What is an Environmental Management System?

What is an Environmental Management System?

An Environmental Management System (EMS) provides your company with a framework through which its environmental performance can be monitored, improved and controlled. Some organisations have adopted the framework specified in national or international standards, which set out the requirements of an EMS, and have had their systems externally assessed and certified against these, others have developed their EMS in a more informal way. Whatever approach has been adopted, the elements of the EMS framework will largely be the same.

An effective EMS will:

Background to Environmental Management Systems

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a structured framework for managing an organisation’s significant environmental impacts. Some organisations have adopted the framework specified in national or international standards, which set out the requirements of an EMS, and have had their systems externally assessed and certified against these, others have developed their EMS in a more informal way.

Whatever approach has been adopted, the elements of the EMS framework will largely be the same. EMS background Most organisations adopt a systematic approach to the management of their day to day operations. Over the years, the different elements of such systems have become more defined, and standardised approaches have been developed to help organisations to manage certain functions, for example quality. In the early 1990’s, work was initiated by the British Standards Institution (BSI) to develop an EMS specification, which was first published as BS 7750 (BSI, 1992).

National EMS standards were also published in other countries, e.g. Spain and Ireland. At around the same time, the European Commission was developing the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), which was similar to BS 7750 but included some additional requirements, for example public reporting of environmental performance. The requirements of EMAS were published as Council Regulation 1836/93 in 1993 (EC, 1993) and were revised in Council Regulation 761/2001 (EU, 2001). Following publication of BS 7750, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) developed ISO 14001 ‘Environmental Management Systems – specification and guidance for use’ (ISO, 1996). Its adoption as a European Standard by the European standardisation body (CEN) meant that, in Europe, all similar national standards were required to be withdrawn.

British Standard BS 8555 ‘Environmental Management Systems – specification and guidance for use’ was published (BSI, 2003). It provides a staged way for organisations to implement an EMS and achieve accredited certification to ISO 14001 and registration to EMAS. It is primarily (but not exclusively) aimed at small and medium sized enterprises. Although the development of different standards at the national, European and then international level was potentially confusing, all of the EMS standards followed the Denning Cycle of: plan what you’re going to do, do what you planned to do, check to ensure that you did what you planned to do, and act to make improvements.

The Denning Cycle Plan Act Do Check ISO 14001 is the most widely used EMS standard, and is one of a broad range of environmental management standards in the ISO 14000 series. ISO 14001 is currently being revised. The purpose of the revision is to provide clarification of the original text and to ensure, as far as possible, compatibility with the ISO 9000:2000 quality management systems standards. It is expected that a revised edition of ISO 14001 will be published late in 2004. EMS Definition An EMS is defined in the latest draft revision to ISO 14001 (ISO/DIS, 2003) as: “Part of an organisation’s management system used to develop and implement its environmental policy and manage its interaction(s) with the environment”. Note 1 to the definition states, “A management system is a set of interrelated requirements used to establish policy and objectives and to achieve those objectives”.

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Topics: ISO 14001, ISO 20121, William Richardson

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