Set up an environmental management system

EMS document control and record keeping


Documents are an important element of an environmental management system (EMS) as they provide written evidence of procedures, records and instructions. They can also provide a history of the EMS, enabling you to check whether improvements are continuing to being made.

Environmental management system documents

Documents you are likely to need as part of your EMS include:

  • an environmental policy
  • objectives and targets
  • structure and responsibilities for those involved in environmental work in your business
  • information on how the EMS operates
  • how documents and operational procedures are controlled
  • monitoring and measurement records
  • corrective and preventive action
  • records, eg training and auditing information
  • management review decisions

Your documents can be in either electronic or paper format. But whichever format you choose, you should ensure that they:

  • are available for easy reference at all times
  • are clear and unambiguous
  • are updated and that people use the latest versions
  • show who has responsibility for investigating and fixing problems

You should consider how documents are updated, who updates them, how you ensure people look at the most up-to-date version and what happens to old versions. If you have a quality management system - such as ISO 9000 - you should already have document control procedures in place and can follow quality management standards.

It is important to provide relevant employees with detailed instructions on how to operate processes that could have a significant environmental aspect.

Download a sample template for documenting an environmental management system procedure (DOC, 37K).

It is easy to have too many documents. You should only provide documents if their absence might result in a negative impact on the environment or prevent your EMS from functioning properly.