Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
An Environment Management System (EMS) is a tool for managing the impacts of an organisation's activities on the environment. It provides a structured approach to planning and implementing environment protection measures.
An EMS monitors environmental performance, similar to the way a financial management system monitors expenditure and income and enables regular checks of a company's financial performance. An EMS integrates environmental management into a company's daily operations, long term planning and other quality management systems.
To develop an EMS, an organisation has to assess its environmental impacts, set targets to reduce these impacts, and plan how to achieve the targets.
The most important component of an EMS is organisational commitment. For an effective EMS to be developed and implemented, you need commitment from the very top of the organisation, as well as all staff. Following are more examples of components that should be considered when developing an EMS.
Environmental Policy: this is a statement of what an organisation intends to achieve from an EMS. It ensures all environmental activities are consistent with the organisation's objectives.
Environmental Impact Identification: identification and documentation of the actual and potential environmental impacts of an organisation's operations need to be undertaken. This can be achieved through undertaking an environmental audit.
Objectives and Targets: an environmental audit forms the basis of determining an organisation's environmental objectives and targets. An organisation can find benefits in adopting more stringent longer term objectives to encourage it to improve its performance. To continually improve, targets should be regularly reviewed.
Consultation: staff and community consultation should be undertaken before, during and after establishment of an EMS. This is necessary to ensure that all staff are involved in, and committed to the EMS. It can also help to improve public perception of the company, one of the benefits of implementing an EMS.
Operational and Emergency Procedures: all procedures should be reviewed to ensure they are compatible with the organisation's environmental objectives and targets. Any changes should be included with the documentation.
Environmental Management Plan: this details the methods and procedures which an organisation will use to meet its objectives and targets.
Documentation: all objectives, targets, policies, responsibilities and procedures should be documented along with information on environmental performance. Documentation is useful for verifying environmental performance to staff, regulators and the community.
Responsibilities and Reporting Structure: responsibilities need to be allocated to staff and management to ensure the EMS is implemented effectively.
Training: staff should undergo environmental awareness training to familiarise them with their responsibilities for implementing the EMS and with the overall environmental policy and objectives of the organisation. This provides staff with the necessary skill and motivation for the effective implementation of the EMS.
Review Audits and Monitoring Compliance: review audits should be undertaken regularly to ensure the EMS is achieving its objectives and to refine operational procedures to meet this goal. In order to ensure regulatory and other requirements are being met, it is often necessary to undertake regular environmental monitoring.
Continual Improvement: an important component is continual improvement. An EMS comes into its best use when used to review progress towards the targets and objectives set by a company to protect the environment. The procedures set in place to meet these objectives should be constantly examined to see if they can be improved or if more effective systems can be introduced.
An EMS can assist a company in the following ways:
- minimise environmental liabilities;
- maximize the efficient use of resources;
- reduce waste;
- demonstrate a good corporate image;
- build awareness of environmental concern among employees;
- gain a better understanding of the environmental impacts of business activities; and
- increase profit, improving environmental performance, through more efficient operations.
An EMS can be a powerful tool for organisations to both improve their environmental performance, and enhance their business efficiency. An EMS is not prescriptive, rather, it requires organisations to take an active role in examining their practices, and then determining how their impacts should best be managed. This approach encourages creative and relevant solutions from the organisation itself.
Although the implementation of an EMS is essentially a voluntary initiative, it can also become an effective tool for governments to protect the environment as it can assist regulation. For example, regulatory systems can encourage organisations to use EMS to meet standards, by providing incentives for strong environmental performance.
Likewise, organisations can use EMS to ensure that their performance is within regulatory requirements, and to keep ahead of more stringent regulations which might be introduced in the future.
The ISO 14000 series, currently being developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), is a collection of voluntary standards that assists organisations to achieve environmental and financial gains through the implementation of effective environmental management. The standards provide both a model for streamlining environmental management, and guidelines to ensure environmental issues are considered within decision making practices.
ISO 14001 is the standard for Environment Management Systems. Many large businesses, particularly overseas, have obtained certification under the standard.
The benefits of having ISO 14001 certification are mainly realised by large organisations, as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have a smaller turnover and thus a correspondingly small return on the costs of certification.
Although a fully certified ISO EMS may not be suitable for smaller organisations, it does provide guidelines that assist organisations to consider all the relevant issues, and thus gain the most benefit from their EMS, even without certification. SMEs can therefore use ISO 14001 as a model for designing their own EMS.
However, larger organisations may find certification more valuable when considering the potential trade and market advantages of an internationally recognised and certified EMS. This was a significant factor for companies seeking certification under the ISO 9000 quality assurance standards, and is likely to be a factor in decisions regarding ISO 14001 certification.
The Standards Australia web site provides further information about Standards in Australia. The ISO 14000 series has been adopted in Australia and New Zealand as the AS/NZS ISO 14000 series. Copies can be purchased either from the web site or by phoning the Customer Service Centre (ph 1300 65 46 46).
The department has also developed a model EMS for Australian Government Agencies.
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia's National Framework for Environmental Management Systems in Agriculture
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Biodiversity Resources Guide
EMS Case Studies
- Cranwell Collision Repair
- Geelong Wool Combing
- Schiavello Commercial Interiors
- University of Queensland