The circular guidelines show a continuous cycle of verifying everything within an environmental management system. An EMS, similar to ISO 14001, is a plan to document, monitor, optimize, and continually improve management to meet regulatory requirements. Source: EPA
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    Credit: SOURCE: BCDES

    Anatomy of an Environmental Management System

Sounds simple, you say: Make your solid waste, fleet, or wastewater department “green” and streamline your processes, and you're good to go.

Not so fast. There's often a large cost for implementation, and third-party audits are often required. The wastewater division in Eugene, Ore., for example, spent about $8300 for its first external certification audit in 2001.

The city hired a consulting firm to do a gap analysis that assessed its existing practices for conformance to the ISO 14001 standard, implemented a core EMS team representing all of the different operational work groups in the wastewater division, used a consultant to do initial training, and then developed the rest of the program in-house using the ISO 14001 standard.

“They interpreted the results of the gap analysis, which identified those elements of our existing practices that needed modification to conform to the ISO requirements,” says Donna Adams, environmental health and safety coordinator.

Getting the whole team involved is the key to building an environmental management system. “We formed an internal team of 12 employees, and we dedicated one staff member with the title of ‘EMS coordinator'to oversee and coordinate all aspects of the EMS program,” says Ohio's Vance. “In addition, the NBP provided us with resources in the form of a consulting firm, and also a wonderful network of other agencies that were either at the same point in the process or were further along to help guide us.”

Vance, Adams, and Pence recommend a few pointers for setting up an EMS, and then keeping it running smoothly:

  • Use input from a variety of areas of expertise
  • Don't be intimidated by the ISO standards
  • Don't reinvent the wheel—take what you already have in place and report it better
  • Dedicate staff to coordinate the program
  • Roll everything, including document control, into one system
  • Publicize it internally and externally
  • Make the process fun for employees.

And all echo the same caution: Don't try to do it all on your own. Preliminary information can be found at, and a host of other sources can be found by doing a simple Web search.