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Environmental Management Systems: Informing Organizational Decisions

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Objectives/Hypothesis:
Actions to improve companies' environmental performance now include voluntary programs that encourage organizations to go beyond regulatory compliance. Environmental management systems (EMS) are a recent voluntary initiative expected to produce general reductions in pollution discharges. Unlike voluntary programs such as Green Lights or 33/50, the specific goals and benefits of EMS implementation at the national level have not been defined, either for the company or for environmental protection. Moreover, there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of the benefits of EMS. Participating companies expect to lower environmental costs or improve performance. Society should benefit from reduced energy consumption, pollution, and waste generation. However, not all EMSs will be equally effective. For example, a process-oriented EMS, such as ISO 14000, may not provide a comprehensive view of environmental issues across an organization or develop the data needed to assess environmental improvements and cost savings.

Approach:
We propose to examine existing EMSs. First, at a macro-level, we propose to assess the change in environmental performance as a result of adopting an EMS, as well as the effect of a deeper commitment to environmental performance. This analysis will use publicly available information to compare facilities with an ISO 14000 certified EMS to those without a certified EMS with respect to emissions levels and compliance status. Second, at a micro-level, we propose to examine the relevant data and analysis to inform company decisions. This phase involves in-depth inquiry with participating organizations to determine the availability and use of data from EMS and other sources. The collected data will provide a basis for identifying the EMS attributes that are useful and necessary for decision-making.

Expected Results:
Organizational leaders can use the results to improve the effectiveness of existing or new EMS. A final result will be a model for an EMS that includes information necessary for informed company decisions that can reduce the environmental burden of firms. Policy makers can use the result to determine requirements for a potential voluntary program for implementation of environmental management systems.
Supplemental Keywords: voluntary environmental initiatives, risk management, pollution prevention, public policy, decision making, cost benefit

Metadata

EPA/NSF ID:
R829407
Principal Investigators:
Lave, Lester
Hendrickson, Chris
Technical Liaison:
Research Organization:
Carnegie Mellon University
Funding Agency/Program:
EPA/ORD/Valuation
Grant Year:
2001
Project Period:
November 1, 2001 to October 31, 2003
Cost to Funding Agency:
$323,265
Project Status Reports:
For 2002

Objective:
The objective of this research project is to investigate environmental management systems (EMSs) to have a better
understanding of their contribution to environmental improvement and organizational decisionmaking. The result will be an improved design for EMSs as an environmental information collection and evaluation system for organizations and regulators.

The investigators anticapte three major outcomes from this research: (1) They will examine and report on existing
environmental management systems, the data collected through their use, and how those data are evaluated and communicated within an organization; (2) we will develop an EMS model to improve decisionmaking capabilities of the organization; this model EMS will be designed to link environmental information with other organizational information to provide management with more comprehensive information; and (3) we will compare the data requirements of this model EMS to existing data requirements of policy or voluntary initiatives. This final step will provide regulators with a better understanding of how EMSs can be used as a policy approach in the future.
Progress Summary:
The project has moved forward on both the macro- and microlevels of analysis proposed. To complete the micro-level
analysis of facility performance in relation to their commitment to voluntary initiatives such as EMSs, we have submitted a proposal to the Carnegie Mellon Census Research Data Center (CM-CRDC) for use of data from manufacturers. The proposal received a status of approved with clarification in August 2002; clarifications have been submitted, and we await final approval status. In the meantime, we are actively compiling data of environmental performance and voluntary program status for facilities. For the micro-level analysis, we have completed indepth interviews with eight organizations to determine the existing use of EMSs and environmental information. In addition, we held a workshop to discuss environmental management issues in April 2002, for executives with environmental oversight in multinational companies.
Initial results from the indepth facility analysis and the workshop discussions indicate that despite variations in industry and product lines, organizations have very similar EMSs and strategies overall. Most information included within EMSs are data required for regulatory purposes; these data were collected by EHS departments prior to the establishment of a formal EMS, such as ISO 14001. Data that is nonregulatory based include solid waste and recycling information for company directed programs, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and performance metrics. These results indicate that a model EMS, while focusing on regulatory issues, should extend beyond these concerns and embrace information regarding potential future problems (e.g., water usage, energy sources, and carbon emissions).

Another initial finding is the limited extent to which information collected via EMS is being shared among decision makers. Most information is shared with regulatory agencies; some is shared with corporate-level environmental personnel. Information is shared with production management at the facility level less frequently. Simultaneously, information from EMS is often not linked to other operating data of facilities. These results indicated that a model EMS must incorporate traditional operating data and utilize frequent reporting mechanisms.

Future Activities:
Year 2 will include the synthesis and analysis of information from the site visits. Also a summary report will be provided to all participating firms. The report will include the overall results of the site visits as well as a benchmark comparison of each firm to the group. We will examine the facility data to detect trends between environmental information and its uses. We will continue to prepare our dataset of facility environmental performance and voluntary program participation. We anticipate entering the CM-CRDC in the spring to complete the analysis. Upon completion of the macro-level analysis, we will compare our results with those of the site visits to determine trends in the use of information from EMSs. Finally, we will develop a model EMS that captures useful data, translates it into a useful format, and presents it to those that need the information. The framework will first focus on the outcomes of an EMS: (1) meeting regulatory requirements; (2) costing processes and products; (3) interfacing with health, safety, and human resources; and (4) planning for long-term improvement. The framework will suggest channels of communication and a plan for implementing the changes in information systems where they exist. To augment the research effort, we have planned a regional workshop focused on environmental management. The workshop will unite facility environmental personnel to discuss relevant topics in environmental management. Participants will include personnel from firms involved in the site visits.

Supplemental Keywords:
information systems, case study, environmental impact, environmental performance, EMS, ISO 14001, voluntary environmental initiatives, risk management, pollution prevention, public policy, decisionmaking. , Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Economics & Decision Making, Environmental History, Urban and Regional Planning, decision-making, ISO 14000, ISO 14000 certified EMS, cost/benefit analysis, decision making, environmental management systems (EMS), environmental policy, environmental values, measuring benefits

For 2003:
Objective:
The objective of this research project is to investigate environmental management systems (EMSs) to obtain a better understanding of their contributions to environmental improvement and organizational decisionmaking. The result will include an improved design for EMSs as an environmental information collection and evaluation system for organizations and regulators. We anticipate two major outcomes from this research. First, the researchers plan to examine and report on the existing EMSs, the data collected through their use, and how these data are evaluated and communicated within an organization. Second, they plan to develop an EMS model to improve the decisionmaking capabilities of the organization. This EMS model will be designed to link environmental information with other organizational information to provide management with more comprehensive information.

Progress Summary:
Year 2 of the project included the completion of 11 site visits to 9 participating companies. The information from the site visits was synthesized and analyzed to produce an overall picture of the EMSs. Summary reports were provided to all participating firms, which included the overall results of the site visits and a benchmark comparison of each firm to the group. The responses from participating firms were positive, reflecting the lack of benchmarking information on EMSs. The information was examined to detect trends in EMSs, as a whole, as well as trends in environmental information and its uses.

Results

The completion of the case study site visits and analyses of the data have led to some interesting results. This research investigated the EMSs of nine multinational corporations. The participants appear to have implemented similar EMSs, supporting the idea that a "consensus" EMS has developed. Common components include environmental policies, goals, data collection systems, audits, and reviews. Still, the EMSs continue to focus mainly on regulatory issues, potentially hindering the significance of the voluntary programs. The research does not investigate why firms are implementing the EMSs, but focuses on EMS content. The content remains focused on core environmental issues covered by existing regulations. Preliminary analyses on the automobile assembly industry indicate that incidents of noncompliance and enforcement actions occur at facilities with a certified EMS as often as incidents occur at facilities without a certified EMS. As such, the EMSs are an unlikely tool for improving environmental performance beyond current standards.

Despite the commonalities across the EMSs, unique elements exist that assist in organizational decisionmaking. Such elements include detailed process maps to identify environmental issues, collaboration among environmental professionals, and tools to assess risk of potential future issues. These elements are not required by standard EMS frameworks, but they do aid the information exchange among personnel dealing with environmental issues. Communication was considered one of the greatest benefits of a formalized EMS according to the participants in the study. Process maps, collaborative events, and risk assessment tools were three items that aided communication of the environmental health and safety (EHS) function within EHS departments. Companies felt, however, that improvements could be seen with additional communication of the EMS results outside the EHS function of the company. This includes communication internal to the company and to outside stakeholders. Goals that are linked to strategy and reliable information systems are elements deemed necessary for decisionmakers to fully recognize the value of the EMS. The lack of these elements keeps the EHS function separated from the central decisionmaking management of the company.

The preliminary results from the analyses of case study data on the EMSs indicate a wide variety of data availability and usage among the participating companies. Some companies had sophisticated, mature database entry and retrieval systems for the EMSs. Others had a few electronic systems that were accessible to only one or two users. Regardless of the level of automation, data requests to decisionmakers outside the EHS function remain low—approximately on a quarterly basis. The function of the EMS is to provide only lagging indicators of performance, limiting the ability to implement changes to improve performance.

We sponsored a regional workshop focused on environmental management to augment this research project. The workshop was attended by managers and facility personnel of local companies who were assigned the environmental responsibility. The workshop provided a discussion forum for the pressing environmental management concerns of multinational corporations in the region.

Future Activities:
We will complete the industry-level analyses of environmental performance in relation to EMS development and disseminate the final results.

Supplemental Keywords:
environmental management system, EMS, environmental health and safety, EHS, voluntary environmental initiatives, pollution prevention, public policy, decisionmaking, economics, environmental history, urban planning, regional planning, ISO 14000, ISO 14000 certified EMS, cost benefit, cost-benefit analyses, environmental policy, environmental values, measuring benefits, measuring environmental performance. , Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Economics & Decision Making, Environmental History, Urban and Regional Planning, decision-making, ISO 14000, ISO 14000 certified EMS, cost/benefit analysis, decision making, environmental management systems (EMS), environmental policy, environmental values, measuring benefits, measuring environmental performance

Project Reports:

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