What are the key roles and responsibilities in the EMS?

If your organization has an EMS (Environmental Management System) that is certified according to the ISO 14001:2015 standard, you will be aware that there are a number of key roles and responsibilities that need to be allocated and fulfilled successfully in both the setting up and the operation of the EMS. These roles and responsibilities will reflect different levels of leadership, internal company status, capability, and involvement in the day-to-day running of the EMS and in some cases, there may even be responsibilities of reporting to media or government, depending on the scope, size, and sector of your organization. So, given this wide range of roles, what exactly does the standard say and how can these best be summarized and condensed in a way that easily explains what options an organization may have when assigning these responsibilities?

Roles and responsibilities – What does the ISO 14001:2015 standard say?

Section 5.3 of the ISO 14001:2015 standard deals with organizational roles, responsibilities, and authorities and suggests that top management is responsible for ensuring that these are assigned and communicated within the organization. It is explained that top management retains the responsibility for ensuring the EMS conforms to the standard itself, and that responsibility is assigned for reporting results to the top management team. This sounds reasonably straightforward, but as suggested above there may be huge variations on the responsibilities required within an EMS depending on the scope, size, and sector the organization operates in. So, with this being the case, are there any tips or practical applications we can examine to ensure that the organization satisfies this vital clause thoroughly and successfully?

Practical examples of roles and responsibilities in the EMS

There may be some room for choice when it comes to assigning roles and responsibilities within the EMS, but the function of the organizational leaders remains clear and constant. In the previous article, How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015, we examined the requirements of leaders according to the terms of ISO 14001:2015, and what became clear is that strategic responsibility, resources, delegation, support, communication, and the facilitation of continual improvement remain the responsibilities of the organizational leader(s). This remains the case whatever the size of your organization, and this should be noted carefully. Whether presiding over five or 500 employees, these responsibilities clearly belong at the door of the organizational leader who has been nominated for this task. The leader of a multinational nuclear company may be communicating to stakeholders who are governmental leaders, media networks, and political parties, but that aspect of public communication aside, his/her duties will be broadly similar to those of a leader in charge of a small business of 20 employees, that nonetheless has an ISO 14001:2015-certified EMS. What does become different is the delegation of duties, authority, roles, and responsibilities for the running and reporting of the performance of the EMS. So, what options and choices exist here, and what are the roles and responsibilities? Let us examine:

  • Ensuring that the EMS meets the requirements of the standard: This can be done by one nominated employee with the correct qualifications and knowledge level, and whatever the size of your organization, this task may be better to rest with one or two key employees to avoid confusion. Ensuring legislation is up to date is better to be handled by one competent person than multiple employees, for example.
  • Reporting on the performance of the EMS to top management: This is another key responsibility that may be best left to one competent employee, but in reality, should be the responsibility of several competent employees, and may be less work if you have set up the agreed key performance indicators accurately and correctly.
  • Day-to-day running of the EMS: This is a role that may vary greatly depending on the size and scope of your organization, and it will need serious consideration. A large business may need a larger number of competent and trained employees to deal with the EMS functions, as we looked at in the article: ISO 14001 Competence, Training and Awareness: Why are they important for your EMS? Again, it may be possible to have one competent person overseeing this in a small business, but you must ensure that your employees are informed, trained, competent, and communicated to – all in terms of the EMS objectives, initiatives, and results.

So, we can see that there are some options in terms of how we assign these roles and responsibilities within the EMS, but are there any tips that can help?

Assigning roles and responsibilities for your organization

Basically, it is down to each individual organization to analyze its own requirements and decide how key roles and responsibilities should be assigned. Therefore, it is important that the basics we looked at in our previous article: Determining the context of the organization in ISO 14001 are considered carefully, as this element can help you consider whether you need one person, multiple people, or a whole team to help with the day-to-day running of your EMS. For example, many design or marketing organizations may want to hire a consultant, and depend upon that person, as they do not have anyone with the specific skills to administrate the EMS. In contrast, it is normal for manufacturing organizations to have a person available with the correct knowledge and skillset. Whatever you choose, the delegation of these responsibilities will be one of the most important elements of your ISO 14001-certified EMS; if you choose the wrong people who do not have the key skills, your EMS performance will suffer accordingly. Choose the correct structure and assign your key roles and responsibilities diligently, and your EMS and the environment will benefit.

Why not use our free  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations course to help you define roles and responsibilities?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.