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  • Keith Phillips

Green Auditing - How can Auditors Significantly Reduce their Impact on the Environment?

The other day, a leading auditor remarked that he had halved his carbon footprint during the Covid-19 pandemic, and was still getting effective audits.

The number of kilometres he had driven of the year reduced by half, from 100,000 to 50,000, because of the lockdowns.

In general, the worldwide shortage of qualified auditors means that they are often required to fly from one country to another. Or, as is the case in Australia, from one state to another. With flights sometimes taking over five hours, the carbon expense can be considerable.


During the pandemic this had to stop.


And when auditors and their clients sought technologies and techniques to provide the assurance required by regulators, they discovered new, green ways of doing business, that lead not only to a reduction in carbon emissions, but also to a reduction in costs and unproductive travel time.


The requirement for onsite verification is easily understood.


The multi-sensory data collection and processing capacity of a human being has not yet been bettered by technology. But that level of analysis comes at a financial and environmental cost.

So perhaps onsite is not needed every time, and remote auditing can be utilised, leading to superior, overall delivery, that takes into account the authenticity of the audit, and the environmental impact?

There are nearly four billion smartphones in the world, and each has more computing power than was needed to get to the moon. Their digital video and data capture capacity can surely provide an effective, authentic window into the practices of producers?


If there is one thing that the Pandemic has taught us, it is that we can do more things online, and still achieve effective results. We have learnt to use video conferencing, smart phones, digital cameras, cloud platforms, and digital data sources. Importantly, growers and processors have become more comfortable in using these during 2020/21.


Getting the producer - or an independent person - to tour the facility using these tools - for example by supplying georeferencing coordinates, and date and time stamps on images - may take auditors a very long way to understanding what is going on. Combining that with data sources that are progressively becoming available, can provide the rigour to verify conclusions.


Ocean fishing boats from New Zealand are required to have video cameras on board permanently, to record the fishing methods and dealing of by-catch. This enables random and sustained auditing without an auditor on site.

In this case ‘remote’ provides greater assurance of compliant practices because it enables auditing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


So, let’s look at some possible techniques that could deliver an acceptable alternative to on-site verification:


Staggered/Hybrid Auditing: It may be that onsite visits are not essential every year. Many auditors have been auditing the same producer for many years. They know what the risks are and could provide sufficient cross-checks with digital tours and the appropriate evidence.

In the below screen-grab, the reviewer and auditors are interacting with the farmer via videoconferencing, and working on the online audit. The reviewer is in Italy, the auditor in Tunisia, and the Producer in Oman.


Using local auditors: Although there may not be a specialist auditor on the ground, a generalist could team-up with your specialist who is live, on-line. Both parties would work with the one version, in the cloud.


Data Verification: More and more producers are generating data on soil, water, fertilizer, yield and more. Companies like Map of Ag, SIM, and FarmIQ, are providing on-line data, harvested via drones or an IoT (Internet of Things) device.

This paper cannot recommend what should be acceptable, but it seeks to challenge the status quo. Clearly the industry that champions agricultural sustainability must examine its own sustainable practices and lead from the front?


When you consider the tools and opportunities already available within the industry, it makes the idea of challenging the status quo both practical and realistic.

Clearly the industry that champions agricultural sustainability must examine its own sustainable practices and lead from the front?