Environmental Key Performance Indicators

The definition of environmental performance indicators (EPIs)  as stated in the international standard ISO 14031 is:

 “A specific expression that provides information about an organisation’s environmental performance.”

They are environmental KPIs (key performance indicators). KPIs are commonly used in many areas of business such as occupational health and safety, finance and quality management. If environmental performance indicators are measured that relate to the key environmental aspects and impacts and they are tracked, they will give an understanding of the overall environmental performance of the organisation. Examples of environmental performance indicators that could be measured include:

  • waste produced per tonne of product
  • amount of energy used per square metre of floor space
  • average water use per member of staff
  • average fuel consumption per vehicle.

ISO 14031

ISO 14031: Guidelines for Environmental Performance Evaluation is the international standard that covers environmental performance indicators. It is a little known standard in comparison to its big brother ISO 14001, but provides an outline of environmental performance indicators and how they can be used. Those that are relevant directly to business are split into two categories:

  • Management performance indicators – measures of how well an organisations environmental impacts are being managed, and
  • Operational performance indicators – specifically cover the environmental performance of operations.

You can see examples of these two types of indicators in the table below:

Operational Performance Indicators (OPI)Management Performance Indicators (MPI)
Amount of energy used per tonne of product producedNumber of achieved objectives and targets
Quantity of recycled materials used per tonne of productPercentage of staff trained in environmental awareness
Average fuel consumption per vehicleCosts associated with services environmental aspects and impacts
Amount of waste recycled per yearNumber of complaints regarding noise from a site per year
Quantity of carbon dioxide released per tonne of productNumber of community environmental schemes completed per month

The standard also discusses  environmental condition indicators (ECIs). These are indicators that can be set for the condition of the environment – they are a measures of some part of the actual environment itself rather than environmental aspects directly related to business. Examples of ECIs include:

  • number of plant species in a defined area
  • average global temperature
  • dissolved oxygen level in a a river etc.

ECIs are more commonly used by governments and researchers rather than businesses.

How Can You Use EPIs?

We have established what environmental performance indicators are, lets now take a look at how they can be used:

  • Significant environmental aspects and impacts – if you select at least one  indicator that is relevant to each of your significant environmental aspects and impacts then this will usually give you a good understanding of environmental performance.  For example if a significant aspect is water use then measure the amount of water used per day/week/month, if spillage of oil is a significant environmental aspect then define an indicator such as number of spillages per month.
  • Environmental Objectives  – you could also use environmental performance indicators to tell you how well you are doing with regard to your environmental objectives. For example if you set an objective to reduce energy consumption in the office then you could set an environmental performance indicator that covers the amount of electricity used in the office per month. Simple!
  • Operational controls – you might also associate an environmental performance indicator with an operational control, to keep a check on its effectiveness. For example if you have a waste management procedure then you could set an EPI that covers how often recyclable waste is placed in the general waste skip.

Top Tips for Developing Environmental KPIs

Hopefully this all make sense just to finish please consider the following tips from my experience:

  • Be careful not to develop too many EPIs as collecting monitoring information becomes a burden, pick out important ones that are relevant to your organisations environmental performance.
  • Most indicators are developed such that they are quantified and relate to a fixed feature such as tonne of product or area of floor space. This allows for comparison when something changes within the organisation.
  • Consider not just reactive indicators (lagging indicators) such as spillage or complaints but proactive indicators (leading indicators) as well such as the number of completed actions or inspections completed.
  • Information collected (monitoring data) used to track an environmental performance indicator should be accurate.

I hope this has given you some ideas about how you can use environmental performance indicators in your organisation.  They are an important part of effective environmental management.