Accountability and Commitment – key elements of effective environmental leadership


In this post I thought we could have a look at what makes an effective environmental leader. Whether you are a leader or you aspire to be one or want to assess your current environmental leader hopefully this post will be useful to you! Strong environmental leadership involves the development of the organisations mission, values and vision. It involves two key themes these are accountability and commitment.

As an environmental leader you are the person who is accountable, such that the buck stops with you. Accountability therefore means that you are ultimately responsible for environmental management within the scope of your area of management, whatever that is. A leader may delegate tasks to others but is the person responsible for them. If the environmental management system is not working then it is your responsibility to fix it.

Accountability for environmental management should be clearly defined within an organisation in a formal manner, particularly for leaders. This could be achieved by various means; commonly used formats include responsibilities being stated in job descriptions and organisation charts or similar. If a leader does not formally know and understand their responsibilities how can they be held accountable for them?

So that is accountability what about commitment? In this context commitment can be expressed by a leader providing resources. Those resources might include physical resources such as equipment or staff time but may also involve ensuring that sufficient financial resources are present. It is also important that resources are provided in a way that is efficient and not bureaucratic such as to increase the chances they are available when needed. This could be achieved by having a formal system of resource allocation that is planned rather than left to chance.

Commitment is also expressed by a leader providing advice, support and direction to staff in the undertaking of their duties. But leaders should be aware that if they do not show interest in environmental management then it is unlikely that environmental issues will be viewed as important by those they are leading.  Therefore, some form of active involvement in the environmental management system, in addition to regularly communicating the opportunities (e.g. moral, legal and financial) that effective environmental management affords is an important part of environmental leadership.

A leader can also show commitment by ensuring that the environmental issues are integrated into the strategic plans of the organisation. As with other sustainability issues, environmental management should not be a side issue that is the responsibility of the environment team. It should be the responsibility of the normal leadership structure; the environment team is there to advise and support. If integration occurs effectively then the theory is that this will ensure ownership of environmental issues both in a collective and individual manner.

Commitment may also be expressed by implementing systems to ensure that environmental management is effective. This to me pertains to ensuring that the environmental performance of the organisation is being evaluated on a regular scheduled basis. So, making sure that actions such as monitoring (e.g. inspections, tours, emissions monitoring), management review (of which the leader is likely to have significant direct involvement) or audit is important. It is also just as important that a system is in place to ensure that weaknesses from such checks are rectified.

To summarise then to be an effective environmental leader means that you must be the person that is clearly accountable for environmental management with the scope of your job role. You must also ensure that yours and others responsibilities for environmental management are formally enshrined within the organisations management approach.  You must also be committed to high standards of environmental management. The way that this commitment can be expressed include effective resource provision, active involvement in environmental management, integrating of environmental issues into the operation of the organisation and regular evaluation of environmental performance.

Further reading

RRC NEBOSH Diploma in Environmental Management Textbook

ISO 14001: 2015 Environmental Management Systems – requirements with guidance for use

ISO 14004: 2016 Environmental Management Systems – General on Implementation

John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MSc, MIEMA

With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.