Greening business: EMS and the 21st century company
The greening of business ranks high on the list of corporate responsibilities in the 21st century - the global environmental technology and services sector is now worth more than £300 billion. Most people agree with the concept of environmental management. Companies that operate EMS make better use of resources and usually find it easier to comply with local and international regulations and laws. Systematic structure, planning and internal auditing allows for better monitoring and measuring. And companies who can prove they are being environmentally responsible are increasingly attractive to investors, particularly since the creation of the Dow Jones and FTSE sustainability indices.Many organisations choose to operate in-house, or informal, environmental management systems to manage their environmental impacts. Others become externally validated via the recognised worldwide standard ISO 14001. Some go on to achieve a higher standard through registration with the EU’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), which requires legal compliance, independent verification and public environmental reports. None of these approaches work, however, without continued senior management commitment.
But do formal operational tools and standardised verification procedures such as environmental management systems really work? Can environmental management systems guarantee good environmental performance? Much research has been carried out in recent years to assess their viability and now a far-reaching study is carrying out the most in-depth research programme to date. This UK-based project – known as 'remas' - seeks to provide empirical evidence of a direct correlation between certified EMS and improved environmental performance. The ambitious three year, pan-European study is the biggest of its kind. It rolled out to companies in a wide range of industry sectors across Europe during the autumn and winter and the data collected will be analysed in coming months.
"We believe EMS can offer many benefits to companies and other stakeholders, but we cannot prove their worth until we have an unequivocal picture of the various elements involved," says Project Manager Martyn Cheesbrough. He has brought together the Environment Agency in England and Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Environmental Protection Agency in Ireland and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment to get this picture with the support of the EC's environmental funding programme 'LIFE'.
“We’ll be separating the wheat from the chaff to provide a euro-wide consensus on the most important elements of all EMS. Our findings will be used to inform EC policymakers to help promote the highest standards of environmental management practice and effective regulatory policy throughout Europe," he explains.
Remas differs from previous studies in that it is looking at the relationship between environmental performance and individual components of EMS. This level of scrutiny will enable operators and regulators to work together much more efficiently in the future to safeguard the environment.
Participating firms are being given a free report benchmarking them against the rest of their sector - and the whole of Europe - identifying where and how they rank alongside their peers. The study was formally launched last summer in London at a major EMS event featuring highly respected experts, regulators, policy makers, certifiers, accreditation bodies, NGOs and academics from 17 countries, including some accession states.
"Managing environmental performance is an essential part of business today. This study will not only help companies shape their approach to environmental management, but also redefine the future of EMS," Martyn told EDIE.
More information is available from the remas team on 01179 914 2989, or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Agency’s position statement on EMS is outlined in full under the environmental management systems link at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk