file under: Chemicals, Environment, Food and Beverage, Industrial, Metals and Mining, Oil and Gas, Power

Environmental Management Systems

World-class organizations have long realized the benefits of integrating environmental decision making into business operations. Aligning environmental and business strategies has helped many organizations address emerging sustainability challenges and opportunities, not the least of which is energy costs. Competing successfully in the increasingly complex marketplace requires an understanding of the interdependent dimensions of the environmental, social, and economic landscape, and being equipped to deal with the increasing rate at which change occurs. Many organizations have leveraged the plan-do-check-act business principles embodied in an environmental management system (EMS) framework to address these challenges.

For many organizations, developing an EMS is often the catalyst for new ways of thinking about environmental, operational, and sustainability performance. 

An effectively designed and implemented EMS integrates environmental considerations into day-to-day decision making and other practices through the systematic assembly of organizational elements, business processes, and technology tools. It establishes a set of processes and practices that enable a company to reduce its environmental impacts, increase operational efficiencies, and meet changing business conditions. And it does so in a way that promotes its use by all employees in the continual improvement of the organization's environmental performance. Moreover the EMS framework is being increasingly used by many organizations to address sustainability considerations by fine tuning aspects identification processes to consider the social and economic dimensions of sustainability in conjunction with environmental dimension of the triple bottom line.

Greener, Stronger, Better

While an EMS provides structured means to address environmental and sustainability matters, organizational strengthening may be one of the most important outcomes of implementing such a system. Used to identify and address the immediate and long-term environmental impacts of products, services, and activities, an EMS helps organizations meet regulatory requirements while also enhancing sustainability performance. In turn, this provides opportunities to reduce operating and waste management costs and liability exposure.

Additionally, an EMS provides a structured framework to implement organizational transformation and ensure that environmental and sustainability issues are given priority and systematic attention within the organization. For an EMS to be most effective, it must be embedded in every function and level of an organization. Integrating early adopters in the development process is important in catalyzing the transformation process. Engaging senior management in regular progress reviews and assessment of the system's effectiveness sustains the continual improvement cycle.

Guiding Principles

Management system development, whether an EMS or a Sustainability Performance Improvement Management System (SPIMS), is guided by the following key principles:

  • Build on existing management system components. The best EMS is one in which environmental issues have been completely integrated into the organization's culture and management. An EMS must fit within the structure of the organization and its process components to support attainment of its strategic objectives.
  • Use an appropriate management system framework. Using a recognized management system framework that employs the plan-do-check-act continual improvement cycle facilitates communication and serves to increase awareness. Although the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 EMS standard is the most commonly used EMS framework, others may be appropriate in certain settings.
  • Engage the organization. Actively engaging staff and stakeholders in the implementation and development process is crucial to building an effective EMS. Long-term effectiveness will be determined largely during the development process, and success is related directly to the degree of organizational engagement during the development and implementation phases.

Change Catalyst

For many organizations, developing an EMS is often the catalyst for new ways of thinking about environmental, operational, and sustainability performance. In addition, the EMS development and implementation process provides a natural link to effective strategic planning by facilitating a systematic and pragmatic approach to environmental matters. The process helps to integrate environmental operations with other business operations, enabling the entire organization to work toward a common set of shared goals.

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