What Is an
Environmental Management System (EMS)?
Over the years, "establishing an EMS"
has become one of the basic steps in improving
performance, but what is an EMS? At its most basic, an EMS is a set of
internal policies and procedures that helps your organization systematically
assess and reduce the environmental impact of its activities. The best known EMS
is the ISO 14001 standard, which provides a commonly accepted guideline for the
design of a comprehensive environmental management system. Companies that choose
to establish an EMS in accordance with ISO 14001, usually also decide to hire
external auditors who will certify that the company's EMS conforms with the ISO
14001 standard. Establishing an EMS has become standard practice for most major
companies, and the number who choose to obtain ISO 14001 certification has
continued to grow steadily.
Organizations Use an EMS?
The main purpose of an EMS is to help an
organization control its environmental risks and improve its environmental
performance, but it is also becoming an important factor in terms of overall
corporate image and competitiveness in the marketplace. Most companies find that
establishing an EMS helps them save money by identifying opportunities to
prevent pollution and improve
resource efficiency. Certification to an international standard such as ISO
14001 or EMAS can also help improve a company's image, and is becoming
increasingly important as a competitive factor in the marketplace. Large
companies, particularly multinationals, are increasingly requiring that their
suppliers implement an EMS as a pre-condition to developing a business
relationship, and some prominent companies have begun to require that major
suppliers obtain ISO 14001 certification.
The Limitations of
However, simply establishing an EMS does not
guarantee better performance. An EMS is a tool that only functions if an
organization puts time and effort into its implementation. Developing policies
and procedures to track environmental impacts does not help if nobody in a
company's facility follows the system. Similarly, ISO 14001 certification does
not prove that a company's environmental performance is good; ISO 14001
certification merely shows that the company has a set of policies and procedures
in place to address environmental concerns. Making improvements and finding
cost-saving opportunities requires allocating staff and resources to EMS
implementation. However, most companies have found the process to be rewarding
enough to merit support.
How Is a System
The policies and procedures of EMS systems are
typically designed around on the concept of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)
cycle, meaning that you:
1) assess current environmental impacts and set
objectives and targets for improvement (plan);
2) implement your plan for
as well as any necessary supporting measures such as defining internal
responsibilities, training staff, etc. (do);
3) Monitor your progress and take corrective
actions if your EMS isn't working properly (check);
4) Review your progress, audit your EMS to ensure
that it is working properly, redefine your objectives and targets, and start the
next cycle of PDCA.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Most companies require some technical support from
external consultants in developing their EMS, particularly if they intend to
seek ISO 14001 certification. However, as a starting point, there are numerous
detailed manuals describing how to implement EMS and ISO 14001 available through
the internet and organizations such as the International Green Productivity
In addition, many national governments sponsor
training seminars and courses on ISO 14001. After getting overview of the
process through courses or manuals, you will be in a position to decide how best
to approach implementing an EMS in your organization.