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EMS: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
P2 Opportunities
Where To Go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

EMAS and ISO/EN ISO 14001: Differences and Complementarities
2 page sheet posits that EMAS has more rigorous elements; includes good chart showing the implementa...

What is an Environmental Management Systems (EMS)?

Management systems define the way an operation (e.g. a business) deals with people to ensure that procedures are followed for the benefit of the organization. For example, most businesses have a systematic method for hiring and firing employees using an human resources management system.

Many companies have systematic methods for managing their environmental impacts to:

  • Lower Risk
  • Ensure Compliance
  • Improve efficiency

An EMS is a systematic approach to managing a companies effects on the environment. An EMS applies modern management techniques to environmental issues, leads to inclusion of the environment in the mainstream business plan, and integrates environment into every aspect of operations and level of organization.

Types of EMS

  • ISO14001 - By far, the most common type of management system follows a standard established by the International Standards Organization (ISO). ISO is so widespread that many people use the term EMS and ISO 14001certification interchangeably.
  • Volunteer State Programs - Many state environmental agencies encourage an EMS following standards similar to ISO. But some vary in particulars or approaches. In New Mexico the Green Zia follows a Baldrich type managment system.
  • Industry Standards - Trade groups and organizations often have standards for managing the enviornment. One of the more common examples is the Responsible Care system for managing chemicals established by the American Chemistry Council.

ISO 14001

    The standard set by ISO 14001 provides a framework to enusre ensure
  • sound environmental practices, performance, and improvement
  • integration of business need and enviornmental management
  • greater interaction between the organization and stakeholders


ISO maintains a system for certifying auditors with specific requirements for auditing an EMS. ISO certifies lead auditors based on a mixture of experience and educaiton. An auditor will identify systematic issues with an EMS and relate them to the standards as conformances with corrective actions.

Based on the recomendations of the audit team a facility may recieve a certification under ISO. This certification is often required by customers for suppliers, and by purchasers dealing with international trade.

Key Elements of an ISO EMS

The ISO 14001 standard calls for a few key elements to be in place. These include:

  1. Environmental Policy
  2. Identification of Significant Aspects and Impacts
  3. Compliance with Regulations
  4. Objectives and Targets
  5. Structure, Responsibilities and Resources
  6. Operational Control
  7. Corrective and Preventive Action and Emergency Procedures
  8. Training, Awareness and Competence
  9. Organizational Decision-making and Planning
  10. Document Control
  11. Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

Note: The ISO 14001 standard is intellectual property of the International Organization for Standardization. You may purchase a copy of the standard by visiting the ISO website.

Who is an EMS for?

An EMS is for any organization that wants to improve its environmental and financial performance. At one time, the assumption was that mostly large, multinational businesses would adopt EMS practices. But in point of fact, EMSs are being adopted by organizations of all sizes and types, including small businesses and governments. EMS is part of the company's overall management system; it includes strategic planning, organizational structure and implementation of the environmental policy as an integrated part of the business enterprise.

An attractive element of EMS for many organizations is that an organization does not have to adopt a complete EMS at once: it can be introduced step by step. While a formalized EMS is widely useful, not all organizations think they need them. Large organizations with advanced management systems already in place often choose to incorporate EMS principles into their existing systems.

Some organizations choose to implement an EMS to help them judge the cost and value of moving towards ISO 14000 or EMAS certification. Although implementation of an EMS does not guarantee certification, it does help companies formulate a systematic approach to environmental care in all aspects of business.

EMS and Pollution Prevention

The ISO standard does not require pollution prevention. However, implementing an EMS will often lead to a series of pollution prevention projects. EPA has revised its Facility Pollution Prevention guidance manual; the new version, An Organizational Guide[pdf] to Pollution Prevention, explains three implementation approaches to P2, one of which is the EMS approach.
The US EPA believes that EMS is compatible with Design for the Environment (DfE) principles and provides the website on Integrated Environmental Management Systems with extensive resources based on this belief.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The EMS Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Southwest Network for Zero Waste
Southwest Network for Zero Waste
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Hub Last Updated: 3/14/2012