An environmental management system (EMS) keeps companies competitive and helps improve environmental performance by assuring regulatory compliance, reducing operating costs, and increasing awareness of the environmental impact of the company’s activities. Any company that handles chemicals or multiple MSDS-worthy products should have an EMS Plan in place. Manufacturers find an EMS most urgent, but almost every business can benefit.
Planning. Before you implement the EMS, decide where the EMS will apply within your organization. Choose your environmental management representative (EMR), who acts as the project manager for the EMS. Select a team of experts, consisting of facility and city representatives. Build an implementation team of personnel from the “shop floor,” ensuring adherence to the EMS at all levels of your organization.
During the planning phase of your company’s EMS, you must define the environmental aspects and impacts. An environmental aspect includes activities, products, or services that interact with the environment (i.e., air emissions, energy usage). An environmental impact includes any change to the environment resulting from activities, products, or services (i.e., air quality changes, natural resource usage).
It’s also important to identify legal requirements and issues related to your company with regard to regulations and compliance issues.
Once you’ve completed your planning, you can develop the environmental policy, consisting of regulatory compliance, pollution control, and a continual improvement program. Your EMS should also include an environmental objective (i.e., reduce energy usage) and environmental target (i.e., reduce energy usage by a specific date). You should figure out who’s responsible for each objective and target, what resources are available (i.e., personnel, financial), and when milestones will be achieved.
Documentation and training. Determine which operational procedures require documentation, and locate documentation related to environmental aspects that may already exist. Work with personnel to develop new documentation, and don’t forget to include health and safety requirements.
Your environmental aspect list also helps you to identify your training needs. All employees should be trained in:
Your company’s EMS must detail how to communicate internally, as well as how to request, obtain, document, and respond to external communication. Communication can include items such as your environmental policy, legal requirements, and objectives.
Preparing for emergencies. Part of the EMS should focus on how to prepare for emergencies, such as spills, and should identify which procedures already exist to help you properly respond to the situation.
Evaluating your progress. It’s important to periodically assess your EMS to see how much progress it’s making toward your environmental objectives and targets. Based on the following, determine whether the EMS was carried out according to plan:
Auditing your EMS. Internal EMS audits review how well your company is meeting its objectives and targets by evaluating your procedures, documentation, programs, and implementation. The audit also determines whether your company is continually improving.
Management action items. Management personnel decide whether the EMS is working efficiently, and whether changes or improvements are needed. Management should review the EMS process, determine what to evaluate, document the process, and record the outcome of the review.
More information. The Public Entity EMS Resource (PEER) Center (peercenter.net) offers tips on developing an EMS for your company — a good reference.
Guest blogger Laura Chidester has worked as a technical journalist for over 10 years. By day she manages the documentation team at Actio Software Corp. while continuing to report on broader industry and environmental trends.