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Environmental Management Systems

An environmental management system (EMS) is a collection of documentation and practices that govern how your organization integrates sustainability into its operations. Think of it like a sustainability playbook — a detailed layout of your game plan, special plays, team roles and roster. An EMS not only helps your organization excel at game time, it will help you pick up points on GRESB, particularly in the Monitoring aspect. In fact, more than 30 different GRESB questions touch on an EMS.

Let’s look at some common questions about an EMS and how you can apply best practices sourced from the Measurabl community.

What is an EMS?

An EMS consists of a set of documentation and data that (1) draw a boundary around the organization, entity or asset to which the system is applied, (2) establish goals and define (3) personnel roles and (4) processes and procedures for (5) measurement, monitoring and reporting.

What are some examples?

The most common EMS is ISO 14001. Another common one is EMAS.

How is an EMS different from a data management system?

A data management system (DMS) is the infrastructure (often software) used to collect, monitor and store environmental information. Measurabl is a DMS. A DMS, though, is only one dimension of your EMS which must also include documentation that defines “who, what, when, where, how” of your sustainability program and a process of continuous improvement that melds these ingredients together.

Is it difficult to establish an EMS?

Yes, it can be. An EMS will take significant up front time and resources to establish, and annual maintenance to keep relevant. No matter how much you invest in an EMS, though, it all begins with well documented environmental performance goals and a data system for tracking progress towards these goals.

GRESB IndicatorOpportunityWhy It’s ImportantHow to Improve
1.1Revise sustainability objectives to include more specific informationThe first component of an EMS includes well defined objectives, such as reducing carbon emission by 10% YOY.
  • Quantify and define sustainability targets e.g. reduce energy consumption by 5% over the next 12 months
  • Establish short (1-2 years), medium (3-5 years), and long-term goals
8Revise sustainability policy to include more granular metrics and progress trackingA sustainability policy should state how you integrate non-financial metrics into your decision making. This helps higher ups factor environmental goals into financial targets.
  • Create a policy to address the integration of sustainable performance into business practices, and clearly define performance metrics
  • Develop meaningful performance metrics for assessing the performance of your sustainability programs.
20.1Create an EMSAn EMS demonstrates a committed effort to improving sustainable performance. It will allow you to identify resource consumption inefficiencies, and establish an integrated framework for implementing strategies to meet your environmental and financial performance targets.
  • Combine your sustainability objectives and policy into new EMS document
  • Develop strategies for meeting short term goals e.g. monitor building-level energy consumption on a monthly basis, or systematically replace existing lighting with more efficient fixtures
  • Establish a repeatable timeline for reviewing progress towards your defined goals e.g. annually evaluate energy savings associated with the programs and develop alternative strategies if they are underperforming by more than 20%
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