Systems update - the e-EMS

10th February 2013

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Introducing an electronic version of an EMS can help to improve its integration into a business. Mark Hedges investigates

The stages necessary to achieve an effective electronic environment management system (EMS) can vary, depending on the size and type of organisation, as well as the available IT and communication platforms. However, the potential benefits and pitfalls are universal.

Assuming that an organisation already has in place a paper-based EMS, there are two options available. An organisation may choose a simple transfer of its paper system to an unresponsive electronic format, such as a series of pdf documents.

Although many practitioners might argue that this option is a little uninspiring, it does have its advantages. The resources needed to develop this are minimal and it allows an organisation to have complete control of the documents. A pdf system also enables policies or procedures to be amended easily, while maintaining version control.

Alternatively, to ensure the EMS is accessible to everyone in the business, some organisations are striving for a more sophisticated approach, seizing the opportunity to redesign systems and reap the many benefits that come from introducing an electronic EMS – such as greater integration with other systems and operations.

It is important to note that such a “gold-plated” option comes with one major drawback: it can be extremely time-consuming in the early stages of its development because of the need to “clean” the system and establish the total relevance of everything contained within it.

Cleansing reboot

Although many organisations will have had an established EMS in place for a number of years, the system would have been designed as an optimum fit at the time of development. But, as we all know, an organisation evolves, and its objectives and needs alter. Therefore its management systems must change accordingly. Cleansing the system allows the organisation to review everything for its applicability and usability.

From a practical sense, cleaning the EMS will undoubtedly provide a much easier-to-access system for all parties. A crucial objective of an EMS, and a true indicator of success, is its ability to be accessible to everybody in the business.

Often employees’ lack of engagement with environment management issues and measures results either from not understanding the need for an EMS and its relevance to them, or a lack of access to the EMS because a nominated person, such as an environment manager, has been specifically appointed to manage it.

The more engaged people are in the development of a new electronic EMS, the more likely they will be to use it and to understand the many benefits that come with such a system. As a result, the management system will stand a greater chance of success if it is embedded across all business activities and adopted by everyone.

Cleansing the system and redefining its build is an opportunity to do two important things: embed elements of the system, where relevant, into other company policies and processes; and re-engage stakeholders to best understand what is achievable and engender ownership.

Organisations with an existing intranet system can encourage further integration of the EMS and greater staff engagement by linking relevant environment procedures, processes or policies to areas of the intranet that are of particular interest to employees during their day-to-day working lives.

By taking this approach, the EMS and its aims become an intuitive and integral part of the core business activity, rather than merely an add-on initiative.

Speeding things up

Due to the complexity of environment policies and procedures, searching for the relevant information can be time consuming. By introducing searchable text functionality, such as optical character recognition or full text search, you ensure that all employees can quickly and easily search for specific text or expressions contained in the EMS.

Some organisations introduce different environmental themes, which may change monthly basis, for example, highlighting specific areas such as waste, water, energy or pollution. Through the use of live links, clever imagery and site design, the organisation can draw people’s attention to these particular themes, keeping them constantly informed as to how the business is performing and where improvements could be made.

A crucial element of an effective EMS is to use plain English and remove jargon. Management systems standards often have their own “language”, which is understandable only to those who have received the necessary training or who carry out the relevant audits. Removing the jargon will allow users to better understand what is required.

However, there is a fine balance to be struck, since it is equally important for organisations to demonstrate to auditors that they are complying with the relevant standard, whether it is ISO 14001, BS 8555 (the IEMA acorn scheme) or EMAS (the European eco-management and audit scheme), for example.

The most effective way to do this is to establish an “assigned posting table” to run in tandem with the EMS specifically for auditors. The table allows cross-reference from the particular clause of the management system standard being audited to the relevant section of the electronic EMS – even if that component sits in a policy or process that would not normally be associated with environment management.

Not only does this allow the EMS to be audited efficiently and effectively, it also provides complete accessibility across the organisation, as people will be able to understand what is required.

It is generally true that the more interactive the EMS is – that is, the inclusion of quick links, high quality imagery and the use of plain English – the more accessible it will be to employees and, therefore, more successful.

An electronic EMS also provides the opportunity to present important information in real time. For example, some businesses may automatically measure liquid discharges or gaseous emissions. If the systems that detect and monitor those outputs fed data directly into the EMS, it would save significant time and effort. This information could then be relayed in real time to the relevant people in the business, so that they could continuously monitor performance and take any necessary action quickly.

Resource hungry

Developing and implementing a sophisticated electronic EMS is no mean feat and requires substantial resources in the early stages of the development. However, the benefits far outweigh the time investment required.

To create and successfully deploy a high-quality e-EMS expert advice and guidance can prove invaluable, whether from independent consultants or from other environment professionals that have successfully implemented such a system.

Whether an organisation plumps for simplicity or sophistication in their electronic EMS, the real key to success is employee engagement. Only then will the company ensure that its environment policies and procedures fully integrate with core business activity now and in the future.

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