What is an environmental management system?

Last updated 2015.

An ISO 14001 environmental management system (or commonly referred to as an EMS) is a structured system designed to help organisations manage their environmental impacts and improve environmental performance caused by their products, services and activities. An environmental management system provides structure to environmental management and covers areas such as training, record management, inspections, objectives and policies.

Implementation of an environmental management system requires the following steps to be completed by an organisation:

  • Development of an environmental policy that reflects its commitments;
  • Appointment of a person(s) responsible for its coordination;
  • Identification of how the organisation interacts with the environment;
  • Identification of actual and potential environmental impacts;
  • Identification of relevant legal and other requirements;
  • Establishment of environmental objectives, targets and programs;
  • Monitoring and measurement of the progress to achieve its objectives;
  • Reviewing the system and environmental performance; and
  • Continuous improvement of the organisation's environmental performance.
  • By design the system and environmental performance run in a continuous improvement cycle outlined in the diagram below.

    ISO 14001 continuous improvement cycle

    Currently in Australia there are over 2,000 organisations certified to the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard. Up to the end of December 2008 there were over 188,000 organisations globally certified. A total of 155 countries had organisations participating in the scheme. The diagram below illustrates the ISO 2008 survey results for the standard. It should be noted there are many more organisations with environmental management systems not certified to the ISO 14001 standard.

    When using one of our ISO 14001 environmental management systems our customers are surprised at how easy they are to use. This is because we have purposely designed our ISO 14001 environmental management systems to be logical, simple by design, and never overburdened with unnecessary documents or requirements. An ISO 14001 environmental management system we develop effectively manages environmental risk and improves environmental performance.

    What is ISO 1400 and ISO 14004?

    ISO 14000 refers to the environmental management standards series.

    ISO 14001 environmental management system standard should be used in conjunction with ISO 14004 Environmental managements systems – General guidelines on principles, systems and support techniques. ISO 14004 provides guidelines for the elements of an environmental management system and its implementation.

    What is the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme?

    The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is an organisational management tool for the evaluation, reporting and continuous improvement of environmental performance. The scheme has been successfully integrated into many business types in the EU where it is defined in legislation and the uptake is on a voluntary level.

    EMAS is an environmental management scheme, whereby EU organisations develop an environmental management system (to ISO 14001 environmental management system standard or in line with the environmental management system specified in EMAS) and have their system externally verified. Organisations are then able to become registered.

    The scheme is yet to be recognised throughout Australia, however, tools for developing simplified environmental management systems are available at the Eco-mapping website. Additionally, there is some interest in Eco-mapping by some Environmental Protection Authorities and some organisations wanting to improve their environmental performance without all of the commitment and resources typically allocated to more traditional ISO 14001 environmental management systems.

    In-house or outsourced development?

    Organisations need to know whether they have the skills and resources to develop an effective and productive system internally or whether they should outsource its development.

    If the answer is to outsource its development the experience and qualifications of the Environmental Consultant should be assessed. Engaging a consultant that specialises in environmental risk management and environmental management system development as well as having adequate qualifications and experience could be considered.

    Environmental management systems and legal compliance?

    Identifying environmental aspects and impacts and then reviewing environmental compliance requirements should be completed when developing an environmental management system. Material, such as inspection checklists and procedures, to assess and manage legal compliance should be developed. An effective and correctly developed environmental management system should therefore assist organisations with meeting their environmental legal requirements.

    What is an environmental management system?