Protecting the Environment: The Role of Environmental Management Systems

Article excerpt


Environmental management and auditing systems are increasingly important. They have significant roles to play in relation to environmental protection, workplace safety and public health. Businesses and non-commercial organisations adopt such systems for a variety of reasons. The extent to which they are used varies very considerably between developed countries. The effectiveness of national regulatory systems seems to be a major factor. In the United Kingdom environmental regulators have traditionally sought the voluntary compliance of businesses. This strategy is closely associated with the near absence of administrative penalties. It seems that a wide range of environmental administrative penalties will be introduced in the near future. This may greatly encourage more firms to introduce environmental management and auditing systems.

Key words

Administrative penalties;

EMAS; environmental

management systems;

environmental regulation;

ISO 14001


Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) have existed for several decades. The first EMSs were essentially a corporate response to well-publicized accidents at industrial sites in Canada and the USA. In 1975, for example, a man employed at a pesticide factory in Virginia, USA., experienced 'dizzy spells'. Subsequent blood tests suggested that the health of workers was at risk and the manufacturing facility was ordered to cease operations. The relevant company (the Allied Chemical Corporation) was eventually permitted to resume production after it agreed to establish an EMS.1

The emergence of industry-wide codes of conduct was a parallel development. The American and Canadian Chemical Industry's 'Responsible Care Program' is an early example. These codes of conduct evolved into more formalized EMSs, i.e. systems and standards that were generally applicable.2 The best known are the International Standardization Organization's ISO 14001 and the European Community's Eco-Management and Auditing Scheme (EMAS). These share certain similarities and became closely aligned in 2001.3,4

Most EMSs share certain features. These include:4

* the identification of environmental goals and targets;

* the identification of an organization's environmental impacts;

* the identification of relevant legislation/regulatory structures;

* the establishment of control, measurement and monitoring procedures;

* the introduction of appropriate training

programmes for employees;

* the introduction of structured documentation systems (a prerequisite of effective environmental auditing systems).


Environmental management and auditing systems and standards are becoming increasingly popular. The global total of ISO 14001 certifications was 66,070 in December 2003 - 16,621 more than a year earlier.5 Certifications are not, of course, evenly distributed. Most are in Europe (48%), the Far East (36%) and North America (8%). At the time of the survey, the UK had 5460 certificates - 2547 more than in December 2002 (a remarkable annual growth rate of 87%). Only Japan had more certifications (13,416). The USA was sixth in the world (with 3553 certifications) -just ahead of Sweden (with 3404).

British businesses and other organizations appear to be far less enthusiastic about EMAS (which, unlike ISO 14001, requires participants to publish environmental statements). In January 2005 there were 3067 EMAS registered organizations (and 4093 sites) in the European Community.6 Germany and Spain had 1641 and 412 registered organizations respectively. The UK had 66 registered organizations (and 67 sites).

The significance of this apparent neglect of EMAS should not be exaggerated. Businesses in other highly developed European countries appear to have reservations about EMAS. France had 2344 ISO 14001 certificates and 20 EMAS registered organizations. …