We discuss the benefits of having an environmental management system at your operation.
To many folks, an EMS is more than just a way to keep their company in environmental compliance. Some companies use it as a method of continually improving their organization, while some use it to communicate to their employees and outside world how seriously they take their environmental stewardship. Regardless the purpose of the EMS, those companies who take it seriously virtually always receive some sort of tangible benefit from properly implementing and using it.
Right now, here at RMA we're working on our own EMS. We've decided as an organization that we should really be practicing what we preach, and we've buckled down and started outlining our goals and objectives.
Long story short, it's a work in progress, but having our whole company weigh in on the system so far has been immensely helpful, and really insightful.
I mean, who would have thought that members of my staff would be asking some great questions, such as
What are the benefits to having an environmental management system?
While certain members of my staff were quick to dismiss it as common sense, we all put our heads together and tried to answer the question as understandably as possible, so everyone in the office would clearly understand why we're getting an EMS.
Why go with an environmental management system?
This is really the first issue to address when defining the benefits.
Many (most?) potential EMS users we speak with figure they've been doing okay without an EMS, and it's probably going to cost them a lot of time and money, so why bother? What's in it for them if they don't have to do it?
Think about it. An EMS is usually a pretty big commitment for a business. There's the initial cost, time, and personnel that has to be involved with development, implementation, and maintenance. So the upfront cost may turn off many folks, but it's important to factor them in at first.
Here's one of my favorite analogies about an EMS that I use with all potential customers, particularly the skeptical ones.
Think of your company right now.
Do you have a financial management system, or are you just flying by the seat of your pants? Does your financial management system include things like a management level system, including diverse aspects of the financial operation of your company such as invoicing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, time management, record-keeping, the setting of goals and objectives (usually through budgeting and forecasting), payroll, taxes, accounting services, compliance with IRS regulations, and a whole lot more?
How many of your employees are directly involved in a day-to-day manner with your financial management system? Do employees keep track of their time? Does anyone contribute to an IRA, make or log sales, pay bills, send out invoices, perform financial audits, do your accounting, file government records?
Do your employees get paid?
Duh, of course they do.
Well, that means every employee of your company is involved, in one way or another, in your financial management system.
Ok, so what are the benefits of an EMS?
Now think about your "environmental system".
Okay, you're thinking right now that environmental matters aren't as important or as widespread to your company or organization as financial operations are. In a way you're right, and wrong.
Most companies we see don't take their environmental matters too seriously, it's not comprehensive across the organization, there's no "big picture". There are no goals and objectives (other than usually just to stay out of trouble, a pretty poor goal), there's no coordinated effort at staying in compliance with government and other requirements, and usually there are too few employees who have any clue about the environmental program.
In other words, there's no system. Many companies wonder why their environmental program doesn't function, why they miss deadlines, fail to have proper permits, get fines, have a poor reputation, and fail to capitalize on current environmental trends, have to continually hire consultants, reassign jobs to different staff members, etc.
There's a better way to handle your environmental matters, and there are real benefits to having an EMS. The following benefits are what my staff and I identified as being the most important, realistic benefits anyone with an EMS should expect to experience.
An EMS provides a comprehensive system for staying out of trouble.
A well put together EMS is going to provide you with a system of handling, understanding, and keeping your responsibilities neat and in order. That means you'll have a coordinated system for handling your environmental affairs and staying ahead of regulations, rather than lagging behind and putting out brush fires as they arise.
This means two things. You'll be saving money and time.
You won't be paying fines, penalties, violations, etc. You won't have to buy quick fixes to handle problems, like buying equipment, tools, or paying for training to get into compliance. You won't have to hire outside legal or environmental help. Saving money is a pretty serious benefit, right?
You'll be saving time from not having to retrain employees, or searching for outside help, or a solution to your problem. You won't have to spend time dealing with additional inspections, or writing reports, filling out forms, or discussing your problem with outside help.
One of the prime benefits of an EMS is environmental regulatory compliance. Do it right and you should have what you need, be doing what you need and when you need it, and in general, doing what's required. But, staying 100% in compliance saves you more than time and money.
An effective EMS should also include provisions for mistakes through a program of corrective action, to ensure that conditions such as non-compliance (for example, a sample result above permit limits) is quickly and effectively addressed and corrected. In other words, an EMS provides you with a system to sleep at night.
Simply put, an EMS will show you how to address any problem that comes along that's related to your environmental program. Again, this saves you time and money, as well as a solid piece of mind.
Your employees become empowered.
Are you one of those companies that has one person who handles environmental issues? How's that working out for you? Everything working like a well-oiled machine? I didn't think so.
Think back to the financial management system analogy, and how everyone cooperates, does their share, and participates in the end goal of financial improvement.
Imagine how you'd benefit if everyone acted the same way with your environmental program.
Most EMS programs we see that are very successful use a team of various employees from the organization or facility. What usually works best is a sampling of employees, from CEOs to facility managers to lower level employees.
It allows your program to resonate with everyone. Everyone understands the point of it. Everyone knows how they fit into the program. Everyone feels like they can impact and make a difference in your organization, no matter how small their contribution.
Finding tangible cost savings through an EMS is very possible.
A proper EMS will guide you through the process of reviewing your operation and activities. We normally see organizations identify processes, equipment, or other things that can help reduce waste, cut back on wasteful practices, identify greater opportunities for recycling, and save on utilities such as electric, water use, etc.
We always hear we've started using CFL bulbs, we're going green! Yeah, that helps, but when you're using an EMS in the correct fashion, you'll find many, many more ways to save money, energy, water, etc. These savings will equate to real, tangible cost savings in terms of traceable dollars.
Not only will you find ways to save as mentioned above, but by putting your operation under a microscope, you might find other ways of saving as well.
Imagine you're discharging a fairly clean stormwater from your facility. You've been testing it for years and you know it's well within the limits or benchmark set forth in your permit. Maybe you can capture that stormwater and put it to use. Maybe excess heat is vented out of your facility which could be harvested for other purposes.
The bottom line is, through an EMS you can reduce your dependency on materials, resources, energy, etc. by reviewing your operation and processes.
An EMS gives you a competitive advantage today and tomorrow.
This is a little grandiose, I'll admit, but facilities that have an EMS will find they have a competitive advantage in their market and industry. How?
Consider you've cut your energy demands by 10%, your material and resource needs by 20% due to recycling, and you've been able to offer a "greener" product, and provide tangible information on that product (we're talking a borderline environmental product declaration here).
You'll be able to either sell a greener, more environmentally sound product for the same price as your competitor's average product, or you'll be able to outbid competitors because you can offer the same product with a slight discount due to your cost savings.
Conversely, and I've seen this happen on several occasions, you'll be able to compete for more profitable, higher quality jobs that demand you provide an EMS if you even want to bid on the project.
It's not happening a lot, but every year more and more of my clients are being asked to provide some sort of environmental statement, program, or documentation proving they are running an environmentally sound operation.
You'll be a bigger hit in the community.
Let's face it. No one wants any type of industrial facility to open up down the road from them. If you want to move, open up a new facility, expand, etc., you're going to have to rely on your reputation.
If you’re a slob, always getting in trouble with regulators (all publicly available information by the way), and generally don't care about your environmental impact, good luck!
If you’re running a lean, mean, clean operation, with a sound environmental management system (EMS) proving you care about your environment, your community, and the performance of your operation, you'll have an easier sell.
And if you're not expanding, it's generally good to have a good reputation in your community. I've met far too many business owners or plant managers who don't care about their community or neighbors. In the long run, they're in for a tough fight as things like eminent domain, rezoning, environmental groups, etc. will start putting a squeeze on them to shape up or ship out.
People want to know you're not a total disaster, and an EMS is a simple, easy way to prove you're at least thinking about the impacts you cause.
Don't be that guy in your community.
The benefits of environmental management systems aren't always obvious, but they're there.
If you still can't picture the benefits of an EMS, you're acting foolishly. I guarantee your competitors, your industry, and others around you are.
Next time you drive through an industrial park, or congested area of town, look for signs like ISO 14001 EMS certified, or for companies with their environmental mission statement on their brochure, or business card, or readily available on their website.
People want to see you care about the environment. People want to know you're not going to cause harm to their home, their community, or their way of life. People are spending money based off of environmental choices, and those who don't take advantage of people who buy based on environmental claims are completely missing the boat.
If you're still left wondering about the benefits of an EMS, take a good hard look at your business and ask yourself if there's any room to improve. Of course there is! How can you figure out where and when to start? Start thinking about an EMS.