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Green Tier and Environmental Management Systems

An environmental management system (EMS) is a tool that helps an organization understand its environmental impacts and systematically operate more efficiently by reducing energy usage, minimizing waste and reducing pollution. Proactively addressing environmental impacts helps an organization protect public health and Wisconsin’s natural resources, find and utilize the most cost-effective corrective measures, and avoid costly noncompliance fees.

Green Tier places great value on environmental management systems. Participants in Tier 1 and Tier 2 must have an ISO 14001 certified environmental management system or a system that is functionally equivalent under the Green Tier Law. Whichever path is chosen, an EMS is a way to manage your company's environmental impacts in a manner that creates continual environmental and economic improvement through the "Plan, Do, Check, Act" cycle.


Formulate an environmental policy, intentions and an overall mission. Set specific goals to improve environmental performance, detailing how your organization will meet those goals.


Delegate responsibilities, set-up and conduct employee training, communicate goals and procedures with employees, and implement the EMS.


Assess environmental impacts, goal attainment, and methods used to monitor and measure environmental impacts. Record past environmental issues and the mechanisms utilized to prevent recurrence.


Evaluate your EMS in terms of effectiveness and appropriateness for reaching company goals. Identify new goals and make necessary adjustments to the EMS.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act process of an environmental management system helps you identify areas of your business that are important, have significant impacts, or cost money. Looking at each area closer can help your business find ways to bring value from these costs and reduce environmental risks as you find efficiencies in your operations. A comprehensive look at your environmental impacts can also lead to innovative ways to improve conditions for employees, strengthen relationships with the community, impress existing clients and attract new ones.

Organizations that are active participants and dedicate time and efforts to their environmental programs often realize greater benefits than anticipated because an effective EMS guides exploration of environmental opportunities that are compatible with current practices. A systematic approach to environmental management helps:

Improve profits

You can use your management system to find profitability in a waste stream that otherwise would be an expense. You can maximize effectiveness by identifying areas that cost money, assessing options for producing value, and finding an alternative solution. One Green Tier participant was able to find a buyer for one of its byproducts that otherwise would have gone to a landfill.

Minimize risks

Environmental risks are legitimate business risks that can impact profits. Global changes can create challenges for your business, so it is a good strategy to stay ahead of the curve. Holistic or life-cycle perspectives of your products and services can help you see the broader environmental impacts of your business and mitigate risks of your products or services, preparing you to become more sustainable and resilient.

Prevent costly compliance issues

Violations can be very expensive! A strong EMS provides you with the tools and processes to manage all your requirements efficiently. You can identify your legal requirements as significant aspects to help you stay on track. Monitoring and documentation procedures included within an EMS help to stay on track with applicable regulations.

Demonstrate commitment to sustainability

Leadership can be demonstrated throughout an organization when engaged employees all buy in to the system. Leaders can wield their EMS to keep the environment at the forefront of decision-making processes and propel the organization to find solutions that help them become more sustainable.

Improve relationships with your community

Clear communication and transparency procedures established through your system help you to build a strong relationship with your community and employees.

Improve retention and engagement

Studies have shown that employees and prospective employees, especially millennials, are more likely to stay working for companies that have active sustainability or environmental improvement strategies. Employee retention is important for continuity and the overall success of business

Achieve long-term goals

Incremental progress, a characteristic of management systems, can help you to move the needle on long-term goals and projects. The objective/target structure can be helpful to define the big objective and set incremental targets to stay on track.

Position your business for the future

Continue innovating. Setting and achieving future-facing environmental goals through your EMS signals that you have a plan to be successful in the future through continued innovation. Future businesses will need to be resilient to keep the trust of their stakeholders.;

Looking for resources to help you go beyond compliance? We have compiled links to case studies, best management practices, articles and tools that will inspire ideas to continue your journey down the path toward superior environmental performance. Check out this tool!

Investing in innovation can benefit your business and the environment. When used effectively, an environmental management system is a tool to define your company. The system encourages top-down and bottom-up improvements, establishes standardized procedures for consistent performance, identifies major risks, and allows goal setting to minimize the risks and increase your profitability. With an environmental management system, your business is positioning itself for resiliency and continual improvement.

Implementing an Environmental Management System

Functionally Equivalent environmental management systems are a flexible structure for a management system that is intended to meet the intent of continual environmental improvement. For detailed information on how to develop and implement a Functionally Equivalent EMS, see: Environmental Management Systems & Functional Equivalency (CO-503).

To see how the structure for a Functionally Equivalent EMS compares to an ISO 14001 EMS, see: Functionally Equivalent EMS Crosswalk to ISO 14001) (CO-511).

The following websites offer information that may help implement an environmental management system to effectively manage environmental impacts. The DNR does not endorse these sites or the information contained therein. These links are provided for informative purposes only.