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The overall goal of EMS planning is to set objectives and targets for improving environmental performance. The City does this by analyzing all of the possible impacts City operations could have on the environment and then selecting the highest priority items to focus on. An objective, for example, might be reducing air emissions; a target (something that can be quantified and measured) would be to reduce these emissions by, say, 10 percent per year. Along with this comes a commitment from City management to provide the resources necessary to achieve these objectives and targets.
Now comes the implementation phase. First, someone is appointed to manage the EMS (in the City’s case, it’s the director of the Office of Environmental Quality). This manager and others create a structure, which becomes the mechanism for telling employees citywide about the EMS, helping them understand that their jobs have impacts on the environment, and then helping them implement EMS procedures and goals in their various workplaces. This “doing” phase also includes communicating EMS goals to the community at large, having clearly written policies, procedures and records, and finally developing procedures for any emergencies that may occur: spills, emissions, accidents and such.
From time to time, the City will measure how successfully it is achieving its environmental objectives. Trained EMS auditors will routinely check the EMS to ensure that procedures are being followed and goals met. They will bring discrepancies to appropriate managers and employees. The idea here is not to punish, but to correct any problems and continually improve operations (a process of perpetual learning). It also recognizes good performance and anticipates problems before they occur.
There is a formal annual review of the EMS by senior management. The process depends on managers asking key questions: Are we meeting our objectives and targets? Are we saving money? What changes seem necessary to help the EMS function better? They may decide that changes to the EMS need to be made and “Act” to make improvements. These questions bring the entire process back again to the planning phase, and the cycle begins anew.
Environmental Management System
Going Beyond Mere Compliance: Why the EMS is Revolutionary
From the point of view of an Environmental Management System, good is never good enough. The basic tenet of the EMS is straightforward: You can always do better. You can improve continuously. One innovation leads naturally to the next. And the next beyond that.
This is part of what makes the EMS so revolutionary—because, in the time before EMS, even the most progressive corporations and governments generally viewed compliance with environmental regulations as the ultimate goal, the gold standard, the pinnacle of stewardship.
Compliance means knowing the laws and not violating them; it is about meeting minimum standards.
Compliance does not mean doing the best job possible; it only means not breaking the laws. It’s not bad, and certainly an improvement over accepted practices of the mid-20 th Century. But compared to the standards and goals of an Environmental Management System, the idea of mere compliance starts to feel a bit inadequate. So-so. Mediocre at best.
There is no end to the cycle of continuous improvement fostered by an EMS. By definition, this continuous improvement pushes environmental policies and practices routinely beyond minimum requirements and standards. The ethic of continuous improvement is part of what makes the EMS a revolutionary tool for private enterprise as well as for the public sector.