Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
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EPA encourages organizations to use environmental management systems (EMSs) that improve compliance, pollution prevention, and other measures of environmental performance. The Agency will continue to learn more about which EMS elements and applications are most effective, and to determine how these systems might be used to strengthen environmental programs and policies.
- What Is an Environmental Management System?
- What Are the Key Elements of an EMS?
- How Does EPA Promote Environmental Management Systems?
- Compliance-Focused Environmental Management Systems
- Questions and Answers About ISO 14000
Related publications from the Ag Center
Environmental Management Systems and Audit Protocols
More information from EPA Headquarters
EPA's Position on Environmental Management Systems
Environmental Management Systems/ISO 14001
Compliance-Focused Environmental Management System - Enforcement Agreement Guidance (PDF) (17 pp, 39K)
More information from EPA Regions
Region 1 (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and 10 Tribal Nations)
Region 2 (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and 7 Tribal Nations)
Region 3 (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia)
Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee)
Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 Tribes)
Region 6 (Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and 65 Tribes)
Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and 9 Tribal Nations)
Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and 27 Tribal Nations)
Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and over 140 Tribal Nations)
Region 10 (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Native Tribes)
EMS information from the states
University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Livestock EMS Information
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources - EMS Agricultural Information
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources - EMS for Pork Producers
NC Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance - Pork Production
NC Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance - Farmer Spreadsheets
University of Wisconsin - Extension: EMS in Agriculture
University of Wisconsin - Extension: Livestock EMS Project
Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program
Georgia Department of Natural Resources: Pollution Prevention Assistance Division - Agriculture and Horticulture
Utah State University Ag EMS Publications
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: Environmental Management System Permit Pilot Project (PDF) (30 pp, 252K)
New York State Agricultural Environmental Management
Georgia Poultry EMS Pilot Project (PDF) (2 pp, 641K)
North Carolina - ABC Farms Environmental Systems Manual (PDF) (16 pp, 446K) (EMS Manual Template)
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Green Tier Program
Louisiana State University - The Louisiana Master Farmer Program
California Dairy Quality Assurance Program
Montana State University - Natural Resources Extension Program: Landowner Assessments
EMS information from Canada
Environment Canada EMS Web site
EMS information from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Environmental Management Systems and Standards: ISO 14000
Working Towards Registration for ISO 14001
ISO 14001 and Agriculture: Contributed papers
ISO 14001 and Agriculture: Bibliography
Other EMS information
Public Entity Environmental Management System Resource Center (PEER) - provides a broad array of information and tools to help public entities (primarily local governments) understand and adopt EMSs for their operations. The PEER Center is a collaboration between EPA Office of Water and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation.
Examples of EMSs
The Food Alliance
Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission
Iowa Soybean Association
California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) - Sustainable Winegrowing Program
What Is an Environmental Management System?The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines environmental management systems as "that part of the overall management system which includes organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes, and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing, and maintaining the environmental policy."
In other words, an EMS focuses on environmental management practices, rather than the activities themselves. The EMS provides the structure by which the specific activities can be carried out efficiently and in a manner consistent with key organizational goals, but does not specify levels of performance (e.g., the EMS will ensure that proper procedures are in place and that operator training exists, but won't specify methods or frequency of sampling). The EMS allows an organization the flexibility to adapt the system to its needs and priorities, rather than forcing a "one size fits all" mentality.
Implementation of an EMS is a voluntary approach to improving environmental performance. Over the years, many public and private sector organizations have implemented EMSs, and their numbers grow daily. These organizations report a number of important EMS benefits.
What Are the Key Elements of an EMS?The key elements of any environmental management system are:
- Environmental policy - Develop a statement of your organizations commitment to the environment. Use this policy as a framework for planning and action.
- Environmental aspects - Identify environmental attributes of your products, activities, and services. Determine those that could have significant impacts on the environment.
- Legal and other requirements - Identify and ensure access to relevant laws and regulations, as well as other requirements to which your organization adheres.
- Objectives and targets - Establish environmental goals for your organization, in line with your policy, environmental impacts, the views of interested parties, and other factors.
- Environmental management program - Plan actions necessary to achieve your objectives and targets.
- Structure and responsibility - Establish roles and responsibilities for environmental management and provide appropriate resources.
- Training, awareness, and competence - Ensure that your employees are trained and capable of carrying out their environmental responsibilities.
- Communication - Establish processes for internal and external communications on environmental management issues.
- EMS documentation - Maintain information on your EMS and related documents.
- Document control - Ensure effective management of procedures and other system documents.
- Operational control - Identify, plan, and manage your operations and activities in line with your policy, objectives, and targets.
- Emergency preparedness and response - Identify potential emergencies and develop procedures for preventing and responding to them.
- Monitoring and measurement - Monitor key activities and track performance. Conduct periodic assessments of compliance with legal requirements.
- Nonconformance and corrective and preventive action - Identify and correct problems and prevent their recurrence.
- Records - Maintain and manage records of EMS performance.
- EMS audit - Periodically verify that your EMS is operating as intended.
- Management review - Periodically review your EMS with an eye to continual improvement.
More information from EPA
Environmental Management Systems: An Implementation Guide for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations
How Does EPA Promote Environmental Management Systems?EMSs have great potential for helping small businesses, in particular, improve environmental performance, because they offer a type of operational template that can be easily modified and adopted.
Ongoing Activities --
- Because an EMS may help an organization gain a better awareness of how environmental responsibilities fit into overall operations, EPA has been requiring companies with compliance problems to develop EMSs when it settles enforcement cases.
- EPA is working with states to evaluate how well EMSs actually improve environmental performance. This evaluation will provide "lessons learned" and will help us move from experimenting with EMSs to understanding how they can complement environmental programs and policies.
Approach -- Working with states, tribes, and other stakeholders, EPA will assess the real-world use of EMSs and look at their implications for environmental programs and policies. It will help selected sectors (especially smaller businesses) develop and test EMSs, and it will promote EMSs in selected geographic areas. To do this, EPA will:
- Develop a stronger, more far-reaching assistance program.
- Develop additional tools that can help organizations integrate environmental planning with other business decisions.
- Continue and expand research on what kinds of EMSs are most effective, and how the growing use of EMSs may affect EPA's programs and policies.
Compliance-Focused Environmental Management SystemsSince the late 1980s, civil multimedia compliance investigations conducted by EPA have increasingly involved identifying causes of observed noncompliance. In a significant number of cases, the causes arise from inadequate environmental management systems. In response, EPA has developed key elements for a compliance-focused EMS model, which have been used as the basis for EMS requirements in several settlement agreements.
The compliance-focused EMS model is intended to supplement, not replace, EMS models developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies, such as the ISO 14001 EMS standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization.
A settlement agreement that requires an EMS should include a requirement that the organization conduct an initial review of its current EMS, followed by development of a comprehensive compliance-focused EMS that must be documented in a manual. The EMS manual must contain policies, procedures, and standards for the 12 key elements, at a minimum, and should also identify other, more detailed procedures and processes (e.g., inspections and self-monitoring) that may be located elsewhere at the facility. After the organization has had sufficient time to implement and refine the EMS (usually 2 to 3 years), the agreement should require at least one EMS audit by an independent third-party auditor, with results reported to both the organization and EPA. However, additional audits may be required, as individual circumstances dictate.
Key Elements of a Compliance-Focused Environmental Management System --
Environmental policy: This policy, upon which the EMS is based, must clearly communicate management commitment to achieving compliance with applicable federal, state, and local environmental statutes, regulations, enforceable agreements, and permits ("environmental requirements") and continuous improvement in environmental performance. The policy should also state managements intent to provide adequate personnel and other resources for the EMS.
Organization, personnel, and oversight of EMS:
-- Describes, organizationally, how the EMS is implemented
-- Includes organization charts that identify units, line management, and other individuals having environmental performance and regulatory compliance responsibilities.
-- Identifies and defines duties, roles, responsibilities, and authorities of key environmental program personnel in implementing and sustaining the EMS (e.g., could include position descriptions and performance standards for all environmental department personnel, and excerpts from others having specific environmental program and regulatory compliance responsibilities).
-- Includes ongoing means of communicating environmental issues and information to all organization personnel, on-site service providers, and contractors, and for receiving and addressing their concerns.
Accountability and responsibility:
-- Specifies accountability and responsibilities of organizations management, on-site service providers, and contractors for environmental protection practices, assuring compliance, required reporting to regulatory agencies, and corrective actions implemented in their area(s) of responsibility.
-- Describes incentive programs for managers and employees to perform in accordance with compliance policies, standards and procedures.
-- Describes potential consequences for departure from specified operating procedures, including liability for civil/administrative penalties imposed as a result of noncompliance.
-- Describes process for identifying, interpreting, and effectively communicating environmental requirements to affected organization personnel, on-site service providers, and contractors, and ensuring that facility activities conform to those requirements. Specifies procedures for prospectively identifying and obtaining information about changes and proposed changes in environmental requirements, and incorporating those changes into the EMS.
-- Establishes and describes processes to ensure communication with regulatory agencies regarding environmental requirements and regulatory compliance.
Assessment, prevention, and control:
-- Identifies an ongoing process for assessing operations, for the purposes of preventing and controlling releases, ensuring environmental protection, and maintaining compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. This section shall describe monitoring and measurements, as appropriate, to ensure sustained compliance. It shall also include identifying operations and waste streams where equipment malfunctions and deterioration, operator errors, and discharges or emissions may be causing, or may lead to: (1) releases of hazardous waste or other pollutants to the environment, (2) a threat to human health or the environment, or (3) violations of environmental requirements.
-- Describes process for identifying operations and activities where documented standard operating practices (SOPs) are needed to prevent potential violations or pollutant releases, and defines a uniform process for developing, approving, and implementing the SOPs.
-- Describes a system for conducting and documenting routine, objective self-inspections by department supervisors and trained staff, especially at locations identified by the process described above.
-- Describes process for ensuring input of environmental requirements (or concerns) in planning, design, and operation of ongoing, new, and/or changing buildings, processes, maintenance activities, and products.
Environmental incident and noncompliance investigations:
-- Describes standard procedures and requirements for internal and external reporting of potential violations and release incidents.
-- Establishes procedures for investigation, and prompt and appropriate correction of potential violations. The investigation process includes root-cause analysis of identified problems to aid in developing the corrective actions.
-- Describes a system for development, tracking, and effectiveness verification of corrective and preventive actions.
-- Each of these procedures shall specify self-testing of such procedures, where practicable.
Environmental training, awareness, and competence:
-- Identifies specific education and training required for organization personnel, as well as process for documenting training provided.
-- Describes program to ensure that organization employees are aware of its environmental policies and procedures, environmental requirements, and their roles and responsibilities within the environmental management system.
-- Describes program for ensuring that personnel responsible for meeting and maintaining compliance with environmental requirements are competent on the basis of appropriate education, training, and/or experience.
Environmental planning and organizational decisionmaking:
-- Describes how environmental planning will be integrated into organizational decisionmaking, including plans and decisions on capital improvements, product and process design, training programs, and maintenance activities.
-- Requires establishing written targets, objectives, and action plans by at least each operating organizational subunit with environmental responsibilities, as appropriate, including those for contractor operations conducted at the facility, and how specified actions will be tracked and progress reported. Targets and objectives must include achieving and maintaining compliance with all environmental requirements.
Maintenance of records and documentation:
-- Identifies the types of records developed in support of the EMS (including audits and reviews), who maintains them and where, and protocols for responding to inquiries and requests for release of information.
-- Specifies the data management systems for any internal waste tracking, environmental data, and hazardous waste determinations.
Pollution prevention program
-- Describes an internal program for preventing, reducing, recycling, reusing, and minimizing waste and emissions, including procedures to encourage material substitutions. Also includes mechanisms for identifying candidate materials to be addressed by program and tracking progress.
Continuing program evaluation and improvement:
-- Describes program for periodic (at least annually) evaluation of the EMS, including incorporating the results of the assessment into program improvements, revisions to the manual, and communicating findings and action plans to affected employees, onsite service providers, and contractors.
-- Describes a program for ongoing evaluation of facility compliance with environmental requirements, and should specify periodic compliance audits by an independent auditor(s). Audit results are reported to upper management, and potential violations are addressed through the process described under Environmental Incident and Noncompliance Investigations above.
Public involvement / community outreach
Describes a program for ongoing community education and involvement in the environmental aspects of the organization's operations and general environmental awareness.
More information from EPA
Compliance-Focused Environmental Management System - Enforcement Agreement Guidance (PDF) (17 pp, 39K)
Questions and Answers About ISO 14000The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) promotes the development and implementation of voluntary international standards, both for particular products and for environmental management issues. ISO defines environmental management systems as "that part of the overall management system which includes organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes, and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing, and maintaining the environmental policy."
What are ISO 14000 and ISO 14001?
ISO 14000 refers to a series of voluntary standards in the environmental field under development by ISO. Included in the ISO 14000 series are the ISO 14001 EMS Standard and other standards in fields such as environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. The EMS and auditing standards are now final. The others are in various stages of development.
How are the ISO standards developed?
All the ISO standards are developed through a voluntary, consensus-based approach. Each member country of ISO develops its position on the standards and these positions are then negotiated with other member countries. Draft versions of the standards are sent out for formal written comment and each country casts its official vote on the drafts at the appropriate stage of the process. Within each country, various types of organizations can and do participate in the process including industry, government (federal and state), and other interested parties, including various non-government organizations (NGOs). For example, EPA and states participated in the development of the ISO 14001 standard and are now evaluating its usefulness through a variety of pilot projects.
What must a community or organization do to have an EMS that
meets the ISO 14001 standard?
The ISO 14001 standard requires that a community or organization put in place
and implement a series of practices and procedures that, when taken together, result in an environmental management system. ISO 14001 is not a technical standard and as such does not in any way replace technical requirements embodied in statutes or regulations. It also does not set prescribed standards of
performance for organizations. The major requirements of an EMS under ISO 14001 include:
- A policy statement that includes commitments to prevention of pollution, continual improvement of the EMS leading to improvements in overall environmental performance, and compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
- Identification of all aspects of the community organization's activities, products, and services that could have a significant impact on the environment, including those that are not regulated.
- Setting performance objectives and targets for the management system that link back to the three commitments established in the community or organization's policy (i.e., prevention of pollution, continual improvement, and compliance).
- Implementing the EMS to meet these objectives. This includes activities like training of employees, establishing work instructions and practices, and establishing the actual metrics by which the objectives and targets will be measured.
- Establishing a program to periodically audit the operation of the EMS.
- Checking and taking corrective and preventive actions when deviations from the EMS occur, including periodically evaluating the organization's compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.
- Undertaking periodic reviews of the EMS by top management to ensure its continuing performance and making adjustments to it, as necessary.
Is an EMS under ISO 14001 relevant to communities and organizations?
Yes. Because ISO 14001 is essentially a system designed to help communities and other types of organizations meet their environmental obligations and reduce the impact of their operations on the environment, it is relevant to all types of organizations.
What are some of the potential benefits of an EMS based on ISO 14001?
- Improvements in overall environmental performance and compliance.
- Provide a framework for using pollution prevention practices to meet EMS objectives.
- Increased efficiency and potential cost savings when managing environmental obligations.
- Promote predictability and consistency in managing environmental obligations.
- More effective targeting of scarce environmental management resources.
- Enhance public posture with outside stakeholders.
Can existing environmental management activities be integrated
into the EMS under 14001?
Yes. The standard is flexible and does not require organizations to necessarily "retool" their existing activities. The standard establishes a management framework by which an organization's impacts on the environment can be systematically identified and reduced. For example, many organizations have active and effective pollution prevention activities underway. These could be incorporated into the overall EMS under ISO 14001.
Why is EPA interested in promoting and testing EMSs under
Like a number of states, EPA believes EMSs, if implemented properly, could serve as a valuable tool to help organizations improve their environmental performance, increase the use of pollution prevention, and improve compliance. However, this premise needs to be evaluated closely, working with a variety of organizations. EMSs could, in the future, serve as the basis for providing regulatory flexibility to organizations that successfully implement them.
More information from EPA
Environmental Management Systems/ISO 14001
More information from other organizations
National Database on Environmental Management Systems