Environmental management systems are designed to take a comprehensive approach to protect the environment from the business activities of a company or other organization. These types of systems take a systematic approach where everything is documented. They include training people to correctly do their jobs, monitoring, and reporting the environmental performance of an organization to both internal and external parties.

This Wikipedia entry on environmental management system (EMS) lists two main goals for these types of systems. The first is compliance and meeting the minimum legal standards of where the organization is located. Noncompliance can result in fines by the government, lawsuits from negatively impacted people, and even having a business shut down. The second goal is waste reduction which aims to the environmental impact of an organization. They try to minimize how much waste is created and to recycle what they can.

There are four factors in an environmental management system, referred to as PDCA. This stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act. The goal is to plan an EMS and then implement that plan effectively. During this process, different factors are checked to make sure they are in compliance with the plan. As time goes on the organization will review the PDCA and see where things can be improved.

This article shares the elements that make for the best environmental management systems. There are 12 key elements with three of these being of supreme importance. The first of the three most important elements is accountability. Employees that engage in bad practices must be penalized, including being fired, while practices they do that are environmentally sound are rewarded.

The second most important element is evaluating and improving the action plan. This includes occasional audits conducted by third parties. This will uncover any deficiencies in the plan so that they can be corrected. The audit must be followed through on as, otherwise, it is just a meaningless exercise in paper shuffling.

The third most important element is looking into any negative environmental incident. This needs to be done in a timely manner so that corrections can be made as soon as possible. Once a negative environmental incident has occurred the EMS should swiftly result in a thorough investigation of what happened and why it happened. The root causes of the incident need to be uncovered and detailed in documentation.

Once an environmental management system has been put in place it needs to be backed up by management. This includes all the way from frontline managers to the boardroom. The EMS needs to be explained to employees and what their role is in minimizing environmental impacts. How the EMS is enforced needs to be explained and it should be performance-based.

There are software packages that help organizations design and implement and effective EMS. The software tracks and measures sustainability metrics such as carbon emissions, energy consumption, and recycling. The software package will help with compliance tasks and managing permits such as when they need to be renewed. The software also makes completing inspections and audits much easier and less time consuming.