Four Core Components of an Environmental Management System

Businesses around the world are increasingly affected by more stringent environmental regulations governing their activities. In addition to this, an increasing number of business stakeholders (consumers, employees, communities, etc.) are showing growing interest for matters such as the environmental impacts which accompany the goods and services provided by businesses (Zorpas, 2010). Given this context, several organizations (especially in the global North), are adopting tools to help them address their environmental impacts, hence improve their sustainability. An example of such tools which organizations (irrespective of size) can adopt to measure and mitigate their environmental impacts is the Environmental Management System (EMS). In this article we will be taking a closer look at this tool (EMS), starting by defining it, then exploring the different types of EMS, and lastly analysing the four key components of an effective EMS.

What is an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a set of processes and practices put in place by an organization in order to continuously reduce its environmental impacts, and increase its operating efficiency according to a planned strategy (Zorpas, 2010). It is vital to understand that Environmental Management Systems do not reduce impacts in themselves, but rather introduce procedures that will help an organization to monitor and improve its environmental performance in a structured and systematic manner. Adopting an EMS does not dictate the environmental goals and targets of an organization, but can be used to enhance the ability of an organization to achieve its set environmental commitments.

Classification of Environmental Management Systems (EMSs)

EMSs can be classified into two main categories, namely: certified and non-certified EMSs. Certified EMSs refer to those which have undergone a certification process by an independent third-party auditor. This process generally comprises of an initial assessment (the review of EMS documentation and identification of issues), followed by a formal audit (the documentation of non-conformances and recommendation for/against accreditation) (Darnall & Kim, 2012). An example of a certified EMS is ISO 14001.

On the other hand, non-certified EMSs as the name suggests do not undergo a certification process, and can vary in the way they are constructed and the components they are made of [more on EMS components below].

Certified EMSs are found to be more effective in improving the environmental performance of organizations compared to non-certified EMSs (Darnall & Kim, 2012). On the other hand, the certification process of an EMS can be a lengthy process, requiring significant documentation, multiple environmental assessments, and numerous meetings compared to non-certified EMSs. This certification process also demands additional operating costs which are accrued both at the initial certification and subsequent recertifications. Given these requirements, certified EMSs such as ISO 14001 are often better adapted for medium to large enterprises which have the necessary financial and human resources (Chan, 2021). Enterprises (typically small enterprises) interested in improving their environmental performance but which lack the necessary resources tend to implement non-certified EMSs, which are also produce the desired results, even though often less than certified EMSs.

Why Choose to Implement an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

The minimum outcome an organization can expect from implementing an Environmental Management System is to have its business practices conform to environmental regulations (Darnall & Kim, 2012). Beyond this basic outcome, EMSs can actually affect numerous aspects of a company’s operation, and enable the organization to reduce their environmental impacts beyond mere compliance with environmental laws, as well as improve the overall efficiency of the organization (Darnall & Kim, 2012).

More explicitly, the implementation of an Environmental Management System in an organization can yield several other benefits in addition to regulatory compliance. These additional potential benefits include:

  • Cost savings from the efficient use of resources such as water and energy
  • Competitive advantage through providing more environmentally sustainable products and meeting the needs of a specific market niche
  • Employee loyalty given that several employees seek to be identified with environmentally sustainable businesses
  • Customer retention, as the environmental commitment of a business can influence the decision of a customer to return or not
  • Risk management given that businesses that implement environmental initiatives are at lower risks of environmental disasters and potential liabilities
  • Social responsibility, as protecting the environment is the right thing to do for the sake of future generations

Components of an Effective Environmental Management System (EMS)

In order for an EMS to be effective, research suggests it should consist of at least four core components (Darnall & Kim, 2012). These core components include:

  • A written environmental policy: This is a publicly available document which is prepared by the company and which clearly states its aims and intentions with respect to the environment. It should include the company’s commitment to continuously improving its environmental performance, reducing its impacts, and complying with environmental regulations (Zorpas, 2010)
  • Environmental performance goals and indicators: An organization’s environmental goals should be derived from its policy and be in accordance with its available resources. These goals are then used to establish quantifiable targets, which are in turn measured using environmental indicators. For example, an organization’s goal could be to achieve 5% reduction in energy consumption, and the indicator for this goal could be the quantity of energy used/year.
  • An environmental training program for employees:  Roles and responsibilities should be assigned among the staff to effectively meet the set goals. It is vital to ensure all employees are trained to effectively perform their roles and responsibilities.
  • Internal environmental audits: This will involve performing (internally) a periodic evaluation of the organization’s processes to ensure compliance with regulations and other set criteria, and identifying what corrective actions and amendments are needed.

Need Help with EMSs?

If your organization needs assistance to improve its environmental performance, and consequently enhance its sustainability, we are here to help you. EnvironFocus is made up of a team of experts who are ready to accompany you in this journey. We would help you evaluate your current environmental performance, and assist you in the implementation of vital environmental management instruments based on the uniqueness of your organization. For more information, reach out to us at


Chan, E. S. (2021). Why do hotels find reducing their carbon footprint difficult? International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 33(5), 1646-1667. doi:10.1108/IJCHM-10-2020-1151

Darnall, N., & Kim, Y. (2012). Which types of environmental management systems are related to greater environmental improvement? Public Administration Review, 72(3), 351-365. doi:10.111/j.1540-6210.2011.02503.x.

Zorpas, A. (2010). Environmental management systems as sustainable tools in the way of life for the SMEs and VSMEs. Bioresource Technology, 101, 1544-1557. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2009.10.022

Leslie Fotso
One Thought on Four Core Components of an Environmental Management System
    4 Aug 2022

    Well written with great information! EMSs’are very useful systems to implement within an organization

Leave A Comment