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Environmental Management Systems

»Friday, October 2,2009

How can an environmental management system (EMS) can be beneficial to a company?

All businesses have an environmental impact and need to comply with environmental regulations of some kind.  Going forward, companies will face increasing demands to minimise the environmental impact of their activities, products and services.  In addition, companies will continue to experience growing regulatory controls such as the regulations that will force manufacturers to consider the end of life impact of cars and electrical equipment.  The decision to create an EMS for any company is set to change from a business option to a business requirement in order to survive as an effective profitable company.

The idea of incorporating environmental issues into the mainstream of business management is not new, but has yet to be an approach that is widely adopted.  The bureaucracy of the increasing regulatory requirements has often been perceived as getting in the way of everyday business activities.  As a consequence, for some businesses the regulatory burden has served to stifle innovation in development of new products or services.

However, a company that simply seeks to comply with environmental regulations is taking a reactive approach to managing a company’s impact on the environment.  Compliance focuses attention purely on the impact of regulation on business activities. 

When a company only considers environmental impacts that are part of a regulatory regime it will fail to identify the full range of effects that the business may have on the environment.  This reactive approach does not necessarily produce the best environmental results and the cost to the business may be out of proportion to the associated benefits.  This is particularly the case where business effort is directed at corrective actions such as clean up or fixing breakdowns rather than preventative actions such as monitoring key impacts to determine maintenance programmes.

The bureaucracy that has developed around environmental permitting and reporting has made environmental compliance a full time job in some organisations.  An increasing number of companies are beginning to look for new ways to address environmental impact in the same manner as they address the financial or human resource elements of their business operations.  This has therefore led more businesses to seek a proactive approach to considering the company's impact on the environment by putting in place an EMS.

Using the example of product design, a traditional reactive approach would involve simply considering the cost of raw materials and availability of production equipment.  Little or no consideration would be given to the potential environmental impact of the product or its manufacturing process.  Only after the design is complete might the company identify any permits that are required for manufacturing or establish a system to monitor and dispose of any hazardous wastes expected to be generated from the new manufacturing process.

For a company operating an effective environmental management system the approach to new product development can be very different.  The process design would take into account environmental concerns at all stages of the design process.  Such an approach would consider how to use raw materials that generate a minimum of hazardous wastes or are devoid of hazardous components.  Opportunities would be sought to incorporate environmentally acceptable components into the design that would facilitate disassembly, reuse, recycling and remanufacturing at the end of the product’s useful life.  In addition, the company would carry out training to raise employee awareness of these issues.

An EMS can provide an organised way of managing and measuring environmental performance.  The effectiveness of an environmental management system for a particular company will depend on the components or content of the management system.  Where a company chooses to design its own system it is likely to encounter problems demonstrating to customers or regulators that all of the issues are being addressed.

It is for this reason that the majority of companies take a more formal approach and follow established model systems.  Such systems provide a standard list or specification for all the elements that are required for an effective EMS.  A number of such model specifications are now widely recognised namely the international standard known as ISO 14001, the European Commission’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the British Standard known as BS 8555.

The decision to create an EMS for any company is a significant business decision.  All companies will continue to face increasing demands to minimise the environmental impact of their business activities.  An effective environmental management system will provide a reliable basis for a company to meet increasing regulatory demands and exploit opportunities for innovative development of their products and services.

Whether a company’s environmental performance is driven by new customer requirements or increasing regulatory demands, a formal EMS will have a key role to play for any company that wishes to remain competitive in the future.

Tim Linnington
Encor Consulting



Editor’s note: Tim Linnington is an associate member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and is also registered as an Environmental Auditor.  If you would like to find out more about setting up an EMS you can contact Tim on 01392 683343 or by email to Tim.Linnington@encor.co.uk.


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Environmental Management System specialists, EMS and Environmental Consultants UK
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