The great Mark Twain once said, “Synergy – the bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously.” Why do some companies track sustainability efforts but not utilize an Environmental Management System (EMS), or vice versa?
An EMS helps companies achieve their environmental goals and performance by consistently controlling operations. Each company’s EMS is specific to its business and goals. The EMS supplements quality control systems already in place (such as ISO 9000 or Environment of Care). By utilizing existing systems, organizing the “what” and “where,” and documenting procedures already in place, an EMS does not have to be viewed as another daunting expense or program.
Similarly, sustainability programs pull together the environmental, economic, and social aspects of an organization. A company’s Environmental Health & Safety and Corporate Social Responsibility approaches fall under the overarching sustainability umbrella. The continuous improvement approach, often associated with an EMS, can also be applied to sustainability measures. Over time, continuous improvement increases regulatory and program compliance, decreases business and legal risks, and boosts the bottom line.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists time and external consulting as the major costs to implementing an EMS. It is clear that this cost can be associated with any new organizing effort. But it is the benefits and improvements that stand out and that are true to both an EMS and a sustainability program: overall performance, pollution prevention, compliance, resource conservation, new customers, increased efficiency/cost savings, employee morale, lower risk, and a superior image with the public and stakeholders.
Mark Twain may not have been referring to EMS and sustainability at the time, but it is certainly applicable now. While the environment is only one pillar of sustainability, an EMS can only positively influence the overall sustainability approach.