skip navigation
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

nasa Environmental affairs are complicated – get organized!
  • Are you aware of all the environmental laws and regulations that may apply to your organization?
  • Are you certain that you are meeting all of your environmental obligations?
  • Do you understand and quantify how environmental issues affect your operations and bottom line?
  • Do you consider environmental concerns throughout product development and all operations?
  • Is your organization being "encouraged" by major customers or suppliers to improve its environmental performance?
  • Do you realize that materials you waste or emit represent liabilities and lost profit potential?

If you’d like to accomplish those things, then an environmental management system may be for you!

One of the most significant movements over the latter part of the 20th century, in the United States and around the world, has been the rise in environmental awareness. Now, this awareness began to move beyond the enthusiasm of environmental organizations and the vigilance of those charged with enforcing the laws of the nation. Environmental awareness is now shaping the actions of leading corporations, which are learning that they can be profitable while also improving their environmental performance.

The most significant tool businesses (and other organizations) are using to manage and improve their environmental performance is the Environmental Management System. An environmental management system, or EMS, is a comprehensive, organized, and documented system that helps organizations holistically manage all of its actions that affect the environment. The EMS most commonly followed in the United States is described in the international standard ISO 14001-2004.

It takes time and money to put a system like this into place. Why bother?

On the one hand, if you work in certain industry sectors, like automobile manufacture, it is often required by the large original equipment manufacturers (for example, Ford, IBM, Nokia).
On the other hand, let’s review the questions on NHDES’s EMS page.

  • Are you aware of all the environmental laws and regulations that may apply to your organization?
  • Are you certain that you are meeting all of your environmental obligations? Every day?
  • Can you quantify your environmental liabilities?
  • Do you understand how environmental issues affect your operations and bottom line?
  • Do you consider environmental concerns throughout product development and all operations?
  • Are product-content or take-back concerns an issue for your organization?
  • Is your organization being encouraged by major customers or suppliers to improve its environmental performance?
  • Do you realize that anything you waste or emit represents liabilities and lost profit potential?

These are important questions for any organization, and you should be able to answer them. You may be fortunate enough to have a highly-skilled individual or team handling all of these issues for you, but will they always be there? Wouldn’t it be better to share the responsibility for environmental performance across the organization by getting organized through an EMS?

Much research has been done to determine whether implementing an EMS improves an organization’s performance. The short answer is "yes," although there are many factors to consider. Where cost information is available, the most commonly-reported response is that quantified cost savings as a result of having an EMS paid back the expense of implementing it within one year.

Additionally, many hard-to-quantify benefits have been reported. For instance, companies successfully implementing EMSs have reported improved reputation and relationships with regulators and neighbors. Their standing in their communities and with the financial/insurance communities tends to be better.

Environmental Management System explained

In the simplest terms, a management system is a description of how an organization conducts its business, or some aspect of the business. All organizations have them, whether they realize it or not. For instance, the accounts payable, receivable, and payroll departments are typically run through systematic means. Organizations use a management system because it is fundamentally "smarter" to deal with challenges in a proactive, organized manner versus the all-too-common scenario of lurching from crisis to crisis.

The Management System Cycle; The Elements of an EMS
The Management System Cycle
Credit for graphic: US EPA

An EMS is basically the application of business/management tools to address environmental affairs. The most commonly used such system in the United States is described in the international standard ISO-14001-2004.

However, whether an organization chooses to use the ISO model or not, a functioning environmental management system should include the key elements summarized below.


For any functioning management system, it is essential that top management state in writing their commitment to improving environmental performance. This commitment, often in the form of a written policy statement, must be communicated and, most importantly, implemented. The environmental policy statement should include commitments to compliance with relevant laws and regulations, to preventing pollution, and to continual improvement.

Analysis of Environmental Aspects and Impacts

An effective EMS requires that you assess all the aspects of your business operations, products, and services that interact with the environment outside the building, and the environmental impacts associated with those aspects. You must determine which of these business aspects generate significant impacts, and you need to keep the list up-to-date.

Address Legal and Other Requirements

You need to positively identify the legal/regulatory requirements that apply to your organization. You need to establish a way to stay up-to-date on these requirements. Included with this are any other requirements that may apply to your organization, such as corporate commitments, compliance with international standards, or contractual requirements you may have.

Establish Goals and Objectives

An environmental management system requires that you consider your significant environmental impacts, the views of stakeholders most important to your organization, and your legal issues, and to decide what you can work on over the short term. Make a quantifiable plan for achieving them, with reasonable schedules, and adequate resources. Once you do achieve them, begin the cycle again with new projects.

Assign Responsibilities

Communicating clear expectations and accountabilities to those most responsible for environmental impacts in your organization is essential and should not be left to chance.

Assure Training and Competence

Everyone in the organization must be aware of what your environmental policy is and what your environmental goals and objectives are. The individuals directly involved with your significant environmental impacts need specific training to properly manage these impacts.


Communication within your organization and with stakeholders outside the organization has to be done in a systematic and effective way. People have to know who to contact when. Back-up plans need to be in place for the inevitable circumstance that a key person is not on station at a given time.

Documentation and Records

It is important to write down what you are doing. You need to have the means to ensure that everyone has the most up-to-date documents and is following the most current procedures. Any operation leading to significant environmental impacts must have documented procedures describing how to properly conduct the operation. Records must be kept in a secure and retrievable fashion.

Emergency Preparednesss

Is it important to create and maintain procedures to identify and respond to potential emergencies and responses. Test these procedures often (e.g., fire drills).

Monitoring and Measurement

It is said that "what gets measured, gets managed." As such, you need to continuously monitor the operations associated with your significant environmental impacts. Tracking if you are reaching your documented goals and objectives, or "objectives and targets" as described in the ISO standards, is critical. You need to evaluate your compliance with laws and regulations, keep monitoring equipment calibrated and maintain written records of all of these activities.

Corrective and Preventative Action

Things do not always go as planned. You need processes in place to handle such situations. When things do go awry, it is important for you to understand what went wrong and to figure out the root cause of the problem. The purpose of doing so is to correct the problem and to identify ways to prevent it happening again. A natural follow-up activity would be to revise and update relevant procedures and policies accordingly.


While the term "audit" may invoke fear in some as a "gotcha" exercise, it is used here in the positive sense to mean check. You need to periodically check your EMS to ensure that you are effectively doing what you said you would do and documenting this appropriately. Negative audit findings, or "areas for improvement," are evaluated and fed through the corrective/preventative action process. Note: Audits by external parties, such as for ISO 14001 registration, are another matter and are discussed further under the Registration Section.

Management review

Top management has to review the system periodically and make adjustments as needed. At a minimum, the management review should include reviews of audit results and progress toward achieving goals. This is also a good time to reassess which of your environmental impacts should be considered significant.

If this list looks like a good way to run any aspect of your business – it is. Remember, an EMS is the application of good management to your environmental concerns.


As in the world of quality management (ISO 9000, your EMS can be certified – or registered, the terms are synonymous – by outside organizations. This is a requirement of doing business in some industrial sectors (such as in the automotive industry) and for some export markets. EMS certification is also useful either for reputation purposes, or for your own benefit. Having an unbiased, third-party visit your facility occasionally to look at your system with a fresh set of eyes can be a valued-added investment. For more information on selecting a registrar, go to: Suggestions for Selecting a Registrar

The most common registration is to ISO-14001-2004 . This internationally-recognized process is summarized below:

The international Organization for Standardization (ISO sets international standards in the same way that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sets Unites States standards. In fact, as the relevant national body, ANSI represents the United States in ISO. An affiliate of ISO, the International Accreditation Forum, sets standards for national accreditation bodies. The accreditation body for ISO 14001 in the United States is the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, or ANAB. ANAB accredits registrars.

If you decide to seek formal registration for the EMS that you have developed, you contact, and contract with, a registrar. A list of accredited registrars can be found at ANAB’s web site (, in the yellow pages, or you can collect references within your business community. Refer to Suggestions for Selecting a Registrar for helpful tips on selecting a registrar.

The registrar will assign an audit team. These may be employees of the registrar, or more often, contract auditors brought in for your audit. The audit team will start with a review of documents, which they will ask you to provide in advance of the on-site audit. This allows them to get much of their work done without the expense of traveling to your location.

The auditors have specialized training and experience requirements they have to meet. "ISO Lead Auditor" is a phrase you may hear; this refers to a specific credential that the lead auditor (at least) on your team should have.

The audit team will then visit your facility. There will be an opening meeting, which your top management should attend. After that, the audit team will tour your facility and observe and interview individuals throughout your organization. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization/facility, the audit team may spend more than one day, especially for an initial registration audit. After the on-site audit phase is complete, a closing meeting is held where the auditors provide some indication of their results. Formal, written results, which document the audit team’s findings, and recommendations to the registrar, are submitted at a later date. The registrar makes the final determination regarding your registration status.

Note: While the final report may include some suggestions (typically referred to as observations) on how you might improve your EMS, auditors are governed by strict rules and guidelines that do not allow them to mix consulting and auditing services.

Once registration is achieved, you will be audited, per your contract with the registrar, at least annually. These "surveillance" audits are less comprehensive than the initial audit. A common strategy is to annually audit one-third of your system. A surveillance audit should also re-visit areas of concern identified in the previous audit.

Your ISO registration is good for three years, at which point re-certification is required. There are strict ISO guidelines on how your ISO registration can be used in your publicity or advertising. You should note that you cannot state that your product or service is "ISO-certified" – ISO does not certify the product, but certifies that the processes used to create it meet a certain standard.

There is no publicly-maintained list of who is registered to ISO 14001, and there is no requirement that you publicize your registration. There are some commercial services offering lists of who is registered. NHDES suggests that you publicize your registration – it only reflects well on you.

Selecting a Registrar

Suggestion on registrar selection

If you are responding to an outside (e.g., customer) requirement to register an EMS, check what their specific requirements are, since not all registrars are accredited, either by the accreditor for the USA, ANAB ( , or by another country’s accreditation bodies.

There are no requirements within the USA, at least from the government, for using an accredited registrar. However, you may want to consider the value of a registration by a registrar with a solid reputation and formal credentials, versus a firm without such credentials. If you are reacting to a business requirement, such as a customer demand, it is usually a good practice to check on what that customer specifically wants.

The audit team the registrar sends should be staffed by professionals who have experience in your industry, or as close to it as possible.

You can negotiate. Factors to consider for negotiation include: cost and make-up of the audit team, and the amount of time the audit team will spend at your site. References can be important.

Also, consider contracting for a pre-registration audit, as it will help you see if you are as ready for the formal registration audit as you may think you are.

NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

copyright 2017. State of New Hampshire