Environmental Management System: Definition, Examples & Benefits

An Environmental Management System (EMS) enables your organization to reduce its environmental impact while operating efficiently.

In this article, we’ll answer questions like:

  • what is an Environmental Management System
  • how does it fit into your GRC plan
  • what are its benefits, and
  • what does an example of a standard EMS framework look like?


What is environmental management?

Environmental management can be defined as the management of how humans and companies impact the environment. Environmental management in a business context means taking care of the way an organization impacts the environment. 


What is an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a framework that allows your company to reduce its environmental impact while maintaining operational efficiency. An EMS can be a powerful tool for managing the environmental aspects and negative impact of an organization.

Think of an EMS as a framework that helps your company achieve its environmental goals and address government regulations. Practices like consistent review, evaluation, and improvement of environmental performance are some of the key factors.

How an Environmental Management System works

An Environmental Management System is usually implemented by top-level management. It helps define a company’s environmental policy, practices and objectives. Results are measured and evaluated regularly to ensure the company is achieving its environmental objectives and enhancing performance. 

With regular evaluation of a company’s processes, you can identify opportunities to improve environmental performance. Ultimately, this brings your organization in line with a more sustainable future.

With regular evaluation and review of a company’s processes, you can identify opportunities to improve and implement environmental performance, bringing your organization in line with a more sustainable future.

Each company’s EMS is tailored to their objectives and goals. For example, a publishing company might implement an EMS framework to:

  • manage and reduce its paper use by switching to email-only internal communication
  • review and evaluate waste management processes
  • create a policy for responsible disposal of used toner cartridges


What does an Environmental Management System do?

An EMS helps your organization achieve environmental goals and systematically address regulatory requirements in a cost-effective manner. It provides a proactive approach to working towards environmental targets, reducing risk, and improving health and safety practices. Better yet, an Environmental Management System can help your company work towards non-regulated issues that are more important globally, like energy conservation.

Basic elements of an EMS

There are three primary processes within an Environmental Management System:

  1. Core processes – identifying significant environmental aspects and impacts of your company
  2. Supporting processes – like awareness of legal requirements, infrastructure, communicating EMS information for employee competency, and monitoring and evaluating environmental performance
  3. Management system supporting processes – including document control, record keeping and internal auditing.

The key elements of an Environmental Management System include:

  • Analyzing the environmental impact of your company
  • Reviewing your company’s environmental goals
  • Assessing compliance and/or legal obligations
  • Setting environmental objectives and targets
  • Establishing practices and protocols to achieve those targets
  • Ensuring employees are aware of environmental goals and compliance
  • Reviewing, evaluating and improving the EMS.


What are the benefits of Environmental Management Systems?

With a strong EMS framework for managing and evaluating environmental practices, your company can see significant improvements in: 

  • environmental performance, 
  • enhanced corporate compliance, and 
  • a more globally conscious public image. 

An Environmental Management System ensures a holistic approach to addressing your company’s impact on the environment. It can establish a positive relationship with regulators and a strong, future-focused corporate reputation and image.

With environmental concerns more pressing than ever, it’s crucial for companies to remain compliant, while also demonstrating awareness of their sustainability responsibilities.

On top of the environmental benefits like reduced pollution and resource conservation, implementing an EMS has the following tangible business benefits: 

  • An increase in efficiency
  • Reduction ine costs, e.g. resources
  • Improvement in employee morale 
  • Makes your organization more attractive to investors.


Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG)

Your EMS framework is just one aspect of your wider Environment, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) practices and policies. The ESG criteria provides a set of standards for your company’s operations, particularly for socially conscious investors. An ESG approach will cover:

  • Environmental criteria, related to how your company is performing from an environmental perspective;
  • Social criteria, which examines how the organization manages relationships with employees, stakeholders, and the wider community; and
  • Governance criteria, which deals with leadership, executive and shareholder matters.


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What is an example of an Environmental Management System?

The most commonly used framework for an EMS is known as IS0 14001, which specifies certain requirements for Environmental Management Systems. Developed and established in 1996 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the framework includes five main stages. Together, these create a cycle of continuous improvement.

5 stages of an EMS framework

1. Commitment and policy

The first step in the framework is for the top management of the organization, like the board of directors and shareholders. They must make a commitment to environmental improvement by creating an environmental policy. This policy becomes the foundation of the company’s EMS.

2. Planning

Identifying the environmental aspects of your company’s operations and activities is crucial to creating a strong EMS. It is the first step in determining what activities are necessary to enhance environmental performance. These most significant criteria become the foundation for setting objectives and targets in the planning stages.

The final part of the planning phase is devising an action plan of steps needed to reach the targets. It also designates responsibilities for meeting those targets.

3. Implementation

Following through with the action plan requires implementing the necessary resources, such as human, legal and financial. This could include employee training and awareness, creating documentation, policies, communication procedures and operating procedures.

4. Evaluation

The fourth step in the framework involves monitoring operations and evaluating whether the objectives and targets are being reached.  If they are not being reached, the company takes action and the cycle continues.

5. Review

Using the results of the evaluation, top management will review and determine whether the company’s environmental policy is consistent with its values and primary goals. If it's not consistent, the plan is revised, creating a loop of continuous improvement.

Run environmental management with a comprehensive ESG solution

​​With TriLine GRC’s ESG solution, you can be proactive in identifying potential issues and staying within environmental, social and governance compliance standards. Maintain your ESG framework in an always-on, forward-facing dashboard so you are always ready to eliminate risk.
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