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What is Environmental Management?

By Rachel Burkot
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Environmental management is a process that industries, companies, and individuals undertake to regulate and protect the health of the natural world. In most cases, it does not actually involve managing the environment itself, but rather is the process of taking steps and promoting behaviors that will have a positive impact on how environmental resources are used and protected. Organizations engage in environmental management for a couple of different reasons, but caring for the natural world, following local laws and rules about conservation, and saving money are usually near the top of most lists. Management plans look different in different industries, but all aim for roughly the same goals.

Plan, Do, Check

Most management plans roughly follow a “plan, do, check” model. The first step, planning, requires the organization to set out specific goals, like reducing wastewater, implementing new standards for toxin disposal, or better managing erosion. Once an end-point has been identified, leaders need to come up with a systematic way of bringing the entire organization into compliance.

Next, the company needs to actually take steps to implement the processes laid out in the planning stage. This is the “do” aspect, and it can be harder than it sounds. Action typically requires a coordinated effort that must be put into place over several weeks or months; more often than not, this step is ongoing, and cannot easily be “checked off” a list.

Progress assessments are one of the best ways for organizations to gauge how well they are sticking to their plan. Regular status checks help groups see what is working and what is not, ideally with time to spare to make changes and improvements as needed. This step often involves reports and analysis collected over time, and feedback that is generated during this phase is frequently used to improve planning and doing going forward. In most cases, environmental management is something of a cyclical process that continues — and continues adapting — as time goes by.

Training Requirements

In most companies and industries, this work is something that requires at least a bit of training. A commitment to something like conservation or better methods of waste disposal is a good starting place, but actually being effective in achieving end results usually requires expertise and a lot of coordination. If everyone at the organization is not on board and using the same methods, it can be hard to succeed. When a management plan is properly enforced and executed by people with the right know-how, however, companies often see benefits both to their core business and to the environment.

Commitment Costs

Getting the right training and laying the proper groundwork during the planning phase is often one of the costliest parts of the process. Most companies do not have the expertise to train their employees, which means that this must be outsourced. A number of different consulting companies offer educational services and tutorials, often on a case-by-case or project-by-project basis. Organizations that are really serious about long-term management initiatives sometimes also choose to create new positions and hire environmental experts in a more permanent capacity.

There are also usually a number of technical costs. Special equipment may be needed to measure outputs or intakes, for instance, and software programs and special computer metrics are often required to make sense of results and readings over time. It may also be the case that managing environmental consequences requires more expensive ways of doing business. Many companies are used to doing things the least expensive way possible, which is something that must often be reconsidered when how those methods affect the environment are taken into account.

Economic and Other Benefits

In a great many cases, the benefits of an environmental management plan far outweigh the initial expenses. These include the prevention of pollution, the conservation of natural resources like water, and increased energy efficiency. Over time, these benefits often add up to significant cost savings in bills and utility outputs. Well-executed plans can also help companies avoid costly fines in places where there is regulation of energy consumption, disposal, and other environmental concerns.

Though a lot depends on the dynamics of the individual organization, following a management plan can also be a way to build employee relationships and foster company support around a single goal. Groups that are able to mobilize their workforce around an issue that people believe in often see better productivity and morale in areas totally unrelated to the core issue. This means that a company committing to better safety standards for something like oil transportation might incidentally realize better office productivity, which in turn can lead to higher sales.

Jobs Within the Sector

Many people make their career as environmental management professionals who help organizations plan different conservation and preservation-related goals. Some of these people work directly with companies as consultants, while others take more of a “teacher” or “instructor” role, providing advice but mostly helping companies help themselves.

Still others find work as regulators; these people work for governments and other rule-setting entities, usually to audit compliance. Environmental management isn’t required in all places, but in the areas where it is, ensuring that companies are following the rules is an important part of the process. This is particularly true for industries that pose major environmental risks, like oil drilling at sea or the transportation of dangerous chemicals.

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Discussion Comments

By anon956379 — On Jun 13, 2014

Here are two companies related to Environmental Sustainability - Ecosia and GoodGuide. Ecosia is a carbon neutral search site that gives 80 percent of its advertisement revenues to a rainforest protection program, while GoodGuide helps people find safe, healthy, ethical and green products through its research and free ratings of more than 210,000 products.

By Renegade — On Jan 08, 2011

Seeing atrocities such as last year's oil spill makes us recognize how important it is to pursue newer forms of energy which are more sustainable in the long run and create less risk of pollution.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 07, 2011

Environmental management policies are beginning to unify in a global vision. Much like humanitarian abuse being recognized by a global community, environmental transgression is now being recognized as a serious problem originating in man's desire to take all of the earth's resources and use them for himself and his own short life, with longterm negative consequences. Making a conscious effort to establish global environmental management policies will result in a better world for future generations.

By BostonIrish — On Jan 04, 2011

It is exciting to see environmental management training happening among young people in the inner city. Environmental discrimination occurs in places like New York City, where large companies dump hazardous and polluting products into the Hudson River, ruining the air and water supply in poorer areas such as the Bronx. There are projects being conducted to save the environment there, starting with grassroots local measures such as training the next generation to lead in environmental management. Lets hope this trend spreads.

By helene55 — On Nov 06, 2010

Environmental management will hopefully grow in its importance to companies. Like this article says, it is something that could certainly raise teamwork and interest among employees of companies. Environmental management, practiced well by enough large companies, also could do a lot to quickly increase the world's sustainability.

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