Environmental Management System

Environmental Management System (EMS) Definition and its Elements 

By: Sri Suhartini

There are many definition of Environmental Management System (EMS) in research literatures.  For example, Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) (1995, 2) defines EMS as “a structured approach to managing an environmental program…”, which also means “nothing is overlooked, tasks are done and checked, provision made for changes and response procedures established for emergencies.” Likewise, EMS consists of “…the organisational structure, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources which an enterprise uses to achieve its environmental policy.” (Hillary  1996, 1). Further to this, EMS is “a management tool that a business or organisation can use to manage its impacts on the environment on a systematic and continuous basis.” (Productivity Commission 2002, 1).  Furthermore, EPA (2001, 1) defines EMS as “A defined and integrated system of communication, established training, responsibilities, and methods to address environmental issues and achieve environmental goals.”

From the previous definition, it is clear that there are many key elements of an EMS, which basically involve “Plan, Do, Check, Act” cycle of continuous improvement. According to Krut and Gleckman (1998),  there are five elements in an EMS, include ”an environmental policy, an assessment of environmental aspects and legal and voluntary obligations, a management system, a series of periodic internal audits and reports to top management, and a public declaration that ISO00 is being implemented.” Similarly, Holmes (2006) mentions that there are five elements of EMS based on ISO 14001:2004 (see Figure 1), including:  

“1) Policy, 2) Planning (Environmental Aspects, Legal and other, and Objectives, Targets and Programs), 3) Implementation and Operation (Resources, roles, responsibilities and authority; Competence, training and awareness; Communication; Documentation; Control of documents; Operational control; Emergency preparedness and response), 4) Checking (Monitoring and Measurement; Evaluation of compliance; Nonconformity, corrective action and preventative action; Control of records; and Internal audit), and 5)Management review.”

 Obviously, EMS can be adopted into any organisation despite its size, location and activity. However, the reason of implementing an EMS could be varied among those organisations.  Mohammed (2000, 180), for instance, mentions that the basic purposes of an EMS implementation are ” improving the environmental aspects inside the firms, enhancing the employees’ environmental awareness and environmental capacity building, enhancing the firms’ image among the public, and improving the management system of the environment inside the firms.” Similarly, EPA (1995,3) state that the aim of EMS implementation is to support an organization in achieving continuous improvement of its environmental performance. Therefore, it is important for any organisation to implement an EMS, including educational institutions.


Environmental Protection Agencies. (1995), Environmental Management System, The Environmental Protection Agencies, Australia.
Environmental Protection Agencies. (2001). College and University Environmental Management System Guide: draft October 2001. http://www.epa.gov/ne/assistance/univ/pdfs/emsImpGuide1.pdf
Holmes, K. (2006). Implementing an Environmental Management System. A lecture material in Environmental Management System Course. The Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia.
Krut, R.  and H. Gleckman. (1998),  ISO 14001: a Missed Opportunity for Sustainable Global Industrial Development, Earthscan Publication Ltd. London.
Mohammed, M. (2000). The ISO 14001 EMS implementation process and its implications: a case study of central Japan. Journal of Environmental Management 25, 177–188.

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