Guide

Set up an environmental management system (EMS)

Advantages and disadvantages of environmental management systems (EMS)

Setting up and running an environmental management system (EMS) has several advantages and disadvantages which you should weigh up carefully before proceeding.

Advantages of environmental management systems

Most advantages of environmental management systems stem from savings your business can make, increased profitability and better sales opportunities:

  • Better regulatory compliance - running an EMS will help ensure your environmental legal responsibilities are met and more easily managed on a day-to-day basis.
  • More effective use of resources - you will have policies and procedures in place that help you manage waste and resources more effectively and reduce costs.
  • Marketing - you can highlight your business' credentials as an environmentally aware operation that has made a commitment to continual environmental improvement through advertising or annual reporting.
  • Finance - you may find it easier to raise investment from banks and other financial institutions, which are increasingly keen to see businesses controlling their environmental impact.
  • Increased sales opportunities - large businesses and government departments may only deal with businesses that have an EMS.
  • Lighter regulation - even if an EMS is not a regulatory requirement, by showing your commitment to environmental management, you may benefit through less frequent site visits or reduced fees from environmental regulators.
  • Certification to recognised standards - gaining external certification of your EMS through ISO 14001, BS 8555 or EMAS can give your business credibility with customers and stakeholders.

Disadvantages of an environmental management system

Some disadvantages of environmental management systems can stem from cost and staff negativity:

  • Cost - the costs involved can vary considerably, however you should be able to find low-cost opportunities that will produce significant cost savings and offset the cost of implementing and operating your EMS.
  • Time and resources - an EMS should help your business to become more profitable by reducing energy consumption, waste and, therefore, costs, however it is an investment which requires you to commit time and resources.
  • Too burdensome – some businesses may be able to realise the benefits of an EMS, eg resource efficiency and cost savings, without having to operate a full EMS – or an informal system may be a better fit for your business than working to a standard like ISO 14001.
  • Management or staff resistance – an EMS can be seen as unnecessary, so you should explain the basic aims and benefits early on in the process, eg through a presentation to the management board or through your business’ communications.
  • Scope – you can feel overwhelmed at the prospect of implementing an EMS across your business, however an EMS can be piloted within one part and later rolled out to other areas.
  • Training costs - some members of staff will need to have a deep knowledge of the EMS. By using guidance or following the requirements of standards such as ISO 14001, an EMS can be implemented without the need for 'expert' training.