In this post I thought that we could take a look at the often forgotten art of how an environmental management system (EMS) can be supported. This ‘dark art’ covers the ways in which an EMS generally operates. In this part of EMS there are a lot of good management practices of which the principles apply to many management systems such as those for environment, quality or health and safety. What I have provided below is based on the requirements for Support in the ISO 14001:2015 standard which is always a good reference document when considering high standards of environmental management.
The provision of adequate resources is a key support function. Resources can constitute many items that are needed for a functioning EMS. This extends from ust financial resources to those surrounding time, equipment and people. An organisation can use current resources allocation as a baseline to whether access to resources needs to be increased. Many activities surrounding the EMS will require the resources such as training, auditing and monitoring.
An EMS has a huge human input, there are many tasks required to ensure smooth functioning such as environmental parts of tasks the organisations carry out to deliver a service or product to those more directly associated with the EMS such as monitoring or auditing. For all these roles people must have the necessary skills and experience. Organisations must develop competence standards for roles its workers undertake, covering issues such as training, experience etc, and then check that each worker meets these standards. This is commonly completed by preparing and completing a skills matrix. If workers do not meet competency standards, then these should be filled by providing what is missing.
Everybody in an organisation needs some knowledge of key parts of the EMS. Basic organisation wide knowledge is vital. Of course, some roles will need more, but as a minimum information on key EMS aspects should be provided such as the environmental policy, significant aspects and impacts, benefits of high standards of environmental performance and what might occur if compliance obligations are not met etc. Quite often this basic background knowledge can be achieved by the provision of an onboarding session, provided when an employee joins an organisation which will probably need refreshing from time to time.
Next up we have communication. Communication is a vital part of an EMS for example it motivates and allows the identification of EMS improvements. Communication needs to be both internal and external. External communication may be needed for contractors, visitors and other key stakeholders (or as the ISO 14001 standard calls them ‘interested parties’). A communication process should be developed which states the key ways the organisation meets this EMS requirement. An output from such a process could be a communication matrix stating who, what, when and how communications occur.
There are many documents that must be retained by an organisation to show compliance with EMS requirements, examples include the environmental policy, risk and opportunities and compliance obligations. Such documents must be controlled (e.g. they would have a reference number and other forms of identification). Documents are required to be available where needed, protected and must be updated when required. Organisation will generally develop a ‘document control’ process that will cover these needs.
There we have it! When supporting an EMS it is vital that controls are developed for resource provision, competence, awareness, communication and documentation. Without these an EMS will not function effectively and is unlikely to meet its intended outcomes.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.