Setting Standards and Saving the Environment: EMAS and ISO 14001

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INTRODUCTION

The origins of environmental management systems (EMSs) can be traced to the 1980s and the USA, where organizations developed ad hoc systems suited to their own requirements. By the early 1990s, support had grown for an internationally recognised standard for such systems. As a result, 1993 saw the European Community adopt its Eco-Management and Audit Regulation (1836/93/EC) which would eventually become the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) introduced ISO 14001 two years later.

The purpose of this article is to examine the nature of EMSs, to explain the differences between the European and international standards, and to ask whether EMSs can lead to environmental improvement.

WHAT IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?

An environmental management system (EMS) is an important part of the control structure of a modern organization. It is directly related to the organization's environmental policies that focus on identifying and controlling the impact of its activities on the environment. For an EMS to be successful entails the commitment of all individuals within the organization and an effective environmental management accounting system that will provide measurement, monitoring and control.

WITH WHAT DOES AN EMS CONCERN ITSELF?

The EMS will focus on the organization's production of waste and its disposal. This may be solid waste, chemicals or water waste. In addition, management will monitor the effect the organization has on groundwater, and particularly the possible impact of chemicals that it uses in its production process.

Similarly, the EMS will focus on noise and vibration as a source of environmental nuisance, and the impact the organization has on the environmental quality of its immediate surroundings. Beyond this, the EMS must identify all potential environmental costs and provide contingency reserves to cover the costs of future taxes, insurance, possible fines and the cost of investment in equipment that is more environmentally friendly.

IMPLEMENTING AN EMS

The process involved in implementing an EMS usually follows the Deming approach.

The first stage concentrates on planning. At this stage, environmental aspects of product and process are identified by an environmental audit, together with any legal requirements incumbent upon the organization.

The second stage involves setting objectives and a programme for implementation is drawn up.

The third stage of the cycle is the do, which necessitates the implementation of the plan. All this must be supported by the creation of suitable organizational structures, and the assignment of responsibilities to management and personnel, together with the establishment of appropriate procedures. In addition, staff training takes place to enable them to apply these procedures, which must be carefully documented at this stage of the cycle.

The check stage is next and involves monitoring and control together with the implementation of any necessary remedial action. All this is recorded, audited, and the data used in the next phase - the management review. The management review is the final, or act, stage.

Initially many organizations developed their own in-house EMS systems, and many still do. Recently, however, the ISO 14000 series and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) have become important. These offer ready-made EMSs, and also certification and accreditation. Both bodies will certify an organization's own EMS, or alternatively an organization can follow the guidelines provided by EMAS or ISO to develop one from scratch.

The initial hopes for ISO 14001 and EMAS were that they would lead firms to achieve sustainability. Such hopes would be realised if the standards encouraged environmental improvement, by requiring firms to measure the amount of environmental damage done, and to endeavour to reduce such damage in the future. …