Environmental & Sustainability Management Systems

Environmental & Sustainability Management Systems - TheGreenOffice.com

The activities, products, and services of organizations both large and small can have harmful impacts on human health and the environment.  Too often these impacts go unnoticed and unmitigated leaving people, ecosystems, and the economy at risk.  To address these risks a number of governmental, non-profit, and business entities have begun developing standards and expertise to assist organizations looking to improve social and environmental performance.  Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and environmental, or sustainability, reporting are practices missing from many settings in the public and private sector.  An EMS addresses the concerns of multiple stakeholders by implementing a set of management strategies allowing for an organization to analyze, control and minimize damage to the environment.  When a full EMS is impractical, environmental reporting is a good first step towards understanding and communicating environmental performance to stakeholders inside and outside of the organization.

Buying Guide

Businesses that use Environmental Management Systems or that publish annual environmental reports indicate a willingness to engage stakeholders in a dialogue about sustainable development.  When evaluating a product for sustainability, favor companies with EMS and environmental reporting over competitors who fail to make these commitments.  Still, it is important to note that for some businesses the commitment only represents a small contingent of dedicated members with little authority, and it is simply a marketing message unsupported by much real action.

Organizations looking to hire expertise in the field should explore the resources listed below and consider Sustainability Consulting.

Best Practices

Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and reporting focus on the impact organizations have on nature while sustainability management systems and reporting strive also to include people and communities.  The difference between a management system and the act of reporting has more to do with complexity and formality than anything else.  Larger organizations with multiple levels of management often require the rigor and assurances of systemic managerial processes.  For small organizations, the task of reporting itself can drive improvement by informing its members of their impact and by fostering a sense of accountability through public disclosure.  Ultimately, it is up to an organization’s leadership to decide what level of auditing, analysis, reporting and implementation will lead to desired performance outcomes.

Basic Elements of an EMS:

  • Reviewing the organization’s environmental goals.
  • Analyzing its environmental impacts and legal requirements.
  • Setting environmental objectives and targets to reduce environmental impacts and comply with legal requirements.
  • Establishing programs to meet these objectives and targets.
  • Monitoring and measuring progress in achieving the objectives.
  • Ensuring employees’ environmental awareness and competence.
  • Reviewing progress of the EMS and making improvements.


  • An investment of internal resources, including staff/employee time.
  • Costs for training of personnel.
  • Costs associated with hiring consulting assistance, if needed.
  • Costs for technical resources to analyze environmental impacts and improvement options, if needed.


  • Improve environmental performance.
  • Enhance compliance.
  • Prevent pollution and conserve resources.
  • Reduce/mitigate risks.
  • Attract new customers and markets (or at least retain access to customers and markets with EMS requirements).
  • Increase efficiency.
  • Reduce costs.
  • Enhance employee morale and possibly enhance recruitment of new employees.
  • Enhance image with public, regulators, lenders, investors.
  • Achieve/improve employee awareness of environmental issues and responsibilities.
  • Qualify for recognition/incentive programs such as the EPA Performance Track Program.

Sources & Links