Environmental Management Systems



Organizations worldwide are using the ISO international standard for environmental management systems (ISO 14001:2015) and its standard for guidance on social responsibility (26000:2010). The ISO 14001 is relevant to all organizations, regardless of size and business focus. In Europe, organizations also have a voluntary environmental management system (EMS) instrument: the European Regulation for Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).

ISO 14001 defines an EMS as the part of an organization's management system that is used to develop and implement its environmental policy. The ISO standards covering environmental management detail the elements of an effective EMS which can be integrated with other management requirements to help organizations achieve environmental and economic goals.

An EMS should include an organizational structure, planning activities, well-defined responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources. It must be based on the specific operations of each organization as it is designed to help streamline and organize the organization’s environmental deliberations and activities.


Progress so far

In 2015, ESCAP, MONUSCO, the UN Secretariat Headquarters in New York and WFP in Kenya were selected to pilot the UN-adapted environmental management system guidance material and lead the way for others to follow suit. The SUN team will accompany the pilots through the implementation until the end of 2017.

Throughout 2017, these organisations have shown progress in developing and implementing their systems. MONUSCO conducted its first internal environmental audit, while WFP has completed an initial environmental review and established its environmental management system governance structure. UN Headquarters has initiated an environmental management system governance framework for the UN Secretariat and progressed with its initial environmental review. ESCAP has designated a full-time environmental management system coordinator.


Environmental management in the UN



The UN's EMS Toolkit

An EMS is the engine of “continual improvement” that help keep UN entities focused and moving in the right direction towards internal sustainability.  The UN EMS Toolkit is an online application designed to help make the UN’s work on environmental management more secure, effective and connected. UN entities can use the UN EMS Toolkit in different ways:

  • For entities just getting started on an EMS, the Toolkit can be used as a training tool for personnel to learn more about the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of an EMS, guided by practical tips and UN case studies.
  • For entities ready to implement an EMS, the Toolkit offers an online knowledge management tool where users can collect, manage and record the supporting documents and information for an organisation’s EMS in a secure, central location.

Getting started with the UN EMS Toolkit is easy. Officially-appointed UN-System personnel can use their official email address to create an account. Further information and a quick start guide is available there as well.


You can read more about the UN's EMS toolkit here

You can access the UN's EMS toolkit here

You can download the Quick Start Guide here

Additional information


An EMS does not mandate particular sustainability measures or outcomes; rather it activates the organization to make continuous improvements. The aim is to continuously reduce the organization’s total environmental impact by providing management with a better governance system over activities undertaken to address environmental issues in terms of both performance and cost. In addition, elements of an EMS can be coordinated with other management systems, such as quality control, social and safety issues.

With a functioning EMS in place, an organization's credibility on environmental stewardship should increase, and its knowledge of its environmental performance should likewise improve. These developments should, in turn, lead to enriched communication with stakeholders and other interested parties.

The paradigmatic EMS is designed around five basic elements that follow a logical structure for its operation. The structure is built according to a Plan-Do-Check-Act, or PDCA cycle.

Implementing an EMS in UN organizations could be a practical means for integrating social, economic and environmental dimensions across the operational activities of the United Nations System. This would be in line with the mandate expressed in ‘The future we want’ (paragraph 94), the outcome document of Rio+20, endorsed by the GA Resolutions 66/288 and 70/201.