How to Rate Your Environmental Management System

This guest post is by Petie Davis, an Environmental Management Systems wizard and a delightful person.
…  Chuck

Got EMS?

Based on a true story:   A respected and successful owner of a medium-sized manufacturing facility in New Jersey (we will call it ABC Co.) hired a consultant (we will call her Jill) to help him prepare for a certification that required ABC to have an Environmental Management System (EMS) in place. “Yes,” the owner assured Jill, “We most definitely have an EMS in place.  I guarantee it.”  Reassured, Jill crossed “Develop an EMS” off the task list for her client.  You can guess what happened.  When Jill started to ask the management staff at ABC about fundamental components of an EMS such as environmental policy, procedures to ensure environmental compliance, objectives and targets, she got blank stares.  The owner thought he had an EMS in place because his staff told him so.  His staff was not being dishonest: they really thought they were managing all of their environmental concerns in a responsible way.  They pointed to their recycling program and the fact that they passed an OSHA inspection as evidence.   

ABC did what a lot of small and medium-sized manufacturers do- develop an individual program (such as recycling) as needed and nothing more.  This approach will get you by for now. However, it will not address lingering compliance time bombs, help you to be more efficient, responsive, and save money, or prepare your company for requests from your customers for environmental information (which will surely come sooner rather than later).  What you need is an EMS (not to be confused with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) computer system).

What, Exactly, is an EMS?

For those new to the term, an environmental management system (EMS) is not a Harvard MBA concept nor is it a cutting edge (read ‘expensive’) approach.  An EMS represents the kind of system you would intuitively design if you were given a blank piece of paper and were asked to design one.  It is very much within the reach of small and medium-sized organizations that often are lean on support resources. 

Think of an EMS simply as they way you do the things you do (a la the Temptions song, for you Motown fans out there). At its most basic level, an EMS is how you manage your organization’s interactions with the environment. An EMS includes processes such as how you establish your environmental priorities, track and maintain regulatory compliance and how you train employees, all within the standard Deming Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. What makes a series of individual processes into a management system is the continuous improvement part of the cycle (the Check and Act steps).

The best resource to explain how the PDCA concept applies to an EMS can be found in the standard, ISO 14001, Environmental Management Systems – Requirements with guidance for use (ISO 14001/Cor1:2009; available for purchase at   First issued in 1996, the ISO 14001 standard has become the most widely used framework for developing an EMS.  A popular and easy to use EMS implementation guide has been developed with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency especially for small and medium-sized organizations.  Environmental Management Systems: An Implementation Guide for Small and Medium Sized Organizations is available for free download at

Future blogs will discuss how to rate your EMS to be sure it is delivering value to your organization.

Petie Davis is an environmental professional with over 20 years of experience in the EH&S field.  She has expertise in in management systems, ISO 14001, audit programs, product certification, and sustainability.  She is co-author of the popular EPA document, Environmental Management Systems: An Implementation Guide for Small and Medium Sized Organizations. Petie was most recently with NSF International where she launched a new Sustainability Services business unit and earlier managed the  Environmental, Health and Safety (EH&S) Audit Services business unit.  She is currently the President of Davis Consulting LLC which specializes in sustainability training, implementation, and auditing.  Her LinkedIn page is .

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