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Environmental Management Systems (EMS): An Overview

Environmental Management Systems (EMS): An Overview

Sep 9th 2022

Environmental Management Systems (EMS): An Overview

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a set of processes and practices that enable an organisation to reduce its environmental impact and improve efficiency. Implementing an EMS improves its sustainability and reduces costs.

What is an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

When it comes to environmental performance, organisations must continuously strive for improvement. One way to do this is to implement an EMS or Environmental Management System. Environment management is the process of monitoring and regulating how humans impact the environment and includes reducing negative impacts such as pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. An effective Environmental Management System (EMS) is how businesses mitigate environmental risks. It provides a comprehensive framework for businesses to manage their environmental impacts, defines all employees' roles and responsibilities, and establishes testing and environmental inspection procedures.


In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the need for businesses to operate in an environmentally responsible way. Environmental management systems can help companies identify and manage their environmental impacts and track progress toward sustainability goals. However, an effective EMS must understand all aspects of its environmental performance.

EMS helps your business achieve environmental objectives while ensuring a cost-efficient regulatory compliance strategy. The system provides an active way to work toward environmental objectives—reducing risk and improving health and safety. In addition, the environmental management system may help your business tackle or work towards non-regulated issues that have a global impact, such as energy conservation.

EMS also helps businesses comply with environmental regulations, better manage energy and other resources, reduce environmental tax burdens, and improve business performance. Furthermore, EMS provides a framework for setting and achieving environmental objectives and targets and for continuous improvement of environmental performance.

Benefits to Business

Businesses of all types and sizes in various industries can benefit from implementing an EMS. The key benefits of an EMS to businesses are:

  1. Improved environmental performance - it will help reduce their environmental impacts by identifying opportunities to improve efficiency, prevent pollution, and reduce waste.
  2. Reduced regulatory compliance costs - it can help organisations to comply with environmental regulations, ensuring that they avoid any financial penalties.
  3. Improved resource management - it is helping businesses to reduce their energy consumption and waste production.
  4. Enhanced public image - it can help build stakeholders' confidence by demonstrating an organisation's commitment to environmental responsibility.
  5. Lower operational cost - it can help businesses save money by reducing their resource consumption and improving their efficiency.
  6. Supply chain advantage - those implementing an EMS can put themselves in a front-runner position to win new government contracts and customers.
  7. Reduced exposures to environmental taxes - it can provide a significant competitive advantage for businesses operating in sectors with high environmental taxes.

Environmental Management System (EMS) Models

The three established EMS models are:

ISO 14001

The most popular EMS standard is ISO 14001. The ISO 14001 standard is just one of the environmental management standards series published by the International Organization for Standardization. ISO 14001:2015 is the latest version of the standard, reflecting the latest criteria for managing environmental responsibilities in a manner that contributes to the environmental pillar of sustainability. ISO 14001:2015 is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, specifying the requirements for each cycle stage. The standard also includes provisions for environmental policy, planning, implementation and operation, checking and corrective action, and management review. ISO 14001 was adopted in many organisations as part of their commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Eco-management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)

The European Commission's Eco-management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a voluntary environmental management tool for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. EMAS is built on the same principles as ISO 14001 regarding scope, stringency, and transparency requirements. Organisations registered under EMAS benefit from the improved environmental performance, greater competitiveness and recognition, and improved communication with stakeholders.

ISO 14005:2019

ISO 14005:2019 sets guidelines for environmental management systems in a flexible phased approach. Therefore, organisations can tailor the EMS to their needs. The standard consists of six phases, each of which consists of six consecutive stages. The outcomes for the system's maturity can be characterised using the five-level maturity matrix provided in Annex A of ISO 14005.

Five-level Maturity Matrix

Image source: 14000store

PDCA Model

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a four-step model for carrying out change. It provides a structured approach for identifying and implementing improvements in people and processes. The PDCA model helps organisations improve their environmental performance on an ongoing basis by identifying, controlling, and monitoring environmental issues. PDCA is repeated over and over as the circle suggests continuous improvement of the EMS.

PDCA Model | SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture

Planning: the problem or opportunity to be addressed is identified, and the goals and objectives are established.

Doing: implementing the changes and plans developed in the planning stage.

Checking: monitoring progress towards objectives and targets and reviewing the effectiveness of changes and plans.

Acting: the cycle is completed by acting on the check results to improve further.

Key Elements of EMS

The following elements are incorporated in an environmental management system:

1. EMS Scope

An EMS Scope is a written commitment to the organisation's goal from its founders and management that stems from the desire to establish an EMS.

2. Environmental Policy

An environmental policy is a statement from a company that outlines its commitment to being environmentally responsible. The policy can include various aspects, such as a company's goals for reducing its carbon footprint or its plans for recycling waste materials.

3. Planning

Planning is the process of identifying and setting environmental objectives and targets. Planning includes:

  • Environmental Aspects and Impacts – an organisation's environmental aspects are those elements of its activities, products or services that can interact with the environment.
  • Legal and Other Requirements – these requirements can be found in various sources, including online databases, government websites, and legal obligations imposed by international organisations.
  • Environmental Objectives and Targets – are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that an organisation sets to achieve its environmental policy.
  • Environmental Management Programs (EMPs) – are the specific actions an organisation takes to achieve its objectives and targets.

4. Implementation and Operation

  • Roles, Authorities and Responsibilities – the roles, responsibilities and authorities for implementing and maintaining the EMS should be assigned to specific individuals or groups.
  • Training, Awareness, and Competence – ensuring that workers are qualified to carry out their task.
  • Communication – pertains to the flow of environmental concerns both internally and externally.
  • EMS Documentation – includes all the records that are needed to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the standard.
  • Document Control – establishes a system for the identification, storage, retrieval, and maintenance of EMS documentation.
  • Operational Control – put in place to manage environmental aspects of activities, products, or services that the organisation has identified as significant.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response – planning and implementation of procedures to be followed in an emergency.

5. Checking and Corrective Action

  • Monitoring and Measurement – helps to determine whether the organisation is achieving its objectives and targets and to identify any trends that may indicate the need for corrective action.
  • Nonconformance and Corrective and Preventive Action – taken when an organisation fails to meet its objectives and targets or when trends indicate the potential for future non-compliance.
  • Record Control – pertains to the identification, storage, retrieval, and maintenance of monitoring and measurement data and records.
  • Records – relates to the managing records of EMS performance.
  • EMS Internal Audits – are conducted to determine whether the EMS conforms to the requirements of the standard and whether it is effectively implemented and maintained.

6. Management Review

Top management must periodically review the EMS to ensure it is suitable, adequate, and effective. This review allows them to assess the EMS and its results. On that basis, they are then expected to make decisions relative to the EMS so that it continues to perform and deliver as expected. Therefore, management review is essential to the success of the EMS, and top management must be prepared to commit the necessary resources to ensure its success.

Implementing an EMS

An EMS is typically implemented through a cycle of continuous improvement. While the EMS framework is built on the PDCA cycle methodology as per ISO 14001, the main stages of implementing EMS are as follows:

Continuous Improvement Cycle | SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture

  1. Commitment and Policy – top management establishes the EMS policy, which provides the overall direction and commitment of the organisation to environmental protection.
  2. Planning – the organisation sets environmental objectives and targets and develops an action plan to achieve them.
  3. Implementation and Operation – the organisation puts the action plan into effect and begins operating the EMS.
  4. Evaluation – evaluating the performance of the EMS if targets are being met.
  5. Review – top management periodically reviews the EMS to ensure it is still fit for purpose.

Start Implementing EMS with SafetyDocs

Many organisations have adopted EMS and are reaping benefits. However, the thought of implementing it still puts others off. SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture is making it manageable.

As Australia's most trusted source for safety and quality documentation, we understand that a well-managed environment is essential to the health and safety of your employees, customers, and the general public. However, we also know that meeting environmental regulations can be challenging. That's why we offer a range of environmental management systems (EMS) that are:

  • Available for instant download after the purchase
  • Fully editable in MS Word format
  • Designed to help you comply with AS/NZS ISO 14001:2016
  • Equipped with Legislation and Codes of Practice Reference List

With our easy-to-use documents, you can get your EMS up and running quickly. Look at these environmental management systems that you can use for reference in most situations:

Get started today and see the difference a world-class EMS can make for your business. Contact us now for more information on how we can help you get started.

Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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