The European Commissioner for the Environment from 1999-2004, Margot Wallström, already said: ‘we will not solve environmental problems by simply adding a few new directives, especially if we discover later on that these directives are not always implemented by the Member States. We need a broader range of instruments to tackle ever more diffuse sources of environmental pressures. We need instruments which:
Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are instruments that meet these requirements. Among the existing EMS, EMAS is the benchmark for premium environmental management systems.
An EMS is a tool that provides organisations with a method to systematically manage and improve the environmental aspects of their production processes. It helps organisations to achieve their environmental obligations and performance goals. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) defines an EMS as ’the part of the overall management system that includes organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing and maintaining the environmental policy’.
An EMS can be implemented in many different ways depending on the precise sector or activity and the needs perceived by management, but several common operating principles should be present. These operating principles of an EMS follow a ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle’ (PDCA Cycle):
Plan: Establish an environmental policy including objectives and targets.
Do: Implement organisational structure, allocate resources and assign responsibilities to achieve set objectives and targets. Also, establish training and communication procedures to implement set objectives and targets successfully.
Check: Collect, analyse, monitor and measure retrieved information and results (against planned objectives and targets). Check results through audits.
Act: Review and evaluate environmental performance and correct and/or improve environmental policy including objectives and targets, as well as organisational structure, procedures and processes in order to continuously improve environmental performance.
PERFORMANCE: EMAS is a voluntary environmental management system based on a harmonised scheme throughout the EU. Its objective is to improve the environmental performance of organisations by having them commit to both evaluating and reducing their environmental impact and continuously improving their environmental performance.
CREDIBILITY: The external and independent nature of the EMAS registration process (Competent Bodies, Accreditation/Licensing Bodies and environmental verifiers under the control of the EU Member States) ensures the credibility and reliability of the scheme, including both the actions taken by an organisation to continuously improve its environmental performance and the organisation’s information to the public through the environmental statement.
TRANSPARENCY: Providing publicly available information on an organisation’s environmental performance is an important aspect of the scheme’s objective. It is achieved externally through the environmental statement and within the organisation through the active involvement of employees in the implementation of the scheme. The EMAS logo which can be displayed on (inter alia) letterheads, adverts for products, activities and services is an attractive visual tool to demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to improving its environmental performance and indicates the reliability of the information provided.
EN ISO 14001:2004 is a certifiable standard providing the requirements for an environmental management system. It is used worldwide by large and small organisations, both in public and private sectors. Like EMAS, the scheme is based on a PDCA Cycle and specifies the most important requirements to identify, control and monitor environmental aspects of organisations, as well as how to manage and improve environmental management systems.
Read more on the relation between EMAS and EN ISO 14001:
In addition to EMAS and EN ISO 14001, numerous non-formal EMS exist in the EU. Many of them have been adopted by both private and public organisations. These EMS are mostly designed to cover organisations with a specific size (e.g. SMEs) and organisations coming from specific areas or specific sectors of activities. Though each EMS represents a worthy step towards improved environmental performance, committed organisations come to a point where they face the system’s limits and feel the need for a more demanding and ambitious EMS. In that case the existing EMS can function as a ‘step-up’ towards EMAS.
To facilitate that step-up a European Commission study analysed twenty of the most relevant non-formal EMS and EN ISO 14001 in terms of their objectives, target group, geographical scope and affinity to EMAS, among other things. Additionally, the study outlines an applicable step-by-step approach to take in order to move from each EMS to EMAS. Based on Article 45 of EMAS III, existing EMS or parts thereof can be recognised as complying with corresponding requirements of EMAS III. Organisations can thus use the previous efforts when seeking EMAS registration.
Read more on the relation between EMAS and non-formal EMS here.