Unlocking Sustainability: The Power of Environmental Management Systems

May 22, 2022 in environment, Sustainability

Article summary and Key takeaways: Environmental Management Systems (EMS) provide a structured framework for organizations to manage their environmental impacts and improve sustainability. The components of an EMS include identifying and assessing environmental aspects, setting objectives and targets, implementing operational controls, monitoring and measuring performance, and continual improvement. ISO 14001 is the most recognized EMS standard, but there are other options like EMAS, BS 8555, and Green Globe. Real-life examples show the benefits of EMS, including reduced pollution, cost savings, and enhanced reputation. Implementing an EMS requires commitment, leadership, and a systematic approach. Documentation, auditing, and certification processes are important for maintaining compliance and credibility. EMS certification offers benefits such as improved reputation, access to new markets, and better risk management. Overall, EMS plays a crucial role in driving positive environmental change and sustainable business practices.

Environmental Management Systems: A Guide to Sustainable Business Practices

Environmental Management Systems (EMS) play a crucial role in addressing the pressing environmental issues we face today. By providing a structured framework for organizations to manage their environmental impacts and improve their sustainability performance, EMS enables businesses to effectively contribute to a greener and more sustainable future. In this article, we will explore the components of an EMS, different types of EMS, real-life examples of successful implementation, the benefits of EMS, the implementation process, documentation requirements, auditing, and certification processes.

Components of an Environmental Management System

An EMS consists of several key components that work together to ensure effective environmental management:

Identification and assessment of environmental aspects

The first step in implementing an EMS is identifying and assessing the environmental aspects of the organization’s activities, products, and services. This involves identifying potential environmental impacts, such as air emissions, water usage, and waste generation, and evaluating their significance.

Setting environmental objectives and targets

Once the environmental aspects have been identified, organizations can set specific environmental objectives and targets to address these aspects. These objectives and targets should be measurable, attainable, and aligned with the organization’s overall environmental goals.

Implementation of operational controls

Operational controls involve implementing measures and procedures to mitigate environmental risks and minimize negative impacts. This may include implementing energy-efficient technologies, reducing waste generation, and promoting sustainable procurement practices.

Monitoring and measurement of environmental performance

Monitoring and measuring environmental performance is crucial for assessing the effectiveness of an EMS. Organizations need to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and regularly collect data to track their progress towards achieving environmental objectives and targets.

Management review and continual improvement

Regular management reviews of the EMS are essential to evaluate its effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Continual improvement involves analyzing data, identifying areas of non-compliance, and implementing corrective actions to address any shortcomings.

Types of Environmental Management Systems

ISO 14001: Overview and benefits

ISO 14001 is the most widely recognized EMS standard globally. It provides a comprehensive framework for organizations to establish, implement, maintain, and continually improve their environmental management systems. ISO 14001 certification demonstrates an organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability and compliance with applicable environmental regulations.

Implementing ISO 14001 offers numerous benefits, including improved environmental performance, enhanced stakeholder trust, better risk management, and access to new markets and business opportunities.

Other recognized EMS standards and frameworks

In addition to ISO 14001, there are several other recognized EMS standards and frameworks that organizations can adopt. These include:

  • EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme): Developed by the European Union, EMAS goes beyond ISO 14001 by requiring organizations to undergo independent verification and disclose detailed environmental performance information.
  • BS 8555: A step-by-step approach to implementing an EMS, designed for organizations of all sizes and sectors.
  • Green Globe: A sustainability certification program specifically designed for the travel and tourism industry.

Environmental Management System Examples

Real-life examples of companies successfully implementing EMS provide valuable insights and inspiration for organizations considering adopting an EMS. Let’s explore a few case studies:

Company A: Manufacturing Industry

Company A, a global manufacturing company, implemented an EMS based on ISO 14001. By identifying and assessing their environmental aspects, they discovered that energy consumption was a significant impact. To address this, they set a target to reduce energy usage by 20% within three years. Through the implementation of energy-saving measures, such as upgrading equipment and improving insulation, they not only achieved their target but also experienced significant cost savings.

Company B: Retail Industry

Company B, a leading retail chain, adopted EMAS as their EMS framework. By regularly monitoring and measuring their environmental performance, they identified a significant amount of plastic waste generated from packaging materials. They set an objective to reduce plastic waste by 50% within two years and introduced measures such as switching to biodegradable packaging materials and promoting recycling initiatives. Their efforts not only reduced plastic waste, but also enhanced their reputation as an environmentally responsible retailer, leading to increased customer loyalty.

Benefits of Environmental Management Systems

Implementing an EMS offers numerous benefits, including:

Environmental benefits: reduction of pollution, conservation of resources

An EMS helps organizations minimize their environmental impact by reducing pollution, conserving resources, and preventing environmental incidents. By implementing operational controls and setting environmental objectives, organizations can effectively manage their environmental aspects and contribute to a healthier environment.

Economic benefits: cost savings, improved efficiency

By identifying opportunities for resource efficiency and waste reduction, organizations can achieve significant cost savings. For example, implementing energy-saving measures can reduce energy consumption and lower electricity bills. Moreover, improved operational efficiency and risk management can lead to enhanced productivity and profitability.

Social benefits: enhanced reputation, stakeholder engagement

An EMS demonstrates an organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability and responsible business practices, enhancing its reputation among customers, employees, and other stakeholders. By actively engaging stakeholders in the EMS implementation process, organizations can foster a sense of ownership and build strong relationships based on shared environmental goals.

Environmental Management System Implementation Process

Implementing an EMS requires a systematic and structured approach. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Establishing commitment and leadership

Top management commitment is crucial for the successful implementation of an EMS. Leaders should clearly communicate their commitment to environmental sustainability and allocate necessary resources and responsibilities.

Step 2: Conducting an initial environmental review

An initial environmental review involves assessing the organization’s current environmental performance, identifying potential environmental aspects, and evaluating legal and regulatory requirements.

Step 3: Establishing objectives and targets

Based on the initial environmental review, organizations can establish specific environmental objectives and targets that align with their overall environmental goals and legal requirements.

Step 4: Developing an implementation plan

An implementation plan outlines the actions, responsibilities, and timelines required to achieve the established objectives and targets. This includes identifying and implementing operational controls and allocating necessary resources.

Step 5: Monitoring and measurement

Organizations need to establish KPIs and monitoring systems to track their environmental performance. Regular data collection and analysis enable organizations to measure progress, identify areas for improvement, and take corrective actions.

Step 6: Management review and continuous improvement

Regular management reviews play a critical role in evaluating the effectiveness of the EMS and identifying opportunities for improvement. Continual improvement involves analyzing data, conducting internal audits, and implementing corrective actions to ensure ongoing compliance and enhancement of the EMS.

Challenges and best practices

Implementing an EMS may present challenges, such as resistance to change, lack of resources, and the need for cultural shifts. However, organizations can overcome these challenges by fostering a culture of environmental sustainability, engaging employees at all levels, and integrating environmental considerations into their overall business strategy.

Environmental Management System Documentation

Documentation is an essential component of an EMS as it provides a record of environmental management activities, procedures, and policies. To achieve certification, organizations must maintain documented information that demonstrates conformity to the requirements of the EMS standard they adopt, such as ISO 14001.

The documentation requirements typically include:

  • Environmental policy: A written statement of the organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
  • Procedures: Detailed procedures for the identification and assessment of environmental aspects, setting objectives and targets, implementing operational controls, monitoring and measurement, and management review.
  • Records: Records of environmental performance data, audit findings, corrective actions, and management reviews.

Effective documentation ensures the consistent implementation and maintenance of the EMS, facilitates compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and supports continual improvement efforts.

Environmental Management System Auditing

Internal and external audits for EMS compliance

Internal audits are an integral part of EMS implementation, providing organizations with an independent assessment of their compliance with the EMS requirements. The internal audit process involves conducting periodic audits, reviewing documented information, identifying non-conformities, and recommending corrective actions.

External audits, conducted by accredited certification bodies, are necessary for organizations seeking formal certification of their EMS. External auditors assess the organization’s compliance with the EMS standard, review documentation, interview employees, and identify areas for improvement.

Role of auditors and certification bodies

Auditors play a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of an EMS. They assess the organization’s compliance with the EMS standard, identify areas for improvement, and provide recommendations for enhancing environmental performance. Certification bodies, accredited by relevant authorities, issue formal certifications based on the results of the audits, providing organizations with credibility and recognition.

Environmental Management System Certification

Process of obtaining ISO 14001 certification

Obtaining ISO 14001 certification involves the following steps:

  1. Preparation: Organizations should ensure they have implemented all the necessary components of an EMS and have established effective documentation and compliance systems.
  2. Selection of a certification body: Organizations need to choose an accredited certification body to conduct the external audit and issue the certification.
  3. Stage 1 audit: The certification body conducts an initial audit to assess the organization’s readiness for the certification process. They review the documentation and evaluate the effectiveness of the EMS implementation.
  4. Stage 2 audit: The certification body conducts a comprehensive audit to evaluate the organization’s compliance with the EMS standard. This includes reviewing documentation, interviewing employees, and inspecting facilities.
  5. Certification decision: Based on the results of the stage 2 audit, the certification body makes a certification decision. If the organization meets the requirements, the certification body issues the ISO 14001 certification.
  6. Ongoing surveillance audits: Once certified, organizations are subject to periodic surveillance audits conducted by the certification body to ensure ongoing compliance and continual improvement.

Benefits and credibility of EMS certification

EMS certification, such as ISO 14001, provides organizations with numerous benefits and credibility:

  • Enhanced reputation: EMS certification demonstrates an organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability, enhancing its reputation among customers, employees, and stakeholders.
  • Access to new markets: Many organizations require suppliers to have EMS certification as a prerequisite for partnership or procurement, opening up new market opportunities.
  • Improved risk management: EMS certification helps organizations identify and mitigate environmental risks, reducing the likelihood of incidents and associated financial and reputational consequences.
  • Compliance with legal requirements: EMS certification ensures organizations are compliant with relevant environmental regulations, reducing the risk of penalties and legal issues.


Environmental Management Systems play a vital role in helping organizations address environmental issues and achieve sustainable business practices. By implementing an EMS, organizations can identify and mitigate their environmental impacts, set and achieve environmental objectives, and continuously improve their environmental performance. The benefits of EMS extend beyond environmental impact reduction, encompassing economic advantages, social benefits, and enhanced stakeholder engagement. Through the implementation process, organizations can overcome challenges and learn from best practices to successfully adopt an EMS. Certification provides organizations with credibility and recognition, further strengthening their commitment to environmental sustainability. As we strive towards a greener and more sustainable future, EMS will continue to play a crucial role in driving positive environmental change.

Question 1:
Answer: The four components of an environmental management system are policy, planning, implementation, and review.

Question 2:
Answer: The types of environmental management systems include ISO 14001, EMAS, and industry-specific systems.

Question 3:
Answer: ISO 14001 is an environmental management system standard that provides a framework for organizations to manage their environmental responsibilities effectively.

Question 4:
Answer: The six basic objectives of an environmental management system are compliance with environmental regulations, pollution prevention, resource conservation, continual improvement, stakeholder engagement, and risk management.


About the author 

Jordan Miller

Hi there, I'm Jordan! I graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Environmental Policy, but my real education has been in the field, turning theory into practice. My days are filled with implementing sustainable solutions and teaching communities how to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle. I believe small changes can make a big impact, and I'm here to guide you through every step of going green.