EMS FAQ

  1. What is an environmental management system (EMS)?
  2. What are the benefits of an EMS?
  3. What types of resources will I have to commit to implement to an EMS?
  4. We already have a compliance program – why do we need an EMS?
  5. How big does an organization need to be to successfully implement an EMS?
  6. Will an EMS help us to prevent pollution?
  7. To implement an EMS, do we have to start from scratch?
  8. How will an EMS affect my existing compliance obligations?
  9. Do we need to be in 100 percent compliance in order to have an EMS?
  10. What are ISO, ISO 14000, and ISO 14001?
  11. What are some of the potential benefits of an EMS based on ISO 14001?
  12. Can existing environmental management activities be integrated into the EMS under 14001?

What is an environmental management system (EMS)?

In its most simple terms, an environmental management system (EMS) is an approach to identifying the ways that the environment is impacted by our work activities. An EMS helps set priorities for action and it challenges each and every employee to continually look for ways to lessen those impacts and to protect the environment.

An EMS is defined as a self-correcting and continual improvement system that seeks to reduce environmental impacts associated with a facility\’s activities while helping to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. It provides a structured method for incorporating environmental considerations into day-to-day operations while promoting continual improvement of the environment and human health.

What are the benefits of an EMS?

Environmental Management Systems help improve regulatory compliance, improve overall performance, reduce the environmental impacts of unregulated activities, and make use of innovative approaches to conserve natural resource and reduce major environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions.  Other benefits include: reduced risk and costs, improved efficiency, positive effects on compliance and performance, and increased environmental stewardship.

What types of resources will I have to commit to implement to an EMS?

The most significant resource for every organization, no matter its size, is top management leadership, involvement, and visibility in the project. Beyond that, the amount of time and money needed to implement an EMS depends on the size and activities of the organization. An organization can utilize a consultant such as KEM to facilitate implementation but it is recommended that employees throughout the entire organization, not just the environmental department, do the bulk of the implementation work.

We already have a compliance program – why do we need an EMS?

An EMS can help you to comply with regulations more consistently and effectively. It also can help you identify and capitalize on environmental opportunities that go beyond compliance.

How big does an organization need to be to successfully implement an EMS?

EMSs have been implemented by organizations ranging in size from a couple of dozen employees to many thousands of employees. The elements of an EMS are flexible by design to accommodate a wide range of organizational types and sizes.

Will an EMS help us to prevent pollution?

A commitment to preventing pollution is a cornerstone of an effective EMS and should be reflected in an organization’s policy, objectives and other EMS elements.

To implement an EMS, do we have to start from scratch?

Much of what you have in place now for environmental management probably can be incorporated into the EMS. There is no need to “start over”.

How will an EMS affect my existing compliance obligations?

An EMS will not result in more or less stringent legal compliance obligations. But an EMS should improve your efforts to comply with legal obligations, and, in some cases, may lead to more flexible compliance requirements.

Do we need to be in 100 percent compliance in order to have an EMS?

No. The concept of continual improvement assumes that no organization is perfect. While an EMS should help your organization to improve compliance and other measures of performance, this does not mean that problems will never occur. However, an effective EMS should help you find and fix these problems and prevent their recurrence.

What are ISO, ISO 14000, and ISO 14001?

ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization, located in Geneva, Switzerland. ISO promotes the development and implementation of voluntary international standards, both for particular products and for environmental management issues. ISO 14000 refers to a series of voluntary standards in the environmental field under development by ISO. Included in the ISO 14000 series are the ISO 14001 EMS Standard and other standards in fields such as environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. The EMS and auditing standards are now final. The others are in various stages of development.

What are some of the potential benefits of an EMS based on ISO 14001?

  • Improvements in overall environmental performance and compliance
  • Provide a framework for using pollution prevention practices to meet EMS objectives
  • Increased efficiency and potential cost savings when managing environmental obligagtions
  • Promote predictability and consistency in managing environmental obligations
  • More effective targeting of scarce environmental management resources
  • Enhance public posture with outside stakeholders

Can existing environmental management activities be integrated into the EMS under 14001?

Yes. The standard is flexible and does not require organizations to necessarily “retool” their existing activities. The standard establishes a management framework by which an organizations\’ impacts on the environment can be systematically identified and reduced. For example, many organizations, including counties and municipalities, have active and effective pollution prevention activities underway. These could be incorporated into the overall EMS under ISO 14001.