How to Rate Your Environmental Management System – Part 2

Thanks to guest blogger Petie Davis for this post. This is the final part of a two part post.
… Chuck

Now That You Are Sure You Have An EMS…

The focus of most articles on EMSs is implementation, either to convince you to develop one or describe how to do so.  Very few address what you do once your EMS is in place.  How you should protect the investment made in your EMS? How do you derive the most value from your EMS?  No EMS or any other management system will automatically continue to provide value to your organization.   I have seen many EMSs, particularly in the automotive industry, completely abandoned in these tough economic times rather than used as a tool to help the company survive.

If you want realize the full potential of an EMS to keep moving your organization forward to improved environmental and business performance, you need to maintain and refine it.  The first step toward doing so is to understand how an EMS matures, through the predicable stages that each EMS must go through on its way to full business integration. 

To keep thing simple, I have broken EMS maturation into three stages.

Beginning  (EMS under development)

Deploying  (EMS is registered or in conformance with ISO 14001)

Maturing  (EMS as an established business practice )

Each stage has unique attributes which I have defined as the following:

: is the typical length of time an organization spends in a stage of EMS development. 

Goals:  are not the objectives and targets but the overall, oftentimes unstated objective(s) of the EMS. 

Activities: are broad areas where resources are typically concentrated.

Characteristics: reflect an EMS’s actual stage of development.

Vulnerabilities:  are the areas of weakness in each stage that must be countered in order to maintain the EMS.


Table 1 provides a summary of five attributes for each stage of development. 

Figure 1

Rating Your EMS


The timeline is the starting point for rating your EMS but you first have to understand how to determine the age of your EMS.  The timeline starts at zero years with the first activity taken to develop an EMS that conforms to the standard ISO 14001 Environmental management systems- Requirements with guidance for use (ISO 14001/Cor1:2009; available for purchase at  Do not use the date a preexisting programs such as regulatory compliance or recycling was developed as the EMS start date.  Individual environmental programs/initiatives often predate an ISO 14001 based EMS by several years.

The timelines with each stage of development are based on an organization that puts a moderate but consistent effort into its EMS, with top management that is supportive and provides sufficient resources.  While progression through the stages is not automatic, the timeline is a good place to start since it reflects a typical organization. 

The second step is to look at the characteristics for the EMS stage associated with how long your EMS has been in place.  For example, let’s say your EMS is in its third year.  Look at the characteristics of the Deploying stage.  While most of your characteristics may be in this stage, your EMS will likely still have some characteristics from the Beginning stage and maybe one or two from the Maturing stage.  This would indicate that your EMS is in the early part of the deploying stage, right where you would expect to be for average progression.   On the other hand, if your five-year old EMS still has most of its characteristics in the Beginning stage, it has likely stalled and will not stand the test of time.  I have seen a few very rapidly progressing two year old EMSs that had many characteristics of the Maturing stage.  How fast an EMS moves through the timeline depends primarily on the willingness of the organization to embrace and adapt to the cultural change that is inherent in the development of an EMS.

With an understanding of the stages of EMS development, your organization can gauge the rate of its EMS development and determine whether the EMS is structured to give management the desired results. While an EMS is no guarantee of a successful organization, it is hard to imagine one successfully meeting the challenges of sustainability, resource constraint, and public scrutiny without a strong EMS as a foundation.

Your thoughtful comments are appreciated. To open the Comment section, click on the title of this post.

Thanks, Petie

Petie's PhotoPetie 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 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 .