Environmental management systems

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is defined as a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency.292 An EMS can help MSMEs to comply with environmental regulations and achieve environmental goals, such as energy conservation in an economical way. It is a voluntary instrument that can affect a business’s environmental behaviour.

An EMS can take different forms. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides standards specifically for EMS. For example, an EMS based on ISO 14001 helps organizations effectively manage the risks and capitalize on the opportunities in changing conditions such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing an EMS provides a number of benefits such as more efficient use of natural resources and energy, enhanced compliance with legal requirements and better relations with customers. Improving environmental performance is made easier with formal systems in place. However, MSMEs often find EMS implementation difficult due to inadequate staff and resources.

There is further guidance available from ISO for MSMEs, specifically. ISO 14005, Environmental management systems – Guidelines for a flexible approach to phased implementation, provides MSMEs with a means to meet the requirements of an EMS in a phased, flexible way that is adapted to their specific needs. It allows them to start benefitting from the very beginning while ultimately meeting the requirements of ISO 14001. Taking a phased approach, businesses could start with specific projects that are most relevant or urgent, such as improving energy efficiency or resource productivity.

ISO 14005 was developed by technical committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, subcommittee SC 1, Environmental management systems. It can be purchased from national ISO members or through the ISO Store. In this context, MSMEs also face a lack of resources, knowledge and technical capacity, high upfront costs, and low public visibility. The challenge is to tailor EMS, both in terms of their content and delivery, to the particularities of MSMEs. With regard to MSMEs, it is important to focus on simple, accessible improvements in management practices. EMS with changing degrees of intricacy and low on paperwork as well as sectoral green label programmes are more prone to be attractive to small businesses than formal ISO 14001 certification, which is relatively difficult to navigate and expensive.293


292 Gunawan, Michelle & Asyahira, Riri & Sidjabat, Filson. (2020). Environmental Management System Implementation in MSMEs: A Literature Review. Jurnal Serambi Engineering.

293 Zhongju Liao, Chen Weng, Siying Long, Zengrui Xiao. (2020) Do social ties foster firms’ environmental innovation? The moderating effect of resource bricolage. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 33:5, pages 1-15.