Key Principles of an Environmental Management System

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Prioritizing sustainability and doing what’s possible to minimize their impact on the environment is an increasing concern for American organizations, with 67% of Americans worried that large organizations and corporations are doing too little to reduce their impact on climate. As demand for sustainability increases, corporations can build customer trust and showcase their commitment to the environment through the effective use of an environmental management system (EMS) certified to ISO 14001.

But what is an environmental management system and ISO 14001—and how do they help organizational objectives to reduce waste, use fewer resources, move to cleaner energy, and contribute positively to the environment?

ISO 14001 environmental management system

What Is ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 is the global standard for environmental management and is a framework that aims to help organizations of all sizes in all industries build and implement an environmental management system. It is part of the ISO 14000 family of standards.

An ISO 14001-certified EMS is designed to allow organizations to better monitor, manage, and improve their environmental impact, driving sustainability initiatives through several operations that can be tailored to an organization’s specific needs.

It also allows organizations to improve sustainability while ensuring compliance with relevant local, state, or federal laws and regulations. These operations can include waste management and disposal, energy consumption, and use of resources such as raw materials and packaging.

ISO 14001 outlines the requirements for an EMS and guides organizations on implementing one best.

Who Can Implement an ISO 14001 EMS?

ISO 14001 is not specific to any industry or sector and applies to small and large organizations. Any US organization, regardless of industry or sector, can benefit from implementing an environmental management system and becoming ISO 14001-certified.

All organizations impact the environment directly through their operations or as part of a supply chain. From energy usage in factories and haulage to raw material use and waste generation, businesses should monitor and measure their impact and implement an environmental management system to control and improve results.

For any organization looking to prioritize sustainability and proactively approach its environmental responsibilities, ISO 14001 can be an effective route.

Key Principles of an Environmental Management System

Environmental Policy

Central to an effective EMS and becoming ISO 14001-certified is creating an environmental policy.

This involves the organization defining its business objectives and targets regarding the environmental policy. It determines how and what needs to be documented, activities that fall within scope, such as waste generation or transporting materials, and the legislation that requires compliance.

The environmental policy should be communicated to stakeholders, including business leaders, managers and supervisors, and key parts of the supply chain. Ideally, the policy should be publicly available to support transparency initiatives and include commitments for continuous improvement, regular reviews, and reporting.


Planning is a key feature of an effective EMS and focuses on designing strategies and procedures that support the effective implementation and operation of the EMS.

Effective planning should include assessing aspects of the organization that impact the environment, such as operations and logistics. Plans help identify and set procedures for different business activities and define tasks such as updating legislation requirements and work programs for setting and meeting objectives.

Planning isn’t static. Regular reviews and gap analysis following the implementation of an EMS supports continuous improvement, organizations should revisit and update plans to align with shifting objectives or updated legislation.


Implementing an EMS is an organization-wide effort, requiring adjustments at every level and building new processes and procedures to make it simpler to adapt to changing requirements.

It requires change leaders to document, define and communicate the necessary organizational changes to provide employees with the appropriate knowledge and training.

Central to successful implementation and operation is clarity on roles and responsibilities, helping a business understand who is responsible for different aspects of the management system.

An EMS is a critical monitoring and reporting tool—with a key feature providing a centralized space for businesses to record, store, and access relevant documentation.

EMS operations can include:

  • Auditing and compliance—tools to record and capture evidence to support regulatory requirements.
  • Incident management—methods for capturing incidents so changes can be made to operations.
  • Knowledgebase—access to information, policies, and procedures used by teams and sites about activities such as waste disposal.
  • Performance—access to KPIs to provide insights and data on environmental measures and controls.
  • Risk—risk audits and assessments to identify areas for improvement.


During and after implementation, measuring progress against objectives set during the planning stage of ISO 14001 is critical is key to understanding if your organization is moving in the right direction.

This allows for corrective action and helps identify risks and incidents that allow organizations to optimize their performance and put preventative measures in place.

Management Review

Besides measuring progress, management reviews should be conducted.

A management review is a formal oversight of the organization’s EMS and a significant part of ISO 14001 certification. Management reviews can ensure that the EMS is suitable, processes are adequate for the task, and that the management system is effective.

Continuous Improvement

Achieving ISO 14001 and implementing an EMS to review and actively maintain standards and requirements brings about continuous improvement.

This EMS identifies parts of an organization and its processes that can be improved, and this can be based on recorded data, risk analysis, regular reviews, effective communication, and activities such as employee training.

ISO 14001 certified - what is ISO 14001

Benefits of Implementing ISO 14001

By implementing an EMS and achieving ISO 14001 certification, your organization is better placed to manage its environmental impact over the long term systematically. Not only is this a benefit for the environment, but also for your organization through increased efficiency and productivity.

Other benefits of implementing an EMS include:

  • Improved reputation amongst clients and competitors.
  • Increased chance of winning more business.
  • Smaller environmental impact.
  • Reduced costs due to increased efficiency.
  • Continual benefits throughout the framework’s use.
  • More easily able to remain compliant with changing regulations.
  • Demonstrates commitment to sustainability.

Becoming ISO 14001-certified doesn’t have to be complex. Orion Registrar’s ISO 14001 certification process is a cost-effective service completely tailored to your organization’s needs, and we offer access to qualified, expert auditors who will be with you throughout every step of the certification journey.

For more information, please read our guide on recycling tips for business waste management.

Get a quote from Orion for ISO 14001 certification now.


Written by

Julian Russell

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