What Is an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

What Are Environmental Management Systems?

By Cory Sander

Let’s have a little EMS refresher. No, we’re not talking about Emergency Medical Services or the Electromagnetic Spectrum. In this case, we’re outlining the definition of an Environmental Management System (EMS).

For starters, an EMS is like any other management system. It’s a method for carefully and deliberately controlling performance, from processes and procedures, of environmental programs. As an EHS manager, it’s something you integrate into your organization to ensure the fulfillment of tasks and achievement of goals. An EMS also serves as a springboard for continual improvement.

You’re probably familiar with some common Environmental Management System examples, such as ISO 14001 or Responsible Care from the chemical industry. These are comprehensive, systematic, planned and documented ways of managing something. Rather than leaving it up to one person or a few people, it’s management by the organization.

An EMS gives you a framework to manage according to a certain set of rules. In carrying out these systems, some EHS managers use models like PDCA (plan-do-check-act). It’s a four-stage process you carry out within your management system to drive continuous improvement. You can apply this model to any single goal or objective within your system.

Benefits of an EMS

At this point, you might be thinking an EMS sounds like an awful lot of work. But all that sweat and effort isn’t for nothing. For starters, many Environmental Management Systems are driven by external forces, such as customers, community, environmental activists, and the insurance and banking industries. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rewards for your company, too.

An EMS can help you reduce your organization’s impact on the environment and improve environmental compliance. It’s also a great way to enhance your organization’s public image when you talk about those positive environmental contributions.

You can also positively impact your organization’s bottom line. Many Environmental Management Systems lead to cost savings through increased efficiency (more efficient use of natural resources), reduced wastes, reduced liability (reduced insurance costs), and avoidance of fines and penalties. What company (and boss!) doesn’t like those kinds of results?

Finally, an EMS may increase employee satisfaction, because a system generally improves communication throughout the company and makes it clear who’s responsible for what. This increased clarity leads to happier employees, and in some cases, reduced turnover—another potential cost savings.

Key Elements of an EMS

An EMS needs an organized, formal and documented approach. Most Environmental Management Systems require you to create an EHS management plan. This is a written document where you’ll outline your environmental policy and overall intentions as an organization.

It’s also a place to outline a specific plan, from objectives and targets to specific programs, for achieving your goals. You’ll address everything from aspects and impacts to legal and other requirements. This is documentation you’ll submit for management review, share with your whole company, and use as a road map to check your progress.

If you’re implementing an EMS, you might also be looking for environmental management system software to make the whole process easier. We’d love to schedule a free demo of SolutionsTRAK.