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Environmental management systems (EMSs)

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Protecting the environment is becoming an increasingly high priority for business, and the legislation in this area is becoming ever more stringent. In order to survive and prosper, companies must anticipate future legislation by putting in place environmental management systems (EMSs).

An EMS is a management tool which can help a business increase its awareness of, and its control over, environmental impacts. It is designed to be flexible enough to be applicable to any size of company and to any industry sector.

An EMS can be applied to a single site, to a division that operates at many sites, or to a company as a whole. This flexibility can be particularly useful in industries where companies may be involved at many different levels, and where the associated environmental impacts may vary widely.

However, companies that do not implement their EMS at all the relevant levels run the risk of undermining their credibility.

Key requirements of an EMS include:

  • The commitment must include senior management: in some jurisdictions, this has important legal implications;
  • Legal and other requirements must be addressed;
  • Interested parties' concerns must be reflected in the development of objectives and targets; and
  • A commitment must be made to continuous improvement.

There is no fixed approach to establishing an EMS, but the framework set out below is one example.

1) Commitment by senior management

  • Senior management defines, and commits itself to, the implementation of an EMS

2) Background analysis

  • All aspects of the organization's activities which are expected to have an environmental impact are identified
  • Relevant laws and regulations are identified
  • Any other commitments which the organization has already made are identified

3) Planning

  • Objectives and targets are set - and quantified where possible

4) Monitoring

  • A process is established to monitor performance against the objectives, targets and legal requirements, and to channel this information back into the EMS

5) Work plan

  • A work plan is created through which the objectives and targets can be achieved. The plan may involve changes in production processes, new product designs, training, communication of results, evaluation of performance indicators, and documentation.

6) Review

  • Possible changes to the policy and objectives of the EMS are considered on a regular basis
  • The EMS is audited
  • Possible changes to the work plan are considered

7) Recommitment to EMS

  • A recommitment is made to the prevention of pollution and to the continuous improvement of environmental performance.

A company can seek official accreditation for its EMS, under one of several schemes. Certification helps to ensure that the company gets the greatest benefit from its efforts. Go to the section on 'Standards' for details of the two most popular schemes for EMSs - namely ISO 14001 and EMAS.

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