The ABCs of Environmental Management Systems

Date Posted: 05/20/2024
Environmental Management Systems

An Environmental Management System (EMS) encourages an organization to constantly improve its environmental performance. It’s 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, although accredited certification to ISO 14001 is not a requirement.

An EMS can be helpful to an organization if one or more of the following apply:

  • The organization must comply with environmental laws and regulations.
  • The organization seeks 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 is not clear.

How can an EMS help?

An EMS helps an organization tackle its regulatory demands in a structured and cost-effective way. This approach can help lower the risk of non-compliance and improve health and safety practices for employees and the community. An EMS can also help tackle non-regulated issues, such as energy conservation. It can encourage greater operational control and employee stewardship. Fundamental elements of an EMS include:

  • Reviewing the organization’s environmental goals,
  • Analyzing its environmental impacts and legal requirements (or compliance obligations),
  • 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 objectives,
  • Verifying employees’ environmental awareness and competence, and
  • Examining progress of the EMS and making improvements.

How to get started

To get started with an EMS, an organization should:

  1. Define objectives. Ask: What do I want to achieve with an EMS?
  2. Get buy-in from senior management. The leaders of your organization must support the EMS objectives and be committed to the process.
  3. 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.

To start, some businesses find it helpful to designate an EMS management representative, an EMS coordinator, and an EMS team with members from each process area, and then to define the responsibilities of these individuals. As the EMS progresses, responsibilities should be assigned for all EMS-related tasks as they are added.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Safety Topic Webcasts

Using an EMS, whether self-certified or ISO certified, provides the advantage of reducing risk by identifying potential environmental hazards, implementing preventive measures, and ensuring regulatory compliance. Join our webinar Harnessing the Power of Environmental Management Systems on Thursday, May 23, at 1:00 PM CDT. Our regulatory experts will provide insight on how an EMS can address challenges such as keeping up with environmental regulations and cost management. The last 10-15 minutes of the event will be saved to answer your questions.

E-mail Newsletter

Sign up to receive the weekly EHS Insider email newsletter for safety articles, news headlines, regulatory alerts, industry events, webcasts, and more.