Ten Ways to Reduce Environmental Risk & Liability at the Golf Course and Clubhouse

Golf and country clubs across the country are facing a “new normal” of reduced budgets, strained resources and the need to operate leaner and smarter.  It’s no wonder that the concept of sustainability has held fast.  After all, sustainability, in part, is about doing more with less, and there are a few key elements that, if not addressed, can crumble the very foundation of any club’s sustainability efforts, including: addressing regulatory responsibilities, managing environmental risks, containing potential environmental liabilities and minimizing the odds of an environmental incident or accident.  
An Environmental Management System (EMS) can help club staff manage these areas of concern,leading to abetter-managed operation overall.  An EMS relies on a comprehensive 'plan, do, check, act' approach.   As an added bonus, federal and state environmental agencies support EMS adoption by organizations.  So, if you don’t have an EMS in place yet, consider the following questions to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Do we really know what’s going on?
The very first step to reducing overall environmental risk and liability is to conduct a basic self-assessment of your facility and operations.  Do you know how your chemicals are being stored and used on the course and in the clubhouse?  Are your clubhouse and pro shop operations staff asking the right questions to gain a handle on potential hazards?  

2. Do we have full management buy-in?
The best environmental management approaches are completed on the ground with support from the top.  Is your club board, president or key leadership aware of the environmental responsibilities of the golf or country club operations?  Are environmentally-related risk issues discussed at senior management team meetings?  Has leadership signed off on various environmental policies and plans at the highest level?

3. Have we established a facility-wide environmental policy?
Writing and making public the organization’s commitment to protecting the environment is an important early step to take.  It is a pledge to protect the natural elements of the game, acknowledgement of the importance of pollution prevention and a show of your commitment to continuous improvement.  

4. Have We Ever Conducted a Risk Assessment?

Have you conducted a risk assessment to identify where your improvement areas and weak spots are in your operations?  This includes a hard look at all of your relevant activities, an assessment of how frequent those activities take place and the potential environment impacts of those activities.

5. Do we have a sense of our risk profile?

Once the risk assessment is completed you’ll have a better sense of where potentially severe or catastrophic risks are at your golf facility—your risk profile.  Knowledge is power.  Knowing your risk profile will allow you to prioritize corrective actions and be better prepared for when the worst might happen.

6. Have we developed written Environmental Action Plans?

Have you taken the time to develop and write down Environmental Action Plans with input from relevant staff?  These plans can both address what you need to do, as identified in the risk assessment, as well as the environmental improvement and enhancements you want to make at the facility (e.g., nest box projects or energy efficiency upgrades for clubhouse lighting).

7. Do we have a person assigned to each action?
Who’s going to get that done?  For each action item or improvement project, be sure to assign an individual as “responsible party” for completion of the task.  A great idea without someone responsible to complete it will likely remain simply a great idea.  Also remember to include project completion deadlines.

8. Do we understand the value of written standard operating procedures?

Along with written Environmental Action Plans, it pays to have sets of written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each risk area identified.  Let’s assume that “Delivery of Chemicals” is an activity identified as potentially risky (e.g., due to a spill event).  A simple SOP outlining the process for vendors to deliver, unload and store chemicals is a terrific way to document that your club has its act together.  With training, it can help avoid an incident, and if something should go wrong, you have documentation to show due diligence.  

9. Do we provide ongoing environmental training?
You want to have your policy in place, clear procedures and practices identified to be addressed. Yet, it’s people that make things go right—or wrong.  Do you have an environmental training schedule in place?  Are golf course, clubhouse and pro shop operations staff getting the education and on-site, on-the-ground training necessary to be ready for spill events, emergencies and environmental incidents?

10. Do we foster a“culture” of ongoing environmental stewardship?

Is good environmental management simply “the way we do things around here?”  In the end, an environmental policy, environmental risk and opportunity assessments, resulting action plans, operating procedures, training, personal accountability, and top management team commitment is only useful if reviewed on a periodic basis.  A periodic review of your processes and revision of your environmental management system, risk assessment, and associated action plans help keep environmental protection, risk management, and sustainable club operations a top-line item throughout the organization.  While the best option is to develop a comprehensive EMS, at the very least, assess where you are now against these 10 elements and sleep a little easier at night by filling in the gaps. 

 Fletcher Kevin PixKevin A. Fletcher, Ph.D., is President & CEO of e-par USA, Inc., an environmental business strategy advisory firm helping golf facilities & clubs, sports facilities, and park and recreation facilities.  He most-recently served as Executive Director for Audubon International, having worked for the organization for nearly ten years.  In 2010, he was included among Golf Magazine’s “Top 40 Most Influential People Under 40” for his work on sustainability in golf.