A Tool for Improvement: Environmental Management Systems

By Pawar, Michelle Wyman; Rissetto, Christopher | Public Management, December 2001 | Go to article overview

A Tool for Improvement: Environmental Management Systems


Pawar, Michelle Wyman, Rissetto, Christopher, Public Management


The economic boom of the past decade has led to explosive growth and has strengthened local tax bases in communities. Though the growth has benefited local governments in many ways, some old challenges have remained while new challenges have emerged.

Exponential growth has required new construction and often new and expanded local government services and operations like wastewater collection and treatment, solid waste management, pesticides storage and use, management lubricants and fluids associated with garage or fleet operations, and regulatory and land use oversight.

Through these examples, one can see the extent to which local government operations and activities impact the environment and public health, thus creating immense liability exposure. Few tools like an environmental management system (EMS) provide local administrators with effective methodologies for practically and systematically managing the health, financial, and regulatory risks associated with their responsibility as stewards of the environment.

An EMS is a set of management processes and procedures that allow an organization to analyze, control, and reduce the environmental impact of its operations and services to achieve cost savings, greater efficiency and oversight, and streamlined regulatory compliance.

Local governments seek innovations that improve performance in public health and environmental protection, risk and liability reduction, and service efficiency and effectiveness. Programs must be implemented without a reduction in a community's quality of life or significant impact on limited budgets. Over the long term, an effective EMS can achieve these objectives.

An EMS, for example, offers accurate tracking of regulatory compliance, a reduced public health risk and liability, improved public understanding of management decisions, streamlined organizational processes, better relations with community stakeholders (citizens, businesses, and special-interest groups), and environmental leadership.

EMS Advantages

Gains realized by a local government through an EMS may include:

* Increased operational and administrative efficiencies.

* Cost savings, including economic and environmental ones.

* Improved public health and environmental protection.

* Reductions in risk and liability.

* Improved tracking of all types of permits (health, water, fire, building).

* Streamlined processes for regulatory compliance.

* Enhanced interaction with community stakeholders.

* Improved internal and external communication and education.

* Higher levels of employee participation and stewardship.

* Innovations in environmental solutions.

* Better public relations.

Self-Audit Policies and Immunity

One of the early steps of an EMS is an effort to identify and comply with an organization's regulatory requirements. A local government might be hesitant to audit its operations for fear of finding a regulatory violation, consequently facing legal and financial liabilities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a number of states have developed self-audit policies in an effort to dispel the fears and encourage local governments to promptly disclose and correct violations that are discovered through a self-audit process. This statement has been copied from EPA's self-audit policy:

"Under the final Audit/Self Policing Policy, EPA will not seek gravity-based penalties and will not recommend criminal prosecutions for companies that meet the requirements of the Policy. Gravity-based penalties represent the 'seriousness' or punitive portion of penalties over and above the portion representing the economic gain from non-compliance. The policy requires companies:

* To promptly disclose and correct violations.

* To prevent recurrence of the violation. …

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