Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and environmental reports

An environmental management system (EMS) is similar to other management systems, such as those that manage quality or safety. It assesses your business' strengths and weaknesses, helps you identify and manage significant environmental impacts, saves you money by increasing efficiency, ensures you comply with environmental legislation and provides benchmarks for improvements.

An EMS can also help you manage your resources, and improves the reliability and credibility of your environmental policy. You can prove to customers that you are committed to meeting your environmental responsibilities by getting your EMS certified, such as through ISO 14001, BS 8555 or the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).

Reporting your environmental performance may be a legal requirement or could be undertaken to provide clients and customers with information regarding your credentials.

This guide provides an introduction to EMS and environmental reporting and shows how NetRegs can help you to set up your EMS.

Relevant Business Topics:

All Business Topics

Additional resources


What is an EMS

An environmental management system (EMS) is similar to other management systems, such as those that manage quality or safety. It assesses your business' strengths and weaknesses and helps you identify and manage environmental risks and opportunities. It can also save you money by increasing efficiency, it ensures you comply with environmental legislation and provides a framework for continual improvement.

Adopting an EMS does not mean that everyone in your company has to stop driving or you have to set ambitious targets for energy reduction. It is about understanding how your organisation impacts on the environment and those living or working nearby. Both can be affected by your activities, such as by noise, emissions or waste production.

An EMS also helps you to identify how environmental issues may in turn affect your business e.g. availability of resources or flood risk.

An EMS then enables a systematic approach to manage these aspects in order to reduce environmental risk. This will help you plan for the future. You can then set realistic objectives each year for improving your organisation's environmental performance and sustainability.

An EMS can also help you manage your resources, and improves the reliability and credibility of your environmental policy. You can prove to customers that you are committed to meeting your environmental responsibilities by getting your EMS certified, such as through ISO 14001, BS 8555 or the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).

Reporting your environmental performance may in some cases be a legal requirement, or you could undertake it to provide clients and customers with information regarding your green credentials.

This guide provides an introduction to Environmental Management Systems and environmental reporting.

Further information

WRAP (Northern Ireland): Your Guide to Environmental Management Systems

Resource Efficient Scotland: Implement an Environmental Management System

Benefits of an EMS and what is involved?

Setting up and running an environmental management system (EMS) can provide significant benefits across a number of areas of your business.

Potential benefits

Running an effective EMS will help you with:

  • improving resource efficiency and reducing unnecessary expenditure - you will have policies and procedures in place that help you manage waste and resources more effectively. This can reduce your associated raw material and operating costs
  • better regulatory compliance - an EMS will help you become legally compliant and will reduce the risk of fines and adverse publicity
  • lighter regulation - even if an EMS is not a regulatory requirement, by showing your commitment to environmental management, you may benefit through less frequent site visits or reduced fees from environmental regulators;
  • sales and marketing - large businesses and government departments may only deal with businesses that have an EMS. It can be vital for successful tendering and meeting supply chain requirements;
  • improving business reputation - increased awareness and control of your environmental impacts can improve public relations. Running an EMS will also help you prove your business' green credentials
  • finance - you may find it easier to raise investment from banks and other financial institutions. Investors are increasingly keen to see businesses controlling their environmental impact and showing an awareness of the risks and opportunities associated with environmental issues.

Many organisations choose to produce an environmental report to highlight their environmental achievements to interested stakeholders. An EMS can provide a valuable mechanism to produce and collect data for such a report.

For further details about Environmental Reports see the page in this guideline: Environmental reports.

What does an effective EMS involve?

Having an EMS demonstrates that your business has measures in place to prevent pollution and is taking steps to continually improve environmental performance.

To achieve these aims, an effective EMS should involve the following:

  • An initial assessment of how your organisation's activities, products and services might affect the environment
  • Making sure you comply with all relevant environmental regulations
  • Gathering data e.g. energy use, waste, water, raw materials
  • Developing and communicating an environmental policy
  • Procedures for controlling activities with significant environmental impacts, eg oil storage
  • Identifying risks and opportunities associated with environmental issues.
  • Setting targets and measuring progress
  • Defining roles and responsibilities for all employees
  • Training and awareness
  • Periodic internal auditing
  • Management Review and commitment from Leadership

Further information

Resource Efficient Scotland and WRAP have both produced user-friendly guides outlining the main elements of a good EMS.

They include the key considerations in deciding whether an EMS is right for you and a step-by-step guide on how to develop your own system.

They also provide useful templates to help you complete each stage of the process.

WRAP (Northern Ireland): Your Guide to Environmental Management Systems

Resource Efficient Scotland: Implement an Environmental Management System

Different types of EMS

It is important to decide what level of EMS is appropriate for your business; there are three main options:

  • In-house - develop a bespoke system that works for your business based on your own priorities and resources
  • Follow Best Practice - Using international standards and guidelines will ensure you consider all the important elements of an EMS. If you follow a standard such as ISO 14001 or BS8555 you then have the option to get it certified, but this decision is entirely up to you.
  • Certification - Obtaining certification to a recognised standard can increase the credibility of your EMS as well as ensuring commitment from staff and management. This can help to drive improvements. You get certification by having your Environmental Management System checked on a regular basis (usually annually) by an outside verifier. However, certification to a standard is a big commitment and can be costly for small organisations. You should consider it carefully before deciding to go for certification. Some organisations choose to produce an annual environmental, sustainability or CSR report instead, demonstrating their environmental commitment and improvements, and this can be verified by a third party. If you do go for certification there are different environmental standards that you can choose from. BS 8555 has been developed with SMEs in mind, where the standard can be achieved over a longer timeframe where staff time for an EMS is more restricted.

Overview of Certification and standards for EMS

There are a number of environmental standards to which you can be certified:

BS 8555 (useful for SMEs)

BS 8555 is a British standard that provides guidance for implementing an EMS on a phase-by-phase basis. It can be a good way of working towards either ISO 14001 or the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). You can gain independent recognition for your efforts to follow BS 8555 by using one of the following UKAS accredited schemes:


The Green Ticks scheme, run by Bright Green Business

GBP: Green Ticks scheme


ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is the internationally recognised standard for environmental management systems. Holding ISO 14001 can provide customers and suppliers with a respected assurance that you are managing your environmental responsibilities.

International Organisation for Standardisation: ISO 14001


EMAS is a voluntary European scheme that provides external recognition for businesses that prove that they go further than just meeting regulatory requirements for environmental issues. To gain EMAS verification you must be able to prove that you have identified and are working with all relevant legislation and have systems in place to do so on an ongoing basis. You also have to prove that your system meets the ISO 14001 standard. It is possible to gain and maintain both ISO 14001 certification and EMAS verification at the same time.

Europa: EMAS

Certification bodies

Make sure you use an EMS certification body approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Services (UKAS). Using a UKAS accredited certification body will ensure that your customers fully recognise your certification.

UKAS: Accredited bodies

Certification for standards such as ISO 14001 is typically 3 years, after which time you will need to be externally audited again to maintain your certificate.

How NetRegs can help you set up an EMS

Identifying how your organisation's activities, products and services might affect the environment

Our guidance by business sector is a useful starting point to highlight environmental aspects and impacts that may be relevant to your business. Business topics list all the areas where your business might have impacts on the environment and these need to be considered when developing and EMS.

Netregs: Business Sectors Guidance

Identifying environmental issues and evaluating compliance

The NetRegs self-assessment tool takes you through a series of questions to help you check compliance with the main pieces of environmental legislation. A tailored report is produced for your business that can be used to help you understand what actions are needed to ensure compliance. This provides a starting point for developing a legal register.

NetRegs: Self-Assessment Tool

You can browse the Library of Environmental Topics for issues that affect your business. This is set out under headings such as "Air Pollution", "Land" "Waste" and "Water". Or you can use the search function to find specific topics.

NetRegs Environmental topics

Identifying Legal obligations

NetRegs provides lists of key environmental legislation. This will help you to find the pieces of legislation needed for your legal register. You can look for details on current, new and future legislation. Also, many of the environmental topics mentioned above include a list of legislation that applies to that subject.

Environmental legislation on NetRegs

Once your EMS is up and running it is important to keep up to date with changes existing and new legal requirements. Our monthly e-bulletin means you receive regular updates by email and is a useful prompt to keep your legal register up to date.

NetRegs Monthly e-update

Training and Awareness

All employees should receive some information about a company-s EMS to highlight the organisations commitment to environmental management, its objectives and what the EMS means for them and their roles. However, some staff and contractors will need specific training in relation to procedures and responsibilities related to compliance issues. NetRegs contains a number of free training tools that could help with this:

E-Learning Modules on a range of topics such as Pollution Prevention, Duty of Care and achieving Environmental Excellence.

Pollution Prevention Guidelines on a range of environmental topics including incident response planning which is a key element of any good EMS.

Good Practice Videos including case studies and covering a range of topics related to environmental improvement opportunities.

Environmental management - getting started

Before getting started:

If you feel that an EMS would benefit your business, you need to follow these steps.

Gain commitment from top management

This is a vital step before starting to design your EMS.

Although EMS will be integrated and adopted throughout the organisation, its effectiveness will rely on the full commitment of senior staff to its aims and objectives. The EMS should not be a standalone system but embedded into key business processes and decisions. It is important to actively involve senior management to identify and address the risk and opportunities associated with the EMS. Top Management can also authorise the necessary resources needed such as staff time and any initial budget.

There are a number of benefits you can consider in order to persuade management of the benefits of running an EMS, including cost reduction, compliance with environmental legislation, better management of risk and significant marketing benefits see: What are the Benefits of an EMS

Roles and responsibilities

You should make sure that one individual is given the role of Environmental Manager, to co-ordinate and communicate all elements of the EMS.

It is equally important that responsibility for the EMS is not left to one individual. The roles necessary to implement the EMS should be shared across all levels and different departments within the organisation. Many businesses start a green team to achieve this goal.

There are a number of benefits you can consider in order to persuade management of the benefits of running an EMS, including cost reduction, compliance with environmental legislation, better management of risk and significant marketing benefits see: What are the Benefits of an EMS?

Define the scope

You can implement an EMS across the whole organisation, or just for one particular site or facility. However, it is important that you determine the scope upfront so that it is clear what you are measuring and the aspects and impacts that you need to manage.

Once you are confident that your organisation is committed to developing an EMS and you have the necessary resources, you will need to work your way through the stage outlined below. Some companies employ a specialist to help develop the EMS but even if you do use a consultant, key staff should be involved from the outset so that they can confidently maintain the system once the consultant leaves.

Stage 1 Identifying significant environmental aspects Which of your activities could cause environmental harm materials, energy use, transport etc NetRegs: Business Sectors Guidance
Template* (see below the table)
Stage 2 Identifying legislation and evaluating compliance Make sure you are aware of all your legal responsibilities. NetRegs Environmental topics
Environmental legislation on NetRegs
Stage 3 Environmental Policy A clear statement that gives an overview of your intentions Template*
Stage 4 Setting and Tracking Objectives and Targets Clear, achievable targets provide a focus. Template*
Stage 5 Monitoring and Measuring & Data Collection Essential to know what is being used, how much waste generated in order to set targets Template*
Stage 6 Control of operations and emergency preparedness and response Planning for any incidents can reduce the damage and clean-up costs NetRegs: Pollution incident response planning
Stage 7 Checking and Auditing Regularly assess progress towards targets.  
Stage 8 Management Review An overview of the process can help identify the costs/benefits of the system.


Further Information

Resource Efficient Scotland and WRAP have both produced user friendly guides outlining the main elements of a good EMS and the key considerations in deciding whether an EMS is right for you.

*If you choose to develop your own system you can find useful templates, relating to the items in the table above, from:

WRAP (Northern Ireland): Your Guide to Environmental Management Systems

Resource Efficient Scotland: Implement an Environmental Management System

Why produce an environmental report

Some companies are required to produce regular environmental reports through regulations such as the greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting.

Other organisations choose to produce reports on a voluntary basis that could follow a theme such as:

  • carbon footprinting
  • overall sustainability
  • corporate social responsibility.

A one off, stand-alone environmental report could be useful and interesting, but if it is isolated from other activities it may not achieve a great deal.

Environmental reporting will work best when based on information from your environmental management system. This provides a mechanism for you to make improvements based on the figures produced in your report, and shows your involvement and commitment to collect the data.

What are the benefits?

Producing a regular environmental report will help you to:

  • demonstrate your green credentials to investors, shareholders and stakeholders
  • regularly review your environmental performance increasing awareness of energy and raw materials costs and any cost savings made
  • demonstrate continual improvement.

The environmental reporting process

To produce an environmental report you should:

  • Decide what the report will cover, the whole organisation or just one site?
  • Decide on the time period covered by the report
  • Identify all the key environmental impacts of the business
  • Measure these impacts (eg waste arising, recycling, energy use etc.)
  • Get someone to verify these results and produce the report
  • Identify the audience for your report and make it available, requesting feedback
  • Use the feedback to make future improvements.


If you have more than one site, division, department or business unit, you could produce one business-wide report or individual reports.

The advantage of individual reports is that they are more easily understood and relate more directly to individual managers and - in the case of site-based reports - to local communities. Individual reports can then be consolidated into business-wide figures for a broader audience.

Getting outside help

Think about whether outside help could be useful, especially if environmental reporting is new to you. Consultants can help you to achieve a balanced approach, produce a report that will be easily understood and advise you on the sort of material that should go into it.

The use of independent third-party assurance statements, such as audit-based verification of your environmental data, adds credibility to your environmental reporting by giving stakeholders confidence that your approach is robust and reliable.

Paper or electronic reports?

Printing can be expensive and has an impact on the environment. You could make the document available electronically, or hold it electronically and print it on demand for interested stakeholders.

Examples of environmental reports

Edinburgh Airport



Further information

GOV.UK: Measuring and reporting environmental impacts

Global Reporting Initiative: The Reporting Hub

International Federation of Accountants: Environmental Management Accounting

CMS windows

Case Study - CMS Window Systems

CMS Window Systems is one of the UK's leading manufacturers and installers of aluminium, PVCu and timber hybrid windows, doors and curtain walling. The company uniquely differentiates itself through its sustainability strategy which has been at the core of the business since it was founded a decade ago.

Sarah Wilson, Marketing Manager at CMS Window Systems explains why the company chose to implement an EMS, how they did it and what benefits this has brought.

"The whole business is built around the principle of resource efficiency. From the outset we've worked hard to develop a product and service portfolio which will make homes and buildings more energy efficient, and thus less demanding on the world's resources. So by setting up our organisation and conducting our business in the most sustainable way we offer a ˜closed loop" to customers.

"This means we operate sustainably in all its dimensions; socially, economically and environmentally. And that's where an EMS plays a vital role. It enables us to implement processes across the business that keep us on track to achieve our environmental goals and continuously review and improve what we do.

How we implemented an EMS

"Full backing from the most senior members of an organisation is essential for a successful implementation. At CMS the Managing Director's full support of the EMS project enabled the Director responsible for Environmental issues, Business Systems Director Martin McCrimmon who is a trained ISO 14001 auditor, to lead the operation.

"10 years ago an initial "Significant Aspects and Impacts" audit was carried out for CMS by an Environmental Scientist and from that stating point CMS was able to build the plan for ISO14001 implementation. Although we utilised a specialist consultant to begin the process back then, today there are some excellent free tools available, especially for smaller organisations. Finding quality information online should be easy for anyone embarking on their EMS journey now.

"We employ an environmental graduate to help administer all aspects of our sustainability programme, such as recycling and energy use, on a day to day basis and proactively research and propose how improvements could be made.

Environmental processes and procedures are embedded in the ethos of the organisation and all departments work to the standards and processes laid out in the EMS. In addition, two dedicated recycling facilities process all waste ensuring maximum resource efficiency.

The close management of our everyday activities ensure we are maintaining best practice and the annual audit processes confirm we're on track and that our policies and procedures are robust.

How an EMS has benefited us so far

"The extent to which an EMS gives us the opportunity to review every part of our business has delivered some significant savings for our business and our clients. It has also proved important in giving our business some strong differentiators in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

"Firstly the EMS has helped us implement a process of designing out waste at inception of project. This saves money for clients and importantly will reduce resource use, a tangible environmental benefit.

"Secondly we have adopted a lean manufacturing model across our 3,500 sq m factory which ensures it is equipped with plant and equipment designed for optimum efficiency. This has resulted in a reduction in the amount of material wasted and the amount of energy used, as well as the manpower required during manufacturing processes.

"The efficiency of our transportation and logistics process was also scrutinised and with the help of the Energy Saving Trust we have implemented a programme of fuel efficient driving training. This ensures our drivers drive in the safest and most fuel efficient way with the shortest routes mapped to reduce vehicle miles. This saved 9.2 tonnes of CO2 in 2015.

Our ability to demonstrate a holistic approach to sustainability, and in particular our environmental credentials, is powerful in helping us win contracts. The EMS keeps us on track and provides us with the USPs which have been instrumental in establishing our excellent reputation, such as our recycling levels, energy usage across our operations and energy performance of the products we manufacture and install. In fact, our ability to collect and recycle old windows and doors removed during refurbishment projects was so attractive to our public sector clients that it has now become a standard criteria of their window refurbishment tenders. This demonstrates that our environmental innovation is improving the sustainability of the supply chain."

"Our achievements have also been recognised by others resulting in the company winning a VIBES Environmental Management Award in 2015. We have also just been selected as one of 6 companies to represent the UK in the European Business Awards for the Environment which we are very excited about.

Our tips for anyone implementing an EMS

  • Ensure the people at the very top of the organisation fully back the EMS implementation.
  • If possible incorporate ISO14001 from the inception of the business and embed it in the culture of the organisation so internal buy in from staff happens naturally.
  • If you are an established company who wants to become ISO14001 registered, set achievable targets each year and move gradually towards it in order to allow staff time to change and adapt.

Our future plans

"We're extremely proud of what our EMS has helped us achieve so far, but we are always reviewing what we do and looking at ways to do things better. The next major step for us is to work towards ISO50001 certification. Whereas ISO 14001 is a generic standard for the environment, ISO 50001 focuses on the cost benefits of utilising energy more efficiently and therefore the business case for instigating it is clear.


Case study - Ross-shire Engineering

Ross-Shire Engineering operate from Muir of Ord in the Scottish Highlands and Cumbernauld near Glasgow, and offer clients a range of water technology, oil and gas, hydro, industrial and electrical turn-key engineering and fabrication services.

The company achieved certification to the Environmental Management System (EMS) Standard ISO 14001 in 2014, building on their existing Quality and Health & Safety Management Systems.

Ross-shire Engineering have since become one of the first companies to be certified to the new 2015 Standard for ISO 14001 and Stephen Webb, Quality and Environmental Manager offers his thoughts on what an EMS means for the company and their experience of the ISO 14001 transition process.

Why did you choose to implement an EMS?

"Our decision to implement an EMS was partly client driven and the need to be able to clearly demonstrate good environmental management when tendering for and also while carrying out work for some of our larger clients such as Scottish Water and within the oil and gas industry. In addition, there was also a desire to gain a better understanding of our environmental risks and quantify consumption of key utilities and waste in order to identify areas for reduction and potential savings".

How did you develop the system?

"We already had accredited Quality and Health & Safety management systems in place, so adding an Environmental element was fairly straightforward as we used some existing templates and procedures as the starting point. Over time the three management systems have become much more integrated to reduce duplication of procedures and documents. The EMS was developed in-house with some key staff attending EMS auditor training. When identifying our legislative requirements NetRegs was a very useful source of information and assisted in the development of our legalisation register and also in understanding our compliance obligations".

What are the benefits?

"Operating an EMS helps support the tender process with clients, we have documentation and evidence in place to support Pre-Qualification Questionnaires and ensure the client's pre-tender and project environmental requirements are met. Apart from helping us to be successful in winning new and repeat business with clients, operating an EMS has encouraged us to analyse our utility consumption and waste production and identify areas where costs can be reduced. Directors receive monthly reports regarding energy use and waste production. Access to this information has resulted in improved waste segregation initiatives that have increased our recycling rates to 77%, Energy efficient investment has included a wood fuel boiler, underfloor heating, LED lighting and solar panels being installed as part of a newly built works unit. The installation of solar PV roof panels on existing buildings are due to payback well within the 6 years predicated".

"We have also just been audited as a supplier within the utility sector and received 100% scores in all areas (Quality, Health & Safety, Environment and Corporate and Social Responsibility) demonstrating that our management systems are working across all areas, and something that is of interest to our clients."

Do you have any tips for companies moving over to the new ISO 14001:2015 Standard?

"Senior Management commitment from the start is vital for a successful EMS as well as addressing the new leadership criteria in ISO 14001:2015.

In fulfilling the Standard requirements of "Context" and "Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties" we made a list so that we could consider and engage with a full range of stakeholders, including clients, employees, our supply chain, competitors and both personal and business residents in close proximity to our workshops and yard. Any significant risks such as single source suppliers / high risk suppliers or opportunities such as technological or process advances were then entered into our corporate register for further investigation to mitigate risk and develop opportunities.

After tackling the requirements above, we found that the other changes required fell in to place. We are fortunate that our products are almost completely recyclable. Our fabricated items are primarily made from steel with ancillary equipment installations and cabling also being recyclable, which helped to ensure we met the lifecycle considerations required within ISO 14001".

Manage your procurement to minimise environmental impacts

You will buy a variety of goods and services as an office business, from paper to computers to catering and cleaning services.

You can reduce the environmental impact of the goods and services you purchase. You could also reduce your costs by following green or sustainable procurement principles.

Consider the environmental impacts during the full life cycle of a product or service when buying, including:

  • what raw materials are used to manufacture the product or provide the service
  • how the product is produced and the energy used
  • how the product or service will perform in use, eg will it use energy, water, produce waste
  • how much it will cost to dispose of the product and the environmental impacts of disposal
  • the potential for reuse or recycling the product
  • the environmental performance of your suppliers.

Before buying any goods, consider first whether the product or service needs to be bought at all.

NIBUSINESSINFO: Supply chain efficiency

RES: Sustainable procurement

WRAP: Sustainable procurement e-learning modules

NetRegs: Buying sustainable goods

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