Environmental and Social Management Systems (ESMS) – An overview




Environmental and social management systems (ESMS) are a set of management processes and procedures that allows an organisation to analyse, control and reduce the environmental and social impacts of its activities, products and services. ESMS are appropriate for all kinds of organisations of varying sizes in public and private sectors, and may well be appropriate for your client, borrower or investment. Key areas of ESMS are human resources management, environmental management, and occupational health and safety management. Depending on the company’s size and nature of its business and operations, these areas may be dealt with in distinct management systems and with varying degree of emphasis. Companies with significant environmental and social impacts may in addition have a system for managing community impacts and comuttiy relations, including dealing with grievances. However, the following principles are common to any management system:

The basic elements of an ESMS include:

  • reviewing the organisation’s environmental/social goals;
  • analysing its environmental/social impacts and relevant legal requirements;
  • setting objectives/targets to reduce these impacts and comply with legal requirements;
  • establishing programs to meet these objectives and targets;
  • monitoring and measuring progress in achieving the objectives;
  • ensuring employees’ awareness and competence with respect to the organisation’s policies, objectives and targets; and
  • reviewing progress of the ESMS and making improvements.

What are the benefits of ESMS?

ESMS provide tools to help manage your organisation’s environmental and social impacts efficiently and effectively and to improve environmental and social stewardship across the entire organisation. Organisations who have implemented ESMS have realised the following benefits:

  • cost savings;
  • reduced risk;
  • increased operational efficiency;
  • positive external relations and public image;
  • improved communication;
  • greater employee stewardship;
  • improved public relations.

An organisation can develop its own ESMS based on the above elements or it can use a recognised international standard to help it in doing so.

Environmental Management Systems

The two main environmental management system standards are the international ISO14001 and the European Union EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit System). A company can achieve certification of compliance to one of these two standards, which enables it to demonstrate its status to stakeholders. Certification is mandatory for EMAS, which is based on an EU regulation and will apply in CEE accession countries – the Czech Republic has already implemented it.

ISO 14001 is the internationally recognised environmental management standard. It provides a systems approach based on “do, check and act”. ISO 14001 is one of the ISO14000 series of Environmental Standards developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), and includes some of the same elements as the international quality management series of standards ISO9000. The ISO 14001 standard includes all of the elements needed to develop an environmental management system in your organisation.

Further information on the standard is provided at:

EMAS stands for the Eco-Audit and Management Scheme. It is a voluntary scheme for industry introduced by the European Commission (EC) in 1993. Its aim is to promote on-going improvements in the environmental performance of companies and the provision of environmental information to the public. It is only open to industrial sites. To participate in EMAS a company must adopt an environmental and social policy, review environmental and social performance at the site in question, develop an environmental and social management system and develop a plan of action in light of the findings of the review, audit the system and publish an statement of performance of the site. A qualified third party checks the system and the statement to see if they meet EMAS requirements. If so, they are validated and the site can be registered. When it has been registered the site gets a statement of participation which it can use to promote its participation in the scheme.

EMAS is a regulation of the EC. The complete text of this regulation is available from the national bodies responsible for EMAS, the competent bodies, and the official EMAS HelpDesk.

What is the difference between EMAS and the ISO14000 standards?

The ISO 14000 standards are voluntary instruments, reflecting input from a variety of interested parties worldwide, which are intended for use in countries at all stages of economic development, under a wide range of governmental systems.

The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a regulation, developed to meet the needs and expectations of governments, citizens and consumers in the EU Member States. Because EMAS has legal status within Member States, it can take a more prescriptive approach to environmental management issues; the ISO 14000 standards, by contrast, rely on voluntary acceptance by all interested parties, and therefore must maintain a balance between the needs and expectations of each of these parties.

Another important difference is that EMAS currently applies primarily to manufacturing industries. The ISO standards apply to all types of organisations – even those not considered to be “businesses”, for example, government offices.

Social Management Systems

The main internationally recognised social management systems are SA 8000 in the area of worlplace standards, and OHSAS 18001 and ILO-OSH 2001 specifically for occupational health and safety management.

Social Accountability 8000 (SA 8000) is a voluntary workplace standard, with an associated verification system, developed and monitored by Social Accountability International (SAI). SAI is a US-based, non-profit organisation concerned with the development, implementation and oversight of voluntary social accountability standards for companies. SA8000 was developed and is periodically updated by SAI in collaboration with companies, trade unions, NGOs, government agencies, and consumer groups. The SA 8000 independent verification method draws many elements from the quality management system certification used in the ISO programs, and includes a management component as part of the standards’ provisions.

The SA 8000 standard is currently in use by businesses and some public bodies around the world and is broadly recognised by trade unions and NGOs as a strong workplace management system standard. It is based on international workplace standards derived from national law, ILO conventions, UN Human Rights Conventions, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. To certify conformance to SA8000, every facility seeking certification must be audited. Assessment of compliance to the SA8000 Standard is available only through third party, SAI-accredited, independent organizations (‘Certification Bodies’). Certification Bodies obtain accreditation from SAI who conduct an impartial assessment of competence and grants the ability to issue SA8000 certifications only to those organizations that qualify. These accredited Certification Bodies are required to follow SAI procedures and are subject to SAI’s periodic review of their work in the field.

OHSAS 18001 is an internationally recognized assessment specification for occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS). It was developed by a selection of leading trade bodies, international standards and certification bodies. OHSAS 18001 has been designed to be compatible with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, to help your organization meet their health and safety obligations in an efficient manner. Many organizations are implementing an OHSMS as part of their risk management strategy to address changing legislation and protect their workforce. An OHSMS promotes a safe and healthy working environment by providing a framework that allows your organization to consistently identify and control its health and safety risks, reduce the potential for accidents, aid legislative compliance and improve overall performance.

The following key areas are addressed by OHSAS 18001:

  • Planning for hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control
  • OHSAS management programme
  • Structure and responsibility
  • Training, awareness and competence
  • Consultation and communication
  • Operational control
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Performance measuring, monitoring and improvement

OHSAS 18001 can be adopted by any organization wishing to implement a formal procedure to reduce the risks associated with health and safety in the working environment for employees, customers and the general public. Companies can obtain OHSAS 18001 certification from an certification body (accredited under the relevant national or international accredition bodies) who will audit the company’s OHS performance against OHSAS 18001.

The ILO’s Guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems provide guidance for both governments (Chapter 2) and organisations/companies (Chapter 3) on OHSMS and are compatible with other management system standards and guides. Like OHSAS 18001, ILO-OSH 2001 is not compulsory and not intended to replace national laws, regulations and accepted standards. It reflects ILO values such as tripartism and relevant international standards including the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161). Its application does not require certification, but it does not exclude certification as a means of recognition of good practice if this is the wish of the country implementing the Guidelines. The ILO Guidelines encourage the integration of OHSMS with other management systems and state that OHS should be an integral part of business management. As well as this, ILO-OSH 2001 emphasises that OSH should be a line management responsibility at the organization.