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An environmental management system (EMS) is a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency. The most used framework for an EMS is the one developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the ISO 14001 standard. It was established in 1996. Carrying out the stages of an EMS can be a challenge for businesses. North Carolina is an example of a state that has a program in place to help organizations with their EMS. North Carolina’s program is called the Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI). This Fact File explains ESI benefits and the three different participation levels of North Carolina’s program.
The Environmental Stewardship Initiative started in 2002. The program is funded by a Pollution Prevention (P2) grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is matched 100 percent by the state. It is created to promote and encourage greater environmental performance in North Carolina. The program is optional and free for all members. Any facility or organization looking to improve their environmental performance can apply to the program. All members must set environmental goals and report on their goal progress each year.
The ESI program consists of three levels of participation. The first level is Environmental Partner. It is meant for adoption by a large range of organizations interested in crafting a systematic approach to enhancing their environmental performance or strengthening current programs. The second level is Rising Environmental Steward. It is meant for facilities with a mature environmental management program. The third level is Environmental Steward. It is for facilities with a history of superior environmental performance above and beyond what is necessary by law and for those that have proved strong leadership.
Benefits of membership in the ESI include:
To become an Environmental Partner, an organization must meet the following criteria:
Starting at the first level and including all the other subsequent level, members receive assistance with technical services like: compliance, waste, water, energy, personalized onsite EMS help, EMS gap analysis, internal audits, waste sorting, and facilitation help.
To become a Rising Environmental Steward, an organization must meet the Partner level criteria and the following additional criteria:
To become an Environmental Steward, an organization must meet the Partner level criteria and Rising Environmental Steward level criteria and the following additional criteria:
ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental management systems — Requirements with guidance for use
“Gap Analysis” means a process used to assess the current state of a facility’s EMS. It helps identify gaps between a facility’s current management systems and the EMS standard.
“P2” means reducing or eliminating pollutants from entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment before recycling, treatment, or disposal.
Keep in mind that for members at any level which are unable to submit a report due to changes in management, resources, or other business reasons, the member may request the ESI staff to place them on hold for one year. At the end of this year, an annual report for only the current reporting year will be required to remain a member in good standing. If this report is not received by the deadline, the site will be terminated. On-hold members can still participate in trainings and other benefits but may be considered on a slightly lower priority if there are space limitations.
The hundreds of current North Carolina ESI members have made a bid difference. Between 2004 and 2019, ESI members achieved the following:
Consider becoming a member if you reside in North Carolina and are looking for EMS help. You could be part of the positive change. After all, it won’t cost you a dime.