as an autonomous and individual human right under an independent protection like any other contemplated in the different international human rights instruments.
From this we see how the environmental issue should not only be seen as one more area of compliance for companies in the development of their operations, but, unlike many others, it should be integrally related to the protection, guarantee and respect for a human right, which is precisely the right to develop in a healthy environment.
In addition, environmental compliance has acquired relevance in recent years due to the efforts to comply with the sustainable development objectives established by the United Nations General Assembly, which are also setting the path for development objectives in the Central American region.
This is why we can expect that in the future the efforts of the region’s government authorities to meet the sustainable development objectives will be increasingly greater and, therefore, more demanding, and rigorous. This can already be seen in the increase in environmental regulations in the region.
However, in Central America the figure of environmental compliance is relatively new, therefore, there is a certain lack of knowledge about its conceptualization, application, scope and areas of opportunity. As a result, companies sometimes do not admit the need to implement it because they are not sure of its importance.
For this reason, environmental compliance is a tool that allows, among other things:
- Evaluate the status of a company against its legal obligations in environmental matters.
- Identify and manage the risks to which it is exposed.
- Propose prevention and monitoring actions.
- Incorporate elements to regulate the conduct of its partners and collaborators through internal policies and procedures within the framework of a culture of sustainability.
This is how environmental compliance, more than a duty, is a valuable opportunity for companies to generate value in their structure.
The level of control that a company has over its environmental management will not only contribute to the fulfillment and protection of a human right but will also bring with it various economic and social stimuli. But the most important thing is that it will prevent your company from being involved in complaints and legal processes, since environmental responsibility has become a subject of work for governmental entities in practically all nations. All this considering that in environmental matters there are three types of liability: administrative, civil and criminal.
Additionally, in these cases, the reputational aspect plays an important role for companies, since the implementation of an internal environmental compliance policy is providing advantages when participating and competing in commercial and governmental alliances, since clients, contractors, suppliers, and partners with a culture of sustainability are being preferred.
The implementation of an environmental compliance model or program also positions companies among their competitors and gives them the possibility of easily adapting to other markets, such as those known as “green markets or products that are making headway”. Likewise, these environmental compliance programs make it easier to manage operations, anticipate risks, and consolidate a positive image in the national and international markets.
Having an environmental compliance program also allows companies, in the event of being involved in complaints or proceedings for environmental damage, to demonstrate their good performance. Generally, in those cases where companies do not have an efficient environmental compliance program, there is a more serious sanction, and they are forced to implement measures and programs for mitigation, prevention and remediation of damages.
In conclusion, any company, regardless of the size of its operations, can review and implement environmental compliance models in its organization, although, obviously, the larger the company, the greater the sensitivity to risk. Therefore, we invite readers to evaluate the environmental compliance status of their organization and to enjoy the advantages that its implementation can bring to it.