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Leveraging Technology: Reducing Environmental Compliance Risk at an International Airport

posted 04.04.2018

An Environmental Management Information System (EMIS) is frequently a critical component of an effective Environmental Management System (EMS). Many regulated entities, including airports and airlines are investing in EMIS solutions to help manage their environmental compliance data and streamline compliance activities. This leveraging of technology is giving them a greater ability to maintain environmental compliance and effectively use their data to reduce overall risk. This impactful benefit makes an EMIS solution one of the most important components of an overall EMS program.

Beginning The EMIS Journey

A practical approach to EMIS implementation used by many airports is to focus first on activities with the greatest potential to impact day-to-day operational efficiency and jeopardize compliance with regulatory requirements. For example, at some California airports this has meant utilizing EMIS to assist with complex air quality compliance requirements, while smaller airports with less staff often require a strong focus on compliance submittals and due dates. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), an EMIS was developed with an initial focus on stormwater and de-icing management, two challenging tasks that are data-intensive and can cause regulatory compliance issues. In all of these instances, a phased approach can immediately reduce compliance risk for operations. Considering what organizational elements are most critical will help determine the right EMIS application for your situation. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), who own and operate MSP, began using an EMIS to manage various compliance-related tasks and requested Terracon’s assistance in developing a solution to centralize environmental data, increase business continuity, and streamline compliance activities. The MAC team began their EMIS journey using a phased approach with an eye toward continual improvement. The first system utilized macro-enabled Office applications that provided automated task scheduling and weekly reporting. With the success of this system, MAC recognized the value that could be realized with a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) EMIS, adding data centralization, dash-boarding, online inspections, and reporting. In addition, Terracon partnered with MAC to develop online Process Fact Sheets to detail each aspect of environmental compliance and provide links to necessary documents and reference materials. These fact sheets helped to capture the best practices employed by various staff and consultants in maintaining compliance and greatly enhanced the organization’s business continuity. These robust EMIS systems provide the organization with necessary business continuity, increased performance, and overall reduced risk.
Why would I need an EMIS?
What will happen if one of your key environmental staff leaves? Their institutional knowledge will leave with them. Getting their knowledge into an EMIS will keep your operations running smoothly during staff transition.
What mechanism do you or senior leadership have to perform a quick review of key compliance tasks and if they have been completed? Effective managers delegate to trusted staff and have the responsibility to ensure these tasks are completed on schedule.
How do you and your organization efficiently access and interact with your environmental compliance data? Often data accessibility is limited to those in control of the data, sometimes residing on a single computer. When that person is unavailable, access to your data is be challenging at best.
Are your reports generated in a consistent and timely manner? Nearly all compliance activities include a reporting function. Manual report generation is time consuming and introduces the potential for error if relying on re-keying of data or manual data consolidation.

What Does the Future Hold?

During the past decade, airports have been rolling-out sustainability programs that include environmental transparency often in the form of public facing dashboards and reporting elements. An EMIS can play a key role in collecting, managing, and reporting the necessary information to the interested parties in a systematic and efficient manner. A robust EMIS solution that has been developed with thoughtful consideration to your specific needs and desired technological investment will help organizations effectively and efficiently manage compliance now and well into the future.

Mat Knutson is an environmental engineer and senior project manager based in Terracon’s Minneapolis office. With more than 20 years of experience he has developed an expertise in airport environmental issues working on complex NPDES permitting and Aircraft Deicing Fluid management. In addition, Mat has spearheaded EMIS development and implementation for various clients including the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.