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Section II: Understanding an Environmental and Social Management System

Provided by IFC Sustainable Business Advisory


A management system is a set of processes and practices to con­sistently implement your company’s policies to meet your business objectives. The goal is to make sure that you have the appropriate policies and procedures in place and that people consistently fol­low them. The management system helps to assess and control your risks and is the key to lasting improvement. A key feature is the idea of continual improvement – an ongoing process of reviewing, cor­recting and improving your system. The most common method is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (PDCA), described below. 




A solid, functioning environmental and social management system (ESMS) is made up of interrelated parts. Take a look at the nine elements of an effective ESMS. Each of these elements is important, because they help you to assess, control and continually improve your environmental and social performance, as part of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. The following section presents step-by-step instructions on how to develop and implement a system using these elements.


A lot of companies in the food and beverage industry already have management systems for quality or food safety. If so, you may already have elements of an ESMS, and there is no need to replace what you already have. In this Handbook’s companion publication, ESMS Self-Assessment and Improvement Guide, we provide a self-assessment rating for each of the ESMS elements. The self-assessment will allow you to measure your current level of system development and implementation. You will answer a series of questions and get your score for each element in the ESMS on a scale of 0 to 5 (5 is highest). The score measures the maturity of your system. Once you understand the maturity of your system, it is easier to target specific steps you can take to improve it.




One of the most important things to understand about a management system is the difference between system development and system implementation. A management system is comprised of trained, committed people routinely following procedures. If you break this statement down, you see that it talks about “procedures.” Procedures are the step-by-step way that people follow your policies. Procedures are the heart of effective system development.

Now let’s look at the other part of the statement – “trained, committed people routinely following procedures.” This is the implementation. There is a lot that goes into making it happen. Of course, some training is important to make sure that people are aware of the procedures and understand what they are supposed to do on a routine basis. But you also need to find a way to get their commitment.

One common observation is that large companies tend to be better at system development. But they often have difficulty getting people in different locations or departments to consistently implement the procedures, despite having well-documented systems. Small companies tend to be better at system implementation – if they have effective leadership. However, they are often weak at developing the documentation needed to ensure continuity when people in the organization change.

The approach of this Handbook and its companion publications, Toolkit and Case Studies and Self-Assessment and Improvement Guide, balances system development and system implementation in each of the ESMS elements.


System Development - the documented policies and procedures

System Implementation - trained, committed people routinely fol­lowing the procedures

An ESMS does not need to be complicated, but it does need to be documented and then put into practice. Some people mistakenly think a management system is just documents. But that is only a part of it. Management systems are about implementation and continual improvement.


The Handbook and companion publications are designed to help you measure and improve the maturity rating of your ESMS. The flowchart below shows how you can use these three publications in a cycle of continual improvement.


<Go to ESMS Implementation Handbook Main Page 

<Go back to Section I: Benefits of an Environmental and Social Management System in the Food & Beverage Industry 

>Proceed to Chapter 1. Policy

Copyright © 2016 IFC Corporate Governance.  All Rights Reserved.

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