The Water Stewardship Project is doing well. It has already given three Guangxi villages tangible solutions to water management issues, and raised awareness about responsible water use among Beihai residents. But it is important that we can also prove this to our stakeholders, which is why we have chosen to have the entire project audited.
Third-party audits are verification systems that help companies make sure they are doing things right – whether it is an individual project or a group-wide sustainability strategy. While acting as evidence to external interested parties, audits also benefit the organisation getting audited by pointing out any possible gaps in their work and by providing ideas for improving their performance. An independent view often gives new insight into the project at hand.
Experienced auditors and international standards
We chose Bureau Veritas (BV) as the auditor for the Water Stewardship Project. BV is a global company that provides a wide range of services and solutions within environmental, health, safety, and social accountability. The goal was to learn what we had done right and what could have been done better.
BV conducted three types of audits during the project – financial, sustainability, and report audits – and there were several of each. After the project team had provided the auditors with the relevant materials, BV delivered the audits and reported the findings to the project team.
BV audited the Water Stewardship Project against global standards, including the AA1000 and ISAE3000 standards. The ISAE3000 standard is issued by the International Federation of Accountants (IFA) and guides the verification process of non-financial information. The AA1000, developed by the non-profit AccountAbility, is used to assess the sustainability performance of organisations. In addition to these management standards, BV applied the ISO26000 guideline for assessing the social responsibility performance of the project.
Auditing in action
The actual auditing work included financial audits and key process audits of different project functions such as water monitoring and the pilot projects. During the semi-annual financial audits, BV reviewed project budgets and confirmed that the money was used for the communities as planned. Key process audits were a bit more hands-on; while including some document verification, they required physical visits to locations and interviews with key people. During the pilot project audit in late July 2015, for example, the auditors visited the sites and interviewed project team members, stakeholders, and pilot village residents.
There have been several audits during the two years the Water Stewardship Project has been on-going. All audits have found our work compliant and legal and provided us with valuable improvement suggestions. After auditing the pilot projects, for example, Mrs. Ruojuan Zheng from BV concluded that it might be a good idea to improve communication between the villages to share experiences and assistance with each other. A link like this would certainly support the villages in developing their solutions further, and hopefully help them spread the word to other villages as well.
Verifying our achievements
Because third-party verifications are an essential part of both Stora Enso and Kemira’s sustainability work, choosing to audit the Water Stewardship Project was a no-brainer. All Stora Enso plantations in Guangxi are covered by forest certification schemes, and Stora Enso mills worldwide have environmental certifications. Kemira’s approach to reducing its environmental impacts and improving the safety of its manufacturing operations is based on the systematic implementation of certified management systems, such as ISO and OHSAS.
Having an external expert confirm that the Water Stewardship Project is benefiting people in the pilot villages is great news. It shows we are not the only ones who think the project is doing well.