CATEGORY TYPE: Quality & Auditing

COURSE NAME:Environmental Management Systems (EMS) - IRCA Certification


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This section outlines the key elements of an EMS consistent with the requirements of the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System specification.

The EMS framework has five major sections which are commonly associated with Total Quality Management:

  1. Environmental Policy
  2. The Planning Process
  3. EMS Implementation and Operation
  4. Checking and Corrective Action
  5. Management Review.


Step- One: Environmental Policy


The heart and soul of theEMSis a documented environmental policy providing the municipality or facility an overall sense of direction. The policy statement sets the overall level of environmental responsibility and performance which the municipality or facility seeks.

Top management must define the environmental policy and ensure that the policy:

  • is appropriate to the scale and kinds of environmental impacts of the municipality or facility’s activities, products and services;
  • is aligned with the services and operations;
  • provides the framework for setting and reviewing environmental objectives and targets;
  • includes a commitment to (1) continual improvement (2) the prevention of pollution (3) compliance with applicable environmental standards and regulations and voluntary codes and principles to which the municipality or facility subscribes;
  • is documented, implemented, maintained and communicated to all employees;
  • is available to the public.


Step Two: Planning Process


The system components relating to the planning process are (1) a process for identifying the environmental aspects of the organization’s or facility’s activities, products and services, (2) a process for evaluating the significant      Environmental impacts, (3) a process for ensuring access to environmental standards and regulatory requirements directly applicable to the organization’s or facility’s activities, products and services, (4) a process for establishing the organization’s internal performance standards or criteria for its activities, products and services in the absence of (or complementary to) relevant environmental regulatory standards, (5) a process for setting environmental objectives and targets with appropriate baseline performance information; and (6) an environmental management program specifically oriented toward achieving the objectives and targets.

1. Identification of the Industrial Facility’s Environmental Aspects

Essential to the planning process is a methodology for identifying the environmental aspects of the organization or facility’s activities, products and services. Environmental Aspects are the actual or potential interactions of the organizations. Activities, products and services with the environment. This requirement means an ongoing process for assessing environmental risks and opportunities, risks of environmental impacts, and opportunities for improved eco-efficiencies in resource utilization and other environmental performance improvements that have direct benefits to the industry, its community or those facilities, it affects indirectly (for example facilities that are regulated by the industry). ISO 14001 does not specify a methodology for identifying environmental aspects or evaluating their significance. As noted below, it is useful to begin with a systematic process for identifying environmental aspects and a process for prioritizing their importance based on criteria such as environmental risk, natural resource or energy use, cost, image or community impact. Whatever methodology is used, it must be capable of identifying and evaluating significant environmental issues and opportunities.


2. Procedures to Identify applicable Environmental Regulatory Requirements and Voluntary Codes and Principles to which the Facility Subscribes

Another component of the planning process is a procedure for ensuring access to all environmental laws and regulations applicable to the organization or facility’s activities, products and services. The procedure needs to be capable of translating applicable regulatory requirements into plain language that can be communicated clearly to operations and other managers whose responsibilities will be affected. Legal and other requirements of the planning process include any voluntary codes and principles. For example, a number of industries have adapted the agenda through public input to produce a local version of Agenda outlining the community’s vision for sustainability. These local agendas constitute voluntary principles to which the communities subscribe.


3. Setting Environmental Objectives and Targets

A key component of environmental management system planning is the process for setting appropriate environmental objectives and targets. Objectives, in the first instance, need to fit within the overall environmental policy statement. They also must be based on identifying the municipality or facility’s most significant environmental aspects. Setting objectives and targets cannot begin until the process of identification has been completed. A related requirement is the development of baseline information or existing environmental performance levels for each objective and (if appropriate) each target.


Objectives and Targets

ISO 14001 defines an environmental objective as:

  • overall environmental goal, arising from the environmental policy, that a organization sets itself to achieve, and which is quantified wherever possible.

An environmental target is defined as:

  • detailed performance requirement, quantified where practicable, applicable to the organization or parts thereof, that arises form the environmental objectives and that needs to be met in order to achieve those objectives.

Two key points to keep in mind are first, that a target is a more detailed, more specific step along the way to achieving an objectives; second, that the organization is itself responsible for setting its own objectives and targets based on its knowledge and understanding of its interactions with the environment and the legal and other requirements that apply to it.





4. Environmental Management Programs for Objectives and Targets

The final element in the planning process is the development of specific management programs achieving the environmental objectives and targets. These programs should assign specific responsibilities to identified individuals and contain timetables and action plans. In addition they must identify the necessary human, financial and organizational resources to ensure that objectives and targets are met.


Step Three: EMS Implementation and Operation


The ISO 14001 standard identifies 7 specific elements in the Implementation and Operation component of anEMS. These elements are summarized below:

1. Organizational Structure and Responsibilities

Traditional environmental management programs place management responsibilities on the facilities manager (or environmental engineer or environmental officer). Frequently, the environmental functions of the organization are functionally isolated from the core functions of its operations. As distinct functions they are viewed as being of concern only to environmental specialists. By contrast, in the ISO 14001 approach, responsibilities and management authority for implementing and maintaining theEMSare defined and documented within the many operations and functional groups of the organization or facility as a whole. Another way to put this is to say that a systems approach to environmental management requires that environmental management systems be integrated with all aspects of the organization’s operations.

To meet the ISO 14001 EMS standard, a municipality or facility needs to have a documented organizational structure which identifies the roles and responsibilities for implementing and maintaining theEMSof top and middle management, and in other relevant functions and groups.

In addition, top management must make available appropriate human, organizational and financial resources to support theEMS.

Finally, the most senior manager must appoint a management representative with specific responsibilities and authority to:

(1)  ensure that a facility’sEMSrequirements are defined and implemented and maintained in accordance with the ISO 14001 standard;

(2)  report to the senior manager on the performance of the facility’sEMS


The role of the management representative is critical to the success of anEMS. He or she must be an individual who is trusted and respected by all management levels, with the knowledge and ability to implement theEMS, and with a personal commitment to its success. In this role, the management representative should report directly to the senior manager and be a member of the organization’s top decision-making group (e.g., the executive committee).


2. Operational Controls

TheEMSmust provide for documented operational controls or procedures for each operation and activity associated with the identified significant environmental aspects. Operational controls or procedures must be devised to ensure that facility operations and activities (e.g., maintenance) are carried out minimize deviations from a facility’s environmental policy (including its commitment to comply with legal and other requirements) and its environmental objectives and targets. Operational controls and procedures must specify operating criteria.

The Operational Controls component of theEMSmust also provide procedures covering the identifiable significant environmental aspects of the products and services used by the facility.

These procedures cover, for example, specifications for suppliers aimed at improving the environmental performance of products and packaging that they provide. The controls should also cover environmental training and related requirements for contractors doing on-site work for the facility.

The nature of operational controls will often depend on the scope and purpose of theEMS. In the case of a municipality that has regulatory responsibility for entities that it does not directly manage, controls may extend, for example, to permitting and licensing procedures. Water treatment facility may establish operational controls that relate to allowable discharges. It may require that operational controls are implemented by the industrial dischargers serviced by the facility. Operational controls may also be developed to implement an overall sustainable community plan.


3. Training, Awareness, and Competence

Effective training programs, including those, that raise the environmental awareness levels of all people in the organization, are a critically important element in implementing and maintaining theEMS. Depending on the nature of the operations, it may be necessary to raise the level of awareness of the facility’s users. For example, in the case of a municipal park or a school, a greater impact may result from raising the awareness of the users of the facility, than by training internal staff. Alternatively, internal staff may be trained to educate the users of the facility.

Training must be approached systematically:

(1) An environmental awareness training program must be implemented for employees covering the importance of the environmental policy and the requirements of the EMS, the significant environmental aspects of their work (and the benefits of improved environmental performance), their roles and responsibilities in carrying out the EMS, and the potential consequences of not following operating procedures. The environmental awareness training should be aimed at educating employees on how they can make a contribution to theEMSand to the facility’s environmental performance.

(2) Identified environmental training needs should include the needs of each person whose work has existing or potential control over these impacts. Each of these individuals must meet a competency standard (developed by the municipality or facility) to be achieved through education, training or practical experience.

As in the case of operational controls, the nature of training programs will depend on the scope and purpose of theEMS. Training programs developed for an individual facility will be very different than those developed for a community involving numerous actors that the municipality does not directly control. In either case however, training is the key to the success of anEMS.





4. Communication

Internal and external communication is always a formal component of anEMS. An internal communication program establishes regular exchange of information about environmental issues and opportunities, at all vertical management levels, as well as horizontally across operating units.

An external communication program must, at a minimum, provide for a formal process for receiving, documenting and responding to complaints or enquiries from interested parties (e.g., community residents, government agencies, customers, suppliers) concerning the facility’s environmental aspects and itsEMS.

In addition, management must formally decide whether it will initiate an external communication (e.g., annual environmental report) concerning its significant environmental aspects, its objectives and targets. ISO 14001 does not require that a facility initiate external communication concerning its significant environmental aspects but it does require that a formal decision is made and recorded on whether or not to do so. Generally, however, best practices imply an open communications process with both the community and outside stakeholders.

Because municipal EMS’s generally involve numerous external stakeholders within the community who have had an important involvement in the development of the EMS, they should be kept informed of the municipality’s progress in meeting the objectives established in theEMS. It is worth noting that local residents are both the customers for municipal services (and voters) who are most affected by the environmental soundness of municipal operations.


5. EMS Documentation

The core elements of theEMSmust be documented. Core elements include the environmental policy, the environmental objectives and targets, the EMS organization showing roles and responsibilities, operational control procedures, monitoring and measurement procedures, and the top management review of theEMS. In addition, the EMS documentation must provide directions or a road map to locate other relevant EMS documents such as environmental training records,EMSaudit records, and regulatory permits.


6. Document Control

The EMS must contain a procedure for controlling all documentation required by theEMS. A major purpose of document control is to ensure that allEMSdocuments can be located, reviewed, revised and approved by authorized persons. Another purpose is to ensure that the current versions of relevant EMS documents (e.g., operational procedures) are available in all locations of the facility where they are essential for the effective implementation of theEMS.

Related to this purpose, document controls ensure that obsolete EMS documents are promptly removed from all points of issue and use and appropriately archived in accordance with the or facility’s record retention policy.


7. Emergency Preparedness and Response

TheEMSis required to have an Emergency Preparedness and Response-component. This component must include procedures for identifying potential accidents and emergency situations, proper responses, and measures to prevent and mitigate environmental impacts from accidents and emergency situations. For municipal facilities it is particularly important to consider how to work with the community in emergency situations.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response plan or procedures must be reviewed and revised, when necessary, particularly after the occurrence of an accident or emergency. In addition, the procedures must be periodically tested where practicable.


Step Four: Checking and Corrective Action

The EMS needs clear procedures to verify and to qualitatively (and quantitatively) measure the effectiveness of theEMS. ISO 14001 refers to this component as checking and corrective action.. This means having systems for measuring progress toward stated environmental objectives and targets. It also means having a process for verifying whether operations are in compliance with applicable environmental regulatory requirements and for periodically auditing conformity of theEMSwith municipal standards (and ISO 14001). Deficiencies noted during the checking or evaluation process are called non-conformities in the language of ISO. TheEMSrequires a process for identifying and correcting non-conformities and for taking appropriate preventive actions.


1. Monitoring and Measurement

The municipality or facility’sEMSmust include a monitoring and   measurement component.

This component must meet the following specific requirements:

  • Documented procedures for regularly monitoring and measuring the key characteristics of municipal or facility operations and activities that can have significant environmental impacts.
  • Documented procedures for tracking and recording information on performance, on relevant operational controls, and on progress toward the facility’s environmental objectives and targets.
  • Procedures for calibration and maintenance of monitoring equipment and retention of records.
  • Documented procedures for periodically evaluating the facility’s compliance – with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

In designing performance indicators it is necessary to link them to specific objectives or targets so that they will provide practical data for corrective action to meet the organization’s environmental commitments.


2. Non-Conformance, Corrective, and Preventive Action

The facility’sEMSmust include procedures defining the responsibility and authority of the person(s)

(1)  handling and investigating non-conformance with theEMS,

(2)  taking action to mitigate any environmental impacts caused by non-conformance, and

(3)  initiating and completing corrective and preventive actions.

These procedures must also ensure that corrective and preventive actions to eliminate causes of actual or potential non-conformance are appropriate to the magnitude of the task and commensurate with the environmental impacts encountered.

If corrective and preventive actions require changes in operational control or other documentedEMSprocedures, these changes must be implemented and documented.

3. Records

The facility’sEMSmust have procedures for identifying, maintaining, and disposing of environmental records. Environmental records are the output of the EMS and include training records, monitoring results (e.g., air emissions and wastewater treatment),EMSaudits, and regulatory permits. The environmental records management process must ensure that records are legible, identifiable, and traceable to the activity, product or service involved. Environmental records must be readily retrievable and protected against loss or deterioration. Environmental records retention times must be documented.


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