When should your business get an EMS?

Environmental Management System EMS consultingEnvironmental Management Systems (EMSs) are widely used by businesses in all sectors to embed a structured and systematic approach to environmental management.  This helps reduce their pain in managing, for example, the raft of applicable environmental regulation and dealing with increasing environmental issues and expectations from stakeholders and the community.   

The International Standard for EMSs is ISO 14001, which has been available for 22 years, and the fact that over 300,000 certificates are issued globally each year demonstrates its ongoing value.  Many businesses also choose to maintain EMSs but not certify them.  ISO 14001 provides a framework for environmental management, which is pretty much a common-sense approach to business management in general and is similar to the frameworks for quality and safety management under the International Standards Organisation.  

EMSs help different businesses in different ways.  Consider if your business would benefit from:

Reduced risk of prosecution and insurance claims from environmental issues (to help the Executive and Board sleep at night) including the potential financial and reputation cost of being subject to regulatory action;

Meeting tender or market requirements (businesses are often required to have an EMS);

Product differentiation, niche marketing or competitive advantage based on environmental credentials;

Using resources more efficiently and producing less waste

Increased environmental credibility with regulators and stakeholders (proof of doing what you say you are doing); and 

Structured environmental management that aligns with business goals, rather than reaction-based management (less fire-fighting and costly fixes).

You may or may not choose to have the system certified against a standard, such as ISO 14001; certification demonstrates credibility of the system to stakeholders (internal and external), but comes with costs, particularly through external auditing.  You might also choose to integrate environment safety and quality management, and ISO standards for the three systems have now been aligned to facilitate this.

EMSs adopt the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach, basically:

Plan – involves mapping environmental management to the context of the business’s operations.  What are the environmental risks? Compliance obligations? Business objectives and targets? 

Do –  involves translating environmental requirements of the business into activities, so that risks are controlled and obligations are met; staff are trained appropriately; and appropriate resources are made available.

Check – here, performance is evaluated through monitoring, checking system operation and identifying improvements and corrections.

Act – improvements and correction needs are actioned to ensure continually improving performance, according to the size of the business appetite for improvement.22

Businesses often think that an EMS will create burdensome expectations and resource needs.  However, EMSs are expected to be appropriate to the nature and scale of the business and involve prioritisation of activities within the context of available resources.  So, EMSs help structure efficient use of a resources within the business’s context.

Businesses are often daunted at the thought of developing an EMS, but it doesn’t need to be that way.  Using a road map, EMS development can be evolutionary, sequentially getting the ducks in a row as resources and priorities permit, based on a clear underpinning understanding of why the business is signing up to an EMS.  To develop an EMS, a typical approach is: 

Gap analysis – what are the gaps between the current situation and the EMS needs? 

Prioritise and sequence the necessary changes and introduce them in a staged fashion, as far as practical, making them part of business as usual rather than ‘add-ons’. 

Operate the EMS, check it meets the EMS needs and attend to any issues

Seek a body to undertake certification, if required.

EMS can be a reasonably simple and pragmatic process to improve environmental management, which aligns and integrates with a common-sense approach to business management. 

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