SD Features
Sustainability Concepts
Environmental Management Systems
A. Definition

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a voluntary management tool that provides a framework for an organisation to pro-actively manage its potential and actual environmental risks and opportunities. EMSs identify, document, monitor, evaluate and communicate an organisation's environmental performance. Developed inline with the organisation's environmental policy and extending throughout the organisation, an EMS is part of the organisation's overall management system. An EMS provides order, processes and procedures, assigns responsibilities, allocates resources and provides continual evaluation of planning activities, organisational structure and practices.

B. Main Features

An EMS can be created for an entire organisation, for individual sites or for aspects of the organisation. It follows the cyclic "Plan-Do-Check-Act" principle, resulting in continuous improvement and the consideration of environmental issues in the daily operations of the organisation.

Whilst content and coverage of an EMS varies depending on scope and organisation type, each EMS does have common elements. The Urban Environmental Management EMS Training Resource Kit notes that each EMS should:

  • Involve all stakeholders in its preparation, implementation and review.
  • Have an environmental policy approved and supported by senior management.
  • Identify and meet or exceed all legislative requirements.
  • Set quantifiable and measurable environmental objectives and targets.
  • Establish an environmental management program to achieve objectives and targets.
  • Assign roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, not only for staff, but also contractors, suppliers and other stakeholders.
  • Provide appropriate and adequate financial and human resources.
  • Train all employees and affected stakeholders.
  • Include a communication plan outlining internal and external communication procedures about the EMS, its progress and feedback.
  • Include risk management and emergency preparedness and response procedures.
  • Document and evaluate monitoring and measurement results.
  • Be reviewed, audited and updated regularly.
Both the International Standards Organisation (ISO 14000) and the European Union (EU) Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) have developed standards for the production of an EMS. Certification to either scheme is voluntary and is dependent upon assessment of an accredited third party body.

The benefits of an EMS include: reduced environmental impacts and risks; reduced operating costs; market advantages; enhanced reputation; increased efficiency of operations; improved relationships with regulators (improved compliance) and other stakeholders; cheaper insurance; the creation of an environmental early warning system; and the tracking of trends and the ability to make predications.

Obstacles to implementing and EMS include lack of time, human or financial resources; lack of senior management support; and lack of understanding of the EMS process.

EMSs and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) systems can be integrated to form a more comprehensive system. Integration offers further cost advantages and removes duplication.

C. Case Studies and Examples

1. IBM
In 1997, IBM obtained a single, worldwide ISO 14001 certification for 26 of its Manufacturing and Development (M&D) locations in 12 countries. Using gap analysis, IBM built upon its existing environmental policy, programs and management system to create an EMS in line with ISO requirements. The outcome was a worldwide EMS manual, which was flexible and included the environmental policy, instructions, practices and roles and responsibilities. Sets of common solutions were also developed. The two main stakeholders in the EMS were the Corporate Group who set worldwide requirements, objectives and targets and the M&D Group who created programs and operating and monitoring procedures to achieve the targets. IBM found that the expense of implementing and registering an EMS was affordable and resulted in benefits that exceeded expectations.

2. Jesolo City
Jesolo City Council (Italy) obtained both ISO 9002 and ISO 14001 certification. The city used a 6 step process to implement the EMS. After a 6 month preliminary analysis, activities were valued and management practices assessed. The city identified and applied new procedures.

D. Target Sectors / Stakeholders

The key stakeholders of an EMS are employees and persons/organisations directly affected by the EMS such as suppliers, temporary staff, contractors and distributors. Other stakeholders include government; environmental groups; the local community; regulators; non-government organisations; and industry groups.

E. Scale of Operation

EMSs can be applied to any government or non-government organisation, site or activity.

F. Links

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