An Environmental Management System (EMS) is defined as “a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency.” This may sound like a lot of work and an overwhelming job for many companies, especially those that are considered small to medium-sized. While the system can be very detailed, it can be also be rather simple to develop and implement.

Many companies will ask themselves “why do we need an EMS?” Does your company have to comply with environmental laws and regulations? Does your company lack the time and resources to efficiently manage all the aspects your environmental obligations? Are you looking for ways to manage your company’s environmental program and obligations more efficiently? And finally, does you company have a variety of reports and recordkeeping obligations that make it difficult to ensure the necessary records are available and required reports are submitted in a timely manner?

Many companies have some type of compliance program, however an EMS can help to comply with regulations more consistently and effectively.


It can also assist in identifying opportunities to go beyond compliance and save valuable resources. An EMS designed to prevent pollution for example, can save resources through recycling, reuse as well as use of alternate raw materials and processes.

The initial planning steps to a successful EMS include:

  1.   Defining the organization’s goals
  2.   Securing management commitment
  3.   Selecting an EMS champion
  4.   Building a team
  5.   Conducting a preliminary review of environmental obligations
  6.   Developing a plan and schedule
  7.   Defining and securing the needed resources
  8.   Obtaining employee involvement
  9.   Monitoring progress and communicating the plan

Given the above steps are taken, the EMS process is now ready to go. The key elements of the EMS include:

  1.   Environmental policy statement
  2.   Legal requirements
  3.   Objectives and targets
  4.   Environmental program
  5.   Structure and responsibility
  6.   Training and awareness
  7.   Communications
  8.   Documentation
  9.   Operational control
  10.   Emergency preparedness and response
  11.   Monitoring and measuring
  12.   Corrective/preventive actions
  13.   Records
  14.   Auditing
  15.   Management review
  16.   Continuous improvement and modifications as necessary – learning from implementation

While an EMS should improve compliance and overall performance, this does not mean that problems will not arise. An effective EMS, however, should help to find and solve problems and help prevent them from recurring in the future.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel and no reason to make the EMS complicated and detailed.


There are resources available from the U. S Environmental Protection Agency and examples of EMSs that have been developed by others that can be of great assistance.

In addition to the currently available resources, there are certain aspects of EMS planning that can benefit from the use of outside consultants to gain insight into approaches and systems that they may have been developed in the past. Companies need to be involved in the EMS development process. An EMS developed by a consultant without input from management and those charged with the company’s environmental compliance will not be effective.

You may be asking yourself, “where do I start?” One place might be a system that lists out various environmental obligations to serve as a type of checklist. This system should include a timeline to ensure records are being kept, inspections are conducted, required tests and monitoring are performed and submitted, and that all required data and reports as defined in the applicable permit are submitted on time and to the appropriate regulatory agency. This type of system is a starting point for a future simple, yet comprehensive EMS.