EHS Management

Should You Spend the Time and Money to Develop an Environmental Management System?

An “EMS” is a framework that helps you achieve your organization’s environmental goals through consistent control of operations. The assumption is that this increased control will improve your organization’s environmental performance. The EMS itself does not dictate a level of environmental performance that must be achieved; each company’s EMS is tailored to the company’s business and goals.

An EMS can help you comply with regulations more consistently and effectively. It can also help you identify and capitalize on environmental opportunities that go beyond compliance. This proactive approach can help reduce the risk of non-compliance. An EMS can also help address nonregulated issues, such as energy conservation, and can promote stronger operational control and employee stewardship.

Compliance Status

Do we need to be in 100 percent compliance in order to have an EMS? That’s another question environmental professionals who are considering going down the EMS road have asked. The answer is No.

The concept of continual improvement assumes that no organization is perfect. While an EMS should help your organization improve compliance and other measures of performance, this does not mean that problems will never occur. However, an effective EMS can help you find and fix these problems and prevent their recurrence.


Join us for the Environmental Management Systems Under the New ISO 14001 Standard webinar on April 23 to assess the ISO 14001 process as it relates to your organization. Learn more.


Seven Basic Elements

An EMS has seven basic elements:

  • Reviewing the company’s environmental goals
  • Analyzing its environmental impacts and legal requirements
  • Setting environmental objectives and targets to reduce environmental impacts and comply with legal requirements
  • Establishing programs to meet these objectives and targets
  • Monitoring and measuring progress in achieving the objectives
  • Ensuring employees’ environmental awareness and competence
  • Reviewing progress of the EMS and making improvements

An EMS may be based on programs and procedures developed internally by a corporation to address environmental management or on an external standard such as ISO 14001. The implementation of any EMS is voluntary, except in cases where the EMS is part of a permit, legal settlement, or penalty mitigation agreement. Some states have added EMS elements to general permits.


Environmental Management Systems Under the New ISO 14001 Standard: A Systematic, Cost-Effective Approach to Ensuring Compliance

Learn cost-effective strategies for updating existing EMS or preparing an EMS that is certifiable to ISO 14001:2015. Register now!


ISO 14001 and EMSs

The most commonly used framework for an EMS is the one developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the ISO 14001 Standard. Established in 1996, this framework is the official international standard for an EMS. Revisions to the current version (ISO 14001:2004) are due by the end of 2015.

To demonstrate conformance with the ISO 14001 Standard, many companies choose to implement and then certify their EMS using third-party organizations. The auditor performs an independent validation that the EMS conforms to the ISO 14001 Standard and that it is “in place, complete, and sufficient.”

But, what value does ISO 14001 provide a company that is not required to pursue certification?

Generally, the benefits from ISO certification, such as gains in efficiency and cost savings, are going to be similar to any EMS.

So, in order to have an effective EMS, you do not have to be ISO 14001-certified.  However, for some organizations, there are two very basic benefits in certification.

First, ISO is a recognizable standard, including to many outside of the environmental field. Being able to demonstrate certification can go a long way to showing good corporate citizenship, as well as providing your organization with the ability to market as an environmentally friendly company.

Second, certification can open potential new markets for you as many overseas companies (and some here in the states) are requiring it as a prerequisite for doing business. In addition, many federal contracts require ISO certification from vendors.