Environmental Management Systems
under ISO 14000

alternative to the Big Stick command and compliance approach

Mention ISO 14000 or environmental management systems to most family businesses and the typical response we hear is "But it is so expensive and the process is so cumbersome to get certified... and we don't see the need to be certified anyway."

And the [usually unspoken] message is "We'd rather do nothing ... and we'll get good attorneys and fight it out if we do get hit by the EPA."

As for the "do nothing and fight it out" approach, we've got some expert advice for family businesses from John Scarano about the hidden time bomb in environmental liability and environmental site assessment . We invite you to take a few minutes to look at the "downside" of environmental liability.

And for the "expensive to get certified" argument, we have some information and insight that should change your perspective on EMSs.

Environmental Management Systems under ISO 14000 do offer an alternative to the traditional "command and compliance" system of dealing with environmental liability and a way to integrate environmental factors into the business' strategy and operations in a positive manner.


A note on terminology... we use "ISO 14000" in a general sense to refer collectively to a whole series of standards relating to environmental management, auditing, etc. In fact, ISO 14001 is probably the best known and the one under which compliance can be certified. Those who are interested in the exact details, and the Technical Committees who oversee the development process are invited to our Resources box at the bottom of this page where there is a link to ISO.


First, what is an environmental management system?

An EMS is a systematic approach to dealing with the environmental aspects of an organization. It is a 'tool' that enables an organization of any size or type to control the impact of its activities, products or services on the natural environment. The ISO 14001 standard "Environmental management systems--Specification with guidance for use" is the standard within the ISO 14000 series that specifies the requirements of an environmental management system.

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Now, let's look at environmental management systems as set out under ISO 14000. Are they some sort of new bureaucratic invention, more hassle and paperwork...?


At their core, environmental management systems are really just like any other management systems from "Business 101" - systems for identifying and managing risks.

Just what does this core look like?

Environmental management systems as set out under ISO 14000

ISO 14001 sets out the key elements

  • Environmental Policy

    The environmental policy and the requirements to pursue this policy via objectives, targets, and environmental programs.

  • Planning

    The analysis of the environmental aspects of the organization (including its processes, products and services as well as the goods and services used by the organization).

  • Implementation and operation

    Implementation and organization of processes to control and improve operational activities that are critical from an environmental perspective (including both products and services of an organization).

  • Checking and corrective action

    Checking and corrective action including the monitoring, measurement, and recording of the characteristics and activities that can have a significant impact on the environment.

  • Management Review

    Review of the EMS by the organization's top management to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.

  • Continual improvement

    The concept of continual improvement is a key component of the environmental management system; it completes the cyclical process of plan, implement, check, review and continually improve.

Who does the ISO 14000 standard apply to?

Any organization that wishes to:

  • implement, maintain and improve an environmental management system
  • assure itself of its conformance with its own stated environmental policy (those policy commitments of course must be made)
  • demonstrate conformance
  • ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations
  • seek certification of its environmental management system by an external third party organization
  • make a self-determination of conformance

Notice that only one of the six relates to certification... all the rest are good, practical common-sense reasons for having a management system.

What are the benefits of having an environmental management system?

  • Reducing incidents that result in liability
  • Obtaining insurance at reasonable cost
  • Conserving input materials and energy
  • Improving cost control
  • Satisfying investor criteria and improving access to capital
  • Assuring customers of commitment to demonstrable environmental management
  • Meeting vendor certification criteria
  • Demonstrating reasonable care
  • Facilitating the attainment of permits and authorizations
  • Maintaining good public / community relations
  • Enhancing image and market share
  • Fostering development and sharing environmental solutions
  • Improving industry-government relations

ISO 14000 standards rely on voluntary acceptance by all interested parties, and apply to all types of organizations - even those not considered to be "businesses", for example, government offices.

[By contrast, the European system [EMAS] is basically a legislated set of rules that currently apply primarily to manufacturing industries.]

Family Business Experts Recommends...

Some family businesses are pursuing or have achieved certification for their environmental management systems either because they are in an industry supply chain that mandates certification, or they have so much exposure that they have to deal with the problem with an EMS.

At the other extreme, there are many family businesses that have little or no exposure to environmental liability and therefore have no need for an environmental management system.

But a great many family businesses are in the grey area in between... they do have risk and exposure to environmental liability, whether they know it and recognize it or not; they have sufficiently complex organizations that management systems are needed to identify and prevent risks before they are incurred; they have a need for operational efficiency and profitability; etc.

FBE recommends that you seriously investigate implementing an environmental management system.

Remember -

  • an EMS does not have to involve all the rigor of certification
  • an EMS can and should be tailored for your organization - you might not need the same elaborate system that General Motors does, and you don't have to have one like them!


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