Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing – April 2004

Going Back to School: A New Approach to Environmental Audit Training

Antalya, Turkey, November 14, 2003. It was a remarkable ending to the training course. Seated in a large circle facing one another, the 29 course participants from 15 countries gazed with amazement at the sight before them. About 300 yards of string had been taped to the floor, crisscrossing and connecting one participant to another in a seemingly random pattern.

“I have personally benefited from this course very much. I now am capable of conducting and supervising environmental audits.”

Mrityunjoy Saha, participant, SAI of Bangladesh

It was the last session of an intensive 2-week pilot course on environmental auditing developed and delivered collaboratively by the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) and the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA). For the closing ceremony, the course instructors had conceived a deceptively simple but powerful exercise. Participants were asked, one by one, to share their reflections on the course. After speaking, each participant threw a large ball of string across the room to a participant of his or her choosing and the line of string between them was then taped to the floor. This process was repeated until a web of string covered the floor.

“It is time for SAIs to address environmental issues in addition to economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. SAIs can provide valuable support to the national parliaments in defining program priorities and budget decisions.”

Batbayar Badamdorj, participant, SAI of Mongolia

The participants’ words were emotional and moving: appreciation for the opportunity to learn; confidence to take on environmental audits; personal commitment to act back home; fondness for new-found friends; blessings for safe trips home; and of course thanks to IDI, the course instructors, and the WGEA subject matter experts.

But the effect of the string was dramatic and the symbolism was lost on no one. “We’re a network!” “We can support each other!” “We know where to go for help!” And it was true—the first graduating class of the IDI/WGEA training course on environmental auditing had become, and still remains, a network of peers.

“As auditors, we now perceive more deeply the importance of environmental issues and we also know that SAIs will play an important role in protecting the environment for sustainable development.”

- Tran Thien Ngon, participant, SAI of Vietnam

More than this, the participants gained the environmental knowledge, knowledge of the audit methods and techniques, and ultimately the confidence needed to undertake environmental audits.

The Antalya pilot course, generously hosted by the Turkish Court of Accounts, marked the end of a long journey that began nearly 2 years earlier. While many SAIs are convinced that auditing environmental issues is important, a lack of internal capacity is often identified as a major obstacle to getting started. For this reason, both the WGEA and some regional INTOSAI training committees identified training in environmental auditing as a priority. So, in April 2002, IDI and the WGEA formed a new and unique partnership to design and deliver a training course on environmental auditing.

“The most beneficial part of the course was the practical case studies and exercises—I found the opportunity to work on some real issues for my SAI.”

- Hamed Momeni, participant, SAI of Iran

By combining the IDI training methods and specialists (led by Else-Karin Kristensen and Kiyoshi Okamoto of IDI in Norway) and the subject matter expertise of WGEA members (led by John Reed of the SAI of Canada), two powerful forces merged into one! In all, 10 IDI-certified training specialists/course designers and 15 subject matter experts collaborated to produce the course.

The partnership broke new ground in many areas, not the least being the process used to design the course—a series of workshops over a 10-month period plus lots of thinking, reading, writing, and e-mailing in between. The first of these workshops focused on defining the course curriculum. Facilitated by John Reed of the SAI of Canada, 12 subject matter experts gathered in November 2002 to tackle the key question, what skills and knowledge do auditors need to undertake environmental audits?

“A number of participants told me the content was useful to them in that they could relate to the environmental problems faced in their own countries. Many of them learned new things about environmental and performance auditing. As a trainer, I felt quite satisfied.”

- Allen Parker, course instructor, SAI of Cook Islands

Their answers became the foundation of the course: compliance and performance auditors already have the basic skills required, but what they need is knowledge of environmental matters—such as the main environmental issues, their root causes, solutions to the problems they pose, and the role of governments—to apply to the audit process.

Having defined what subjects needed to be included in the course, the design process shifted gears to focus on how to best teach the material. But first the IDI training specialists themselves had to go to school. In June 2003, the SAI of Canada together with several WGEA subject matter experts staged a 10-day “train-the-trainer” seminar to teach the specialists about environmental matters. This was followed by a marathon 3-week course design workshop in August 2003 during which all course materials were researched and written by the design team.

“This was the first IDI sponsored course I attended and I am definitely looking forward to more. The best part of the course was the way it was conducted. Learning was fun and we looked forward to the sessions.”

Aman Deep Chatha, participant, SAI of India

The course itself is packed with environmental content, based in part on the many guidance documents prepared by the WGEA. It gives an overview of global environmental issues and trends, sustainable development, principles of ecosystems, and policy tools governments use to deal with environmental problems. It also goes into four priority topic areas in depth: waste management, water quality, air pollution, and biological diversity. But the course does not just teach theory; throughout, the emphasis is on how to apply this knowledge in a practical audit sense (there is even a refresher session on the basics of performance auditing).

“The benefits have been immeasurable. It was a learning as well as social occasion—I now have colleagues from so many countries.”

- Abdul Hameed Pasha, participant, SAI of Pakistan

The course does not depend completely on lectures. It is taught by IDI-certified instructors and is based on IDI’s Long Term Regional Training Program (LTRTP) and its learner-centered approach. The course is highly interactive, using a combination of lectures, individual and group exercises, homework assignments, and readings.



Photo of participants at a training course in Turkey in November 2003

At the pilot environmental auditing training course in Turkey in November 2003, participants work on an interactive exercise to learn ecosystem vocabulary.

“We would recommend other SAIs [to] attend this course. The best part is action planning for environmental auditing.”

- Wang Benqiang, Chen Jixiang, and Gao Yongning, participants, SAI of China)

While the learner-centered approach may be more fun—and effective—for the students, the course is not easy. Even before a student arrives, the head of his or her SAI must commit to undertaking an environmental audit in the near future. There is also precourse homework. And by the end of the course, each participant must prepare two “deliverables”: a proposed environmental audit plan on a topic of his or her choosing (based on an analysis of environmental issues facing his or her country) and an action plan to be used when the participant returns home. All of the course materials—the Participant’s Notes, the Instructor’s Guide, the exercises, the handouts, and the slides—are available for SAIs by contacting IDI at

“From the IDI perspective, the development of this course has been an excellent opportunity to cooperate with an INTOSAI working group using a cross-regional approach. The IDI will be working with the WGEA (and other working groups and standing committees) to survey SAIs in developing countries this year on their need for further training on environmental auditing and other subjects.”

- Else Karin Kristensen, Acting Director General, IDI)

In Antalya, the audit plans proposed by participants were impressive, and the proposed topics ranged from audits of hospital waste, river protection, and prevention of oil spills from ships to the sustainable management of forests, mine rehabilitation, and the preservation of national parks. The action plans proposed for when students returned home were equally impressive—they committed themselves to training other auditors in their SAIs, promoting awareness of environmental auditing, establishing dedicated environmental auditing units within their SAIs, and joining the INTOSAI WGEA. IDI intends to follow up with all the SAIs that participated to determine the long-term impact of the course.

The second pilot delivery of the course took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in February 2004, and, we hope, these two courses are just the beginning.