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What is an environmental management system manual?

Author: Mark Hammar

Why do you want an environmental management system manual? Since ISO 14001 doesn’t include a requirement to create a manual for your environmental management system (EMS), this is a good question. Creating an EMS to the requirements of ISO 14001 is not intended to be an effort in creating documentation. However, having documents that are practical and convey useful information in a straightforward way can help with communicating and maintaining the EMS across your organization.

Making a simple environmental management system manual that captures a few pieces of important and required information in one place can make that information easy to locate for anyone who needs it. In some cases, this can be a document that is shared with other stakeholders and interested parties as a way of showcasing your EMS and what it is all about. Make it useful, and creating an EMS manual will not be a waste of time and effort.

What could be included in an EMS manual?

To start, I am not in favor of creating an EMS manual that is simply a repeat of the ISO 14001 standard that has been reworded to turn the requirements into a statement of what the company will do. This sort of document is long and not very useful. Instead, a short manual that captures significant information can be helpful. In fact, there are a few pieces of information that require documentation per ISO 14001 that can quite easily be useful in an EMS manual. Below are four small, but critical items that can quite easily form a useful EMS manual:

1) Scope of the EMS: The EMS scope defines the limitations of the environmental management system within your company. The intent is to define and clarify the boundaries of the organization to which the EMS will apply. This is particularly important for companies that are part of a larger organization where the EMS is only applicable to one location. Once the scope is identified, all activities within that scope need to be identified, as they form a part of the EMS.

2) Environmental policy: The intention of the environmental policy is to be the documented intention of the company to prevent pollution, meet compliance standards for any applicable legal requirements, and continually improve the EMS. The policy then provides a focus for the employees of the company to work toward, as it conveys the environmental goal of the organization. Some companies also post this information around the buildings as a reminder of the company’s environmental goals for all employees.

For more information on the environmental policy, see How to write an ISO 14001 environmental policy.

3) Roles, Responsibilities & Authorities: While much of the roles, responsibilities and authorities for the EMS processes may be captured in the documentation for each process, some of the overall responsibilities may not be captured. An example of this would be the roles, responsibilities and authorities of the environmental management system representative as laid out in the last part of Section 4.4.1 of ISO 14001.

For details on the specific responsibilities of the environmental management representative, check out ISO 14001: What is the role of the management representative?

4) EMS Elements & their interactions: Each company is different, with differing processes, procedures, and environmental interactions. So, it follows that two companies will not have exactly the same elements in their environmental management systems, and even if the elements are similar, they will interact differently. So, what are the main elements of your specific EMS, and how do they interact? Describing this can be as simple as creating a flow chart, if this is how you choose to capture the information.

Create an EMS manual that is useful for you

It is important to remember that an EMS manual, if created, is there to provide a benefit for the company. It is not required by ISO 14001, nor can it be demanded by a certification body. So, if you make an environmental management system manual, make sure it provides benefit for your company by relaying information to your employees or other stakeholders that is important and helpful. Don’t make an EMS manual simply because someone says you need one; make it count.

To find out more about what needs to be documented in an ISO 14001 EMS, check out this whitepaper: Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 14001:2015.

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