If you have environmental compliance requirements for your business or your processes have any sort of environmental impact, you’re more than likely using an environmental management system (EMS). If you're not and you'd like to get started, download our guide on how to implement a successful system here.
All systems are different, so yours may or may not be complex, or technologically advanced. You might just be using spreadsheets or simple database software. You might even be using pen and paper record keeping.
Any sort of system you use to keep in compliance and monitor your environmental key performance indicators (KPIs) is your EMS.
No matter what kind of EMS you are using, there are a few crucial elements that separate a functioning EMS from an extraordinary EMS. If you’ve ever struggled with environmental compliance or find that you’re spending hours each week manually typing in data, it may be because your EMS is missing one of these essential EMS components.
1) Electronic Collection from Your Vendors
The number one cause of errors in compliance reporting can be traced all the way back to the moment when raw material and chemical data gets entered into your EMS. Manually typing in product data is a prime event for human errors that can be too small to even notice. A misplaced decimal point can cause havoc in a simple report a few months down the road.
Even if you are meticulous about accurate data entry, you can’t always rely on the product data provided by your vendors. They typically just send you an MSDS with wide chemical ranges, and it’s up to you to decide what sort of approach you’ll take. Will you be conservative and assume your products contain the top range of potential emissions, or will you risk under-estimating your environmental impacts?
The best solution is to add functionality to your EMS that completely avoids the pitfall of inaccurate data entry. Any EMS worth using should allow you to electronically collect data from your vendors using some sort of shared database. It could be a template that your vendor fills out and emails, it could be a shared online document, or it might be a secure web-based portal.
Either way, by putting the responsibility of providing accurate back into the hands of your vendors (who know the product data much better already), you’ll avoid those small human errors.
As an added bonus, it will drastically cut down on the time you spend entering data, which is one of the most cost-ineffective ways to pass the hours.
2) Integrated Control Technology and CEMS
If you have any sort of control technology installed to reduce air emissions, or have a continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS) in place, then your equipment set up is generating a lot of useful environmental data. It is therefore essential that your EMS is able to tap into these data sources and incorporate them into the final emissions results it produces.
For example, your CEMS can tell you at exactly what hour (or even minute if you’re measuring that frequently) your facility fell out of compliance by exceeding a permit condition, and exactly when you fixed the problem.
When it comes time to report that issue and pay a noncompliance fines, you can give the most accurate timeframe possible and avoid paying for a greatly over-estimated time period. It can mean the difference between paying for one hour and for a whole week.
3) Built-In Vetting System
Whenever a product enters your facility, you need to make sure it’s not on one of your banned substances list, or – even worse – a substance banned by a federal agency. There are dozens and potentially hundreds of lists you could compare your substances against before you start using them.
And, like most processes that use product data, there’s a lot of room for error. You can forget to check a substance, or not know there’s a common alternate name that gets used instead, or be unaware that a federal banned list has recently been updated.
Getting it wrong at this step of your data management could lead to some big consequences, including noncompliance fines or a thorough audit. You could even be forced to shut down until the problem gets solved.
The easiest way to safeguard against these situations is to build an environmental management system that can electronically check your purchased product list against any number of banned substance lists. By automating the cross referencing step, your work load will be reduced to simply making sure you keep up to date with regulatory and ban list changes and update your lists database accordingly.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking get a new & better EMS, or if you’re just looking to improve your current Environmental Management Software, adding these three functionalities will create some amazing results.
About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+, LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog