EMS highlights problems – business must solve them

A good environmental management system is not a magic bullet that will cure a company's woes overnight but, with time, it will help it recognise and address them.

This was the argument of the Environment Agency’s head of industry regulation, Martin Bigg, when he spoke at IEMA’s EMS Forum this week.

Mr Bigg outlined the paradox that while companies without an EMS might find themselves in a state of ignorant bliss, unaware of any environmental problems, those which do implement a management system are likely to find that, on paper at least, their environmental performance initially suffers.

“Does an EMS lead to better compliance, better resource efficiency and lower emissions? Does it deliver better environmental performance?” he asked.

“It certainly gives a greater knowledge of what’s going on and of breaches and offers transparency in rectifying those breaches.”

“We must recognise that implementing an EMS does not automatically lead to compliance, quite the reverse if anything as it highlights all the little breaches and examples of non-compliance.

“The reality is that once you start putting management systems in place you’ll find that there are failings and as a result with effective systems the number of non-compliances and failings goes up.

“Don’t expect instant results and be prepared for deterioration in apparent results as awareness increases.”

On the plus side, he said, organisations with a robust EMS in place are more aware of their own activities.

“An EMS is about improving awareness of processes, activities and people. Only then can companies move to a position of tackling these problems.”

Responsible organisations which did put an EMS in place should not expect to be unfairly penalised for the problems it brought to light, said Mr Bigg.

“Running a big business does mean that occasionally you or your subcontractors get it wrong,” he said.

“You need systems in place to ensure you can learn from these mistakes and an EMS has a role to play in this. If a management system comes up with serious issues but is tackling them, we need to ensure that the company is not treated unfairly as a consequence.”

The EA had more problems with smaller companies which tend not to have an EMS in place, he added, saying that only around 20% of reported pollution incidents are linked to regulated industries, 40% from diffuse pollution that is hard to trace to a single source and the other 40% from businesses not regulated by the EA.

It is this final 40% where most action is needed and the agency is urging those businesses to adopt an EMS to reduce the risk of non-compliance.

“It’s about the future and what you can achieve and we’re committed to persuading industry to adopt EMS,” said Mr Bigg.

“We’d like to see EMSs going further and being more widely adopted by those we don’t regulate.”

In the long run, the importance of an effective management system was not only highlighting the problems, but enabling a company to address them and that gave those it dealt with a greater confidence in doing business with them as well as being of direct benefit to the environment.

Sam Bond

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