Implementing an EMS

Businesses, corporations, companies and other organizations that engage in activities, which may have an environmental impact need, systems of guidance. If the organization you work in does not have effective systems of guidance or principles of conduct with regard to environmental concerns, you should encourage the following:

  • Development and issuance of a sound environmental policy statement;
  • Establishment of an effective environmental management system (EMS);
  • Formulation and wide distribution of environmental strategies that support the environmental policy statement and are consistent with environmental ethics;
  • Development of environmental objectives, plans, programs and procedures;
  • Environmentally motivated training and regular meetings; and
  • Integration of environmental costs and cost reductions as a necessary part of the organization's business plan.

An environmental policy establishes an overall sense of direction and sets the principles of action for an organization. An organization's operating philosophy is reflected in its environmental policy statement. A strong policy is the heart of responsible environmental programs. Developing good environmental policies and strategies are as challenging as they are rewarding. An environmental policy should consider the following:

  • The organization's vision, beliefs, values, mission and guiding principles;
  • Coordination with other organizational policies;
  • Requirements of and communications with interested parties;
  • Pollution prevention;
  • Continual improvements; and
  • Compliance with applicable environmental laws, regulations, rules, policies and other criteria to which the organization subscribes.

In addition to compliance with relevant environmental laws regulations and rules, the policy should state commitments to:

  • minimizing any significant adverse environmental impacts of new developments and products through the use of integrated environmental management planning, programs and procedures;
  • continued development and improvement of environmental performance evaluation procedures and indicators;
  • preventing pollution, reducing waste and consumption of natural resources;
  • recovering, reclaiming, reusing and recycling;
  • considering a product or services' life cycle environmental and health impact;
  • education and training;
  • sharing environmental information and experience; and
  • encouraging the use of effective environmental management plans, programs and procedures by contractors and suppliers.

To facilitate the implementation of a sound environmental policy, an effective environmental management system is required. Both the International Organization for Standardization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promote and encourage the use of environmental management systems that enable companies to track and manage their responsibilities more systematically. The EMS is the framework or structure used to implement sound environmental policy statements. The EMS is the organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources for developing, implementing, maintaining, reviewing, correcting and improving a company's approach to environmental management.

Though the International Organization for Standardization published its environmental management systems (ISO 14001) standards in 1996, most environmentally responsible and responsive organizations employed systematic approaches to effective environmental management in the mid 1980s. These organizations recognized the importance of environmental protection and environmental compliance, and therefore developed and implemented appropriate plans, programs, projects, procedures and protocols to demonstrate adherence to the organization's environmental policy commitments. In the not so distant future, all organizations that provide a service, product or engage in activities that have environmental aspects and impacts will develop and implement environmental management systems.

An effective EMS could, for example, be structured to address these broad statements of commitment:

  • We will encourage and support the development of strong, but reasonable, environmental, product stewardship and safety legislation and regulations;
  • We will welcome opportunities to provide our expertise to government programs to help ensure that legislative and research programs are effective in addressing environmental, product stewardship and safety concerns;
  • We will recognize that favorable public opinion regarding the organization's environmental protection, product stewardship and safety posture is an essential factor in the conduct of our business;
  • We will ensure that the design and operation of our organization's facilities, products and services reflects consideration of the need to protect the environment, our employees, our customers and the general public;
  • We will develop and implement pollution prevention and waste minimization plans;
  • We will ensure that proposed environmental, product stewardship and safety measures provide effective solutions to the problems they are designed to correct;
  • We will give a high degree of consideration to environmental protection, product stewardship and safety requirements in the organization's planning cycle and investment proposals;
  • We will obtain and disseminate pertinent information to allow the company to stay alert to, and abreast of, environmental protection, product stewardship and safety benefits and challenges;
  • We will develop appropriate proactive responses in the form of plans, procedures, programs and projects to address environmental, product stewardship and safety concerns; and
  • We will routinely assess and improve the progress made on our commitment to environmental, product stewardship and safety concerns.

Because we are evolving into an interdependent global society, the ISO-14000 series standards and requirements advocate effective environmental management policies and systems that are appropriate on a worldwide basis.

Developing sound environmental policies, management systems and strategies are not so difficult. It is the effective implementation and continued dedication to the commitments embodied in those policies and environmental management systems that are the real challenges.

A suitable environmental policy statement might read like this:

"Because our organization has a strong regard for environmental protection, product stewardship and safety, we will conduct our activities in such a manner as to protect the environment, our employees, our customers and the general public. We will comply with environmental, stewardship and safety laws and regulation, and we will develop and implement plans, program projects, protocols and procedures to conform to international standards. We will be both responsible and responsive in our efforts relating to environmental protection, product stewardship and employee safety. Where our company becomes aware of environmental and product safety risks not covered by existing laws or regulation, we will develop our own good faith standards and practices based on comprehensive and relevant data. We will cooperate with the public, government, industry and employees in identifying environmental, product stewardship and safety goals and in developing effective control programs. Each unit of our organization is ex pected to be guided by this policy in forming plans, setting objectives and conducting their day-to-day activities."

Enhancing your environmental performance

Attend the National Registry of Environmental Professionals' Registered Environmental Manager workshop and Skills Update Conference on May 21-24, 2001 for $695 at the Hilton Hotel in Arlington, Texas. Call (770) 486-9253, or visit for more information.

This article appeared in the February 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 2, on page 36.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Sultan I. Amer, PhD, is president of Aquachem Inc., Canton, Mich.