An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a framework that assists an organization in achieving its environmental goals through regular review, evaluation, and advancement of its environmental performance. The most used framework for an EMS is the one developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the ISO 14001 standard.
Accredited certification to ISO 14001 is not a requirement. An EMS does not have to be a third-party registered system. However, for certain industries such as automotive, a registered EMS is an instructed requirement for thousands of suppliers to the large auto makers. Additionally, organizations that sell their goods or services internationally could find that EMS registration is a powerful selling point in the global marketplace and may allow them to gain preferred supplier standing.
An EMS can be helpful to an organization if one or more of the following apply:
- The organization is required to comply with environmental laws and regulations.
- The organization is seeking ways to improve environmental performance.
- The state of the organization’s environmental affairs is a major liability.
- A lack of time or resources hinders the organization from managing its environmental obligations properly.
- The relationship between the organization’s environmental goals and other general goals are not clear.
- ISO 14001 standard — Environmental Management Systems
- Senior management: In some organizations, this may be only one individual, but in others it might be a larger group of people like a board of directors.
- Third-party certification: An independent certification body audits a company’s practices against the requirements of the standard.
Summary of requirements
To get started with an EMS, a business should:
- Define objectives. Ask: What do I want to achieve with an EMS?
- Get buy-in from senior management. The leaders of your organization must support the EMS objectives and need to be committed to the process.
- Get a solid overview of current processes and systems that relate to your environmental impact. This can form a basis for your EMS and identify any existing gaps. Do not feel like you must fully retool existing activities.
Fundamental elements of an EMS include the following:
- Reviewing the organization's environmental goals:
- These goals can be applied organization-wide or to individual units, departments, or functions.
- Analyzing environmental effects and legal requirements (or compliance obligations):
- Establish and ensure access to applicable laws and regulations, and other requirements to which the organization adheres. Examples of “other requirements” that may apply to an organization include voluntary program participation, certifications, and industry specific standards.
- Establishing environmental objectives and targets to lessen environmental impacts and comply with legal requirements (or compliance obligations).
- Developing programs to meet specified objectives and targets.
- Observing and tracking progress in achieving the objectives:
- Carry out periodic assessments of compliance with legal requirements.
- Verifying employees' environmental awareness and competence.
- Examining progress of the EMS and making improvements.
- Verify from time to time that the organization’s EMS is operating as it should be with an EMS audit. As a rule of thumb, all EMS parts should be audited at least annually.