Environmental codes of practice: fact sheet

This fact sheet outlines the key characteristics of codes of practice. Codes of practice are risk management instruments that we put in place for a substance or sector. We publish these policy tools to help protect the environment or human health.

Codes of practice defined

Codes of practice are voluntary instruments that recommend procedures and practices or environmental controls relating to works, undertakings, and activities. They aim to encourage the sustainable use of the environment and to reduce pollution. Codes of practice are not enforceable. They set out official national standards that companies and organizations should follow.

Under Part 3 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health have the authority to publish codes of practice. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment can also publish codes of practice.

Common elements

Codes of practice typically contain the following sections:

  • an introduction that describes the context, purpose and objective of the code of practice
  • a description of those we expect to follow the code of practice (in other words, the target audience)
  • an overview of the processes and operations of the target audience, using figures and process diagrams
  • a description of the major and minor sources of releases
  • the recommended best practices that the target audience should adopt to minimize releases; examples of best practices include:
    • providing training to employees
    • installing and operating emission control devices
    • improving the location and design of storage, transportation or handling equipment or facilities
    • improving labeling of products, etc.
  • the data collection, reporting and verification activities associated with the code of practice

Codes of practice are flexible

Codes of practice offer us a lot of flexibility, in the sense that:

  • they can target any substance or group of substances, including (but not limited to) substances on Schedule 1 of CEPA
  • we can use them on their own, or as part of a mix of instruments to address an environmental issue
  • the can apply to any phase of the development and operation of works, undertakings and activities (including location, design, construction, start-up, closure, dismantling, clean-up and monitoring)
  • they can be adopted by any level of government, by industry associations or even internationally

Codes of practice also offer flexibility to those who follow it. The target audience can choose the practices that are appropriate for their particular situation.

When we use codes of practice

Codes of practice are voluntary risk management instruments. They are most appropriate when the target audience is motivated and has a good compliance history with other risk management instruments.

We typically use codes of practice:

  • to communicate specific techniques and practices to prevent or control the use or release of a substance
  • when best operating practices or techniques exist but the target audience does not implement them consistently
  • when it is difficult to establish numerical limits (such as concentration or quantity of releases), or when these limits are difficult to measure
  • when there are many release points of the substance(s), or releases occur to different media (air, water, land)

How we develop codes of practice

We consult with the target audience to understand their operational activities and how/where releases may occur. Then, we gather practices or technologies that would help control those releases. The target audience is an important source of best practices. We also reach out to other industry sectors, non-governmental organizations and other government bodies, in Canada and abroad.

We collaborate with the target audience throughout the development process. This helps ensure that the best practices are relevant and usable and that the target audience is willing and able to take action. We publish proposed codes of practice and offer to consult with provincial and Aboriginal governments (as required under CEPA). We consider the comments received to publish final codes of practice in the Canada Gazette.

Related information

Contact us

Regulatory Innovation and Management Systems
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 Saint-Joseph Blvd
Gatineau QC  K1A 0H3

Email: cdp-cop@ec.gc.ca

July 2021

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