Environmental Management Systems – BONUS

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What It Is

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a set of standard processes and practices that help an organization increase its sustainability and operating efficiency. It helps the organization to plan, carry out, evaluate, and maintain its environmental policy.


Why It Matters

An EMS helps a company organize and evaluate its environmental management approach, making it easier for the company to achieve its sustainability goals. An EMS can help your organization:

  • Reduce risks
  • Attract new customers, investors, and stakeholders
  • Increase efficiency
  • Reduce costs
  • Enhance employee morale and recruitment
  • Enhance public image
  • Improve environmental performance
  • Prevent pollution and conserve resources
  • Increase employee awareness of environmental issues[1]


In some industries, having an environmental management certification, such as ISO 14001, is a signal of responsible management practices and may help businesses win contracts. However, even if you work for a smaller, professional office, an EMS can benefit your organization.

Read more at the EPA’s Environmental Management Systems site to learn more about what an EMS can do for you.


Getting Started

  • Step One: Develop an environmental policy.
  • Step Two: Plan a system to carry out the policy.
  • Step Three: Put the system into practice.


Step One: Develop an environmental policy.

An organization uses an EMS to carry out its environmental policy, so make sure you have a written policy first. Elizabeth Striano from Green Footprint LLC gives the following advice for writing an environmental policy:

As a general rule, the policy should outline the specific commitments your company is prepared to make to reduce its effects on the environment… It is also important that the opening statement show that company leadership is committed to [continuing] improvement, [and to communicating] its environmental goals to employees, customers, and other stakeholders.[2]

Visit Striano’s blog to learn more about writing an environmental policy. The blog also includes a brief sample policy, which may help you as you draft your own.


Step Two: Plan a system to carry out the policy.

Next, plan your system so you can put your policy into action. For example, say a local restaurant owner wants to conserve her water and energy use. First, she needs to consider where her organization can conserve. Can she improve HVAC efficiency? Can her dishwashers use less water when cleaning plates? Can her cooks donate unused produce instead of throwing it away?

After figuring out where she can conserve, next she needs to figure out exactly how to do that. She could put fans in the kitchen or install a new, more efficient air conditioner. She could install low-flow faucets or train her dishwashers to conserve water when they wash. She could also partner with a local soup kitchen that needs food donations.

When making a plan for your organization, consider using the EPA’s Documenting Your Environmental Management Plan: A Workbook for Small Business. The workbook includes worksheets to help you along the way.


Step Three: Put the system into practice.

Finally, put your plan into practice. Make sure to communicate any changes you’ve made to your employees and retrain them if necessary.


Going Further

  • Step One: Check your progress.
  • Step Two: Make changes if necessary.


Step One: Check your progress

Evaluating your EMS is crucial to its success because it will help you strengthen your system. Take the restaurant owner from the example above.  In order to be certain her system supports her policy, she needs to evaluate the restaurant’s progress. Tracking water and energy consumption could help her do that. In turn, the tracking results would let her know if the restaurant is conserving more resources.

Think of how you can monitor your organization’s progress, so you can continue to improve your system.


Step Two: Make changes if necessary.

Look at what’s working and what isn’t. If something in your system isn’t working, change it! If something is working, see if you can use it in other departments, too.

At this point, you can begin planning your system changes, which will start the plan-practice-check-change process again.[3]


Case Study

The state of Iowa initiated an environmental management system in 2009, which focused on six key areas:

    • Yard waste management
    • Hazardous waste collection
    • Water quality improvement
    • Greenhouse gas reduction
    • Environmental education
    • Recycling services


According to the participating programs, the Iowa EMS has created a sense of employee ownership and a spirit of collaboration. It has also improved

    • Employee morale
    • Cost effectiveness
    • Operational efficiency


To learn more about this case, watch this video.





Environmental Management Systems help organizations carry out environmental policies. They help a business organize and communicate how it will increase its sustainability, making it easier for the company to achieve its environmental goals.


[1] “Environmental Management Systems,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/EMS/, accessed 7 August 2013.

[2] Elizabeth Striano, “How to Write an Environmental Policy,” on Making Science Matter, http://agreenfootprint.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/how-to-write-an-environmental-policy/, accessed 12 October 2011.

[3] “Environmental Management Systems,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/EMS/, accessed 7 August 2013.

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