A quick guide to environmental management systems

Environmental consultancy Green Element explains the advantages of implementing an environmental management system (EMS).

What is an environmental management system?

In short, an EMS is a robust framework that assesses the short, medium and long-term environmental impacts of a business, providing the facility to integrate policy and procedures to measure and evaluate performance in a cost-effective and methodical manner.

It encourages you to consider all issues that are relevant to your operations. These might include resource use, energy and water consumption, waste generation, carbon emissions and biodiversity. 

What can an EMS do for my business?

  • Analyse environmental impacts and set objectives and targets to reduce them 
  • Establish programmes to meet these objectives and targets 
  • Monitor and measure progress
  • Review progress of the EMS and make improvements 
  • Ensure employees’ environmental awareness and engagement 
  • Help businesses adhere to legal requirements

How does an EMS work?

An EMS is based on a four-stage problem-solving model that helps businesses continually improve processes, products and services according to a consistent loop of feedback.

The four stages of the PDCA (plan, do, act and check) methodology are usually carried out over a period of six to eight months, followed by repeated annual updates.

  1. Plan: For this initial stage, you will review the context of the organisation including creating a ranked, data-driven list of your organisation’s environmental impacts.
  2. Do: Next, you will set targets and objectives based on current data to transition to a more sustainable business. This might be a percentage change in deadlines and action, ideally linked to your key performance indicators (KPIs).
  3. Check: Confirm results through before-and-after data comparison. This might be the best time to carry out internal audits to make sure you have all the paperwork and resources required.
  4. Act: In this final stage, conduct a management review to pinpoint how effective this cycle has been and flag any necessary changes. What worked well? What could be improved? This is a good time to communicate with staff and address any issues before the next cycle. Even a simple checklist is a cost-effective way to highlight whether objectives have been met.

During this initial six- to eight-month cycle, there will be a comprehensive list of action points assigned to this timeline, as illustrated in Green Element’s Environmental Management System Handbook (see below to download). As an example, these might include data gathering in month one; staff training in month two; and an EMS effectiveness check.

ISO certification: highlighting your green credentials

These are a recognised measure of your success and keep your customers and staff up to date on your sustainability journey. Gaining particular certifications shows your commitment and gives your business credibility. 

Should accreditation be your aim, Green Element drives the values of certifying against standards provided by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An independent, non-governmental global organisation with over 160 member countries. Together they work to share knowledge and relevant international standards. This ensures best practice along with a widely used system of measurement.

ISO 14001:2015

The above standard specifies requirements for an effective EMS, setting out a framework for your business to follow. Divided into 10 sections, it applies to any business, regardless of size, type and nature. ISO 14001:2015 is tailored to environmental performance; fulfilment of compliance obligations; and achievement of environmental objectives.

Download the Handbook

Download Green Element’s Environmental Management System Handbook (PDF, 6.6MB)

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