Implementing an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System in Your Organization

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) is one of the first steps an organization can take as it starts to incorporate sustainability into its organizational structure and culture. The EMS is the framework that organizes what may have once been disjointed or “one-off” sustainability tactics into a comprehensive program that is strategically planned, implemented, measured and refined. The most commonly used standard for implementing an EMS program is ISO 14001: 2015 Environmental management systems by the International Organization for Standardization. This is the standard that outlines best practices in organizing and implementing the EMS.

Making the Case for the EMS

An EMS can be the foundation to your organization’s holistic approach to sustainability management. It organizes strategies and allows teams to prioritize. The EMS also formalizes sustainable practices and gives a sustainability program more credibility and focus within the organization. Over time, an EMS can be an essential tool in the evolution of stand-alone sustainability policies to an integrated part of an organization’s business practices.

Developing an EMS also prepares an organization for corporate reporting programs that ask about an organization’s key metrics and progress towards its goals. In many corporate reporting programs, including GRESB, having an EMS in place may give additional points to the reporting organization.

What is an EMS?

The EMS follows a very basic structure of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)


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Plan: Begin by addressing the scope of the EMS and identifying clear boundaries. Then, based on stakeholder input, establish targets and objectives of the EMS and create strategies to achieve these goals.Goals should be specific and on a timeline. Identify responsible parties within the organization to implement each plan addressed by the EMS.

Do: Implement programs designed to achieve targets. Engage employees and stakeholders by educating them on the organization’s goals and strategies. Consider putting incentives in place to gain momentum.

Check: Using a data management system (DMS), monitor and measure progress towards targets. Have in place a formal review system within the organization. Use the data gathered to determine achievability of goals and effectiveness of strategies in place. Educate stakeholders on EMS progress.

Act: Continuously improve by refining goals, policies and programs to incorporate feedback and enhance performance. Revisit the question of what is material to your organization to identify gaps in the EMS.

An EMS is an iterative approach designed to be continuously reviewed and updated. As objectives of the EMS are met, new goals should be identified and implemented. The success of an EMS program depends on the level of commitment of stakeholders of the organization at all levels. Buy-in to the EMS program is likely the most important factor that will determine its success.

Getting Started

With our clients, we start our engagements by forming a Corporate Sustainability Team made up of executives from various departments including Operations, Marketing, Human Resources, Investor Relations, General Counsel, and other top level executives. These decision makers will have different perspectives and needs out of the corporate sustainability team. For example, the Investor Relations team will have insight into what investors are looking for, while the Operations team may have ideas for some key opportunities to improve efficiency.

The Corporate Sustainability Team works to outline goals that are material to the organization and will make the most positive impact on business practices. These goals may include long-term emissions reduction targets, incorporating green leasing languages into standard leases and/or educating tenants and other key stakeholders. To select the right sustainability goals, the corporate sustainability team should determine which metrics are both material to the organization and can be impacted. Policies may need to be developed that support these goals and strategies will need to be outlined to achieve stated goals and measure progress. Using a data management system (DMS) will be an important part of tracking and implementing specific programs and evaluating their success.

As an ongoing review, the Corporate Sustainability Team should use the data management system to continuously monitor progress and even reward employees that are effectively implementing sustainability programs aligned with the process defined in an EMS.