Will Environmental Management Systems and associates Environmental Reporting initiatives aid the concept of Sustainable Development in application?
The International Organization forStandardization (ISO) is a federation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)created to elaborate and improve international standards. The ISO initiallycreated general management standards (the ISO 9000 Series) for organizationsand industries that acknowledged the value of a systematic approach tomanagement. However, as economic growth and the environment have often been inconflict with one and other (and industries today face many political, socialand economic pressures to improve their environmental performance – Gale, 1996)the ISO further developed the 14000 Series, which applied the same managementsystem as the 9000 Series to companies’ environmental issues (The LexingtonGroup, 2005: 5).
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The principles behind the ISO 14000 Series apply to any organization, public or private, whose activities, products or services interact directly or indirectly with the environment (The Lexington Group, 2005). The ISO 14000 Series quickly became the environmental policy standard for companies to follow, and since its establishment in 1996 thousands of organizations have adopted the Environmental Management Systems (EMSs). EMSs are used in the public and private arenas, at all scales, from national to local government, and from large multi-national corporations to small privately owned businesses.
This essay will discuss if, and towhat extent, EMSs (and specifically the Environmental Reporting subsidiary)will aid the concept of sustainable development in application. This essay isstructured as follows: first, it discusses the most important of the ISO 14000standards, the EMS; second, it considers another ISO 14000 component,Environmental Reporting; third, it analyses and considers the variables andapplication of sustainable development; fourth, it turns to a few case studiesto illustrate how EMSs work in practice; and finally, it draws some conclusionsabout how effective these standards are in aiding the concept of sustainabledevelopment.
Environmental Management Systems
As discussed in the Introduction,the ISO 14000 Series was developed to apply the ISO’s widely recognizedmanagement systems to a company’s environmental issues (The Lexington Group,2005). The EMS, or ISO standard 14001, quickly became the internationallyrecognized framework for environmental management, measurement, evaluation andauditing (GreenBiz, 2005: 1). To list a few examples, the responsibilities ofthe EMS include: creating a detailed environmental policy for an organization,examining the environmental impact of its products, activities and services,establishing environmental objectives, assisting the organization in meetingits legal and regulatory requirements, providing training to employees, andoverseeing the company’s auditing procedure.
The EMS meets international standards, but is tailored to specific operations, allowing companies to control the environmental impact of their activities, products, and services (GreenBiz, 2005: 1).
Though an organization could, ofcourse, establish these very guidelines and parameters themselves, companiesoften find that ISO 14001 adherencehelps to meet the ever-increasingenvironmental standards and concerns of the global marketplace (GreenBiz,2005:1). Other likely benefits for a company effectively implementing an EMSare numerous and include, among others:
. a more effective and systematic approach to managing itsinteractions with the environment (The Lexington Group, 2005);
. improving cost-effectiveness (by saving the money and staff timenecessary to manage environmental affairs independently – The Lexington Group,2005, as well as by improving efficiency and in turn reducing the costs ofenergy, materials, fine and penalties – Morrow and Rondinelli, 2002:162);
. allowing companies to convey their environmental policies moreeffectively to neighbouring communities and other stakeholders (The LexingtonGroup, 2005);
. and improving their image and attracting customers through theestablishment of a strong image of corporate responsibility (Morrow andRondinelli, 2002: 163).
All of these benefits, of course,increase the likelihood that companies will help contribute to sustainabledevelopment. However, the cost and benefits of an EMS (and in turn, theprobability that the EMS will play a role in sustainable development) fluctuateconsiderably depending on a range of criteria. These might include: the type oforganization, its existing eco-efficiency,the organization’s potential environmental impacts or risks, the extent towhich a company previously implemented aspects of environmental sustainability,and the premium placed on sustainability by the organization’s stakeholders andcustomers (The Lexington Group, 2005).
Whilst this section has outlined EMSs and their potential beneifts, the following section will discuss Environmental Reporting, its association and influence on EMS, and its contribution to the sustainable development of organizations.
Corporate reporting is an essentialcomponent of business management. It is defined as the voluntary publicpresentation of information about an organization’s non-financial performance -environmental, social and economic – over a specified period, usually afinancial year (Department of Environment and Heritage, 2005: 1). These can bemade public in a variety of ways, including as a stand-alone document, on a companywebsite, or as a component of an Annual Report (Department of Environment andHeritage, 2005).
An Environmental Report is a key component of the ISO 14000 Series, and an essential step to increasing transparency and, as a result, accountability in a company’s environmental practices (Department of Environment and Heritage, 2005). The practice of Environmental Reporting is becoming more common because of pressure from stakeholders, as well as a general public demand for increased openness on environmental issues (Kolk, 1999). Further, some countries have now begun to impose legal obligations on firms to produce Environmental Reports (Kolk, 1999).
A Corporate Environmental Report(CER) is, in essence, a means to imparting a company’s environmental performance.Arguably, the most important function of the CER is to allow the organizationto evaluate its observance of the environmental policies, goals and objectivesset out in its EMS (United Nations Environment Programme, 2005). It is alsoused to: exhibit a company’s EMS and corporate responsibility; demonstrate tokey stakeholders, as well as to customers, that it is complying with theirdemands; help a company track its own progress and identify internal strengthand weaknesses (United Nations Environment Programme, 2005); and evaluate itscurrent performance and set further future goals.
The general societal demand for increased transparency on environmental issues, and in turn environmental reporting, is exemplified by the fact that the most complete reports are published by industries with poor or controversial public images, i.e., the chemical or timber industries (Davis-Walling and Batterman, 1997).
In so long as there is objectivityand honesty, environmental reporting can be conducted either internally orexternally (Rice, 2005). Undeniably, for environmental reporting to beworthwhile, it must be credible, and there is increasing pressure from twospecific directions to verify environmental reports: first, there is asignificant move from environmental statements and intentions to quantified,comparable, verifiable, and even verified information (Kolk, 1999: 225); andsecond, the requirement of independent, third-party verification andcertification as an almost expected element of every worthwhile effort(Rice, 2005: 1).
Though Environmental Reporting hasa big role to play in aiding the long-term sustainability of an organization,it is nonetheless a process plagued with problems. Research seems to indicatethat environmental reporting is typically deficient and not of a standard tosatisfy the information needs of various classes of report readers (Deegan andRankin, 1999). An independent study of the environmental reports of the Fortune50 firms found that none provided information that was sufficient forcomprehensive or comparative analyses of environmental performance(Davis-Walling and Batterman, 1997: 1432). Research suggests that one of thebiggest problems is that a company can begin its environmental reportingwhenever it wants, and that this often leads to disappointing results.
Environmental Reporting, then,typically comes before the EMS, and could therefore only act as a statement ofobjectives, and not the researched and analysed report on the achievement ofenvironmental objectives under an EMS that it’s meant to be. To be practicaland effectual (and not simply a statement of environmental policies)environmental reporting should really be developed further along theimplementation of the ISO 14000 Series. Additionally, it should be a continuousprocess, and referred back to again and again in an attempt to consolidate theEMS and effectively analyse the companies’ progress.
This chronology supports the ISOspecification that organizations seek continuous improvement: bycontinually reporting, as opposed to providing a one-off initial report,organizations can repeatedly evaluate and adapt their EMS. In essence, it isimportant to underline that the CER is a means to environmental improvement andgreater accountability, not an end in itself (United Nations EnvironmentProgramme, 2005: 1).
Consideration of the variables and application of Sustainable Development
The term ‘Sustainable Development’was first used in 1987 in Our Common Future, also known as theBrundtland Report of the United Nations’ Commission on Environment andDevelopment (WCED). The definition offered by the Brundtland Report is stillthe most commonly used today, and describes Sustainable Development simply, andarguably vaguely, as development that meets the needs of the present withoutcompromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (WCED, 1987:43).
Sustainability is often regarded as the ‘buzz-word’ of development policy in the 21st Century. Indeed, as The Economist aptly stated: No one in their right mind is against ‘sustainable development’. Everyone thinks it would be terrific if there were less poverty, less pollution, less disease, less war, less corruption (2002). As an umbrella-term, its WCED definition has been instrumental in creating a consensus, but less helpful in creating and outlining a framework for its achievement.
Currently, there are in the region of 70 different definitions for Sustainable Development, and each allows organizations to interpret the term in whatever way they see fit. For that reason, EMS and Environmental Reporting are especially important for giving public and private organisations alike, from a national to a local level, the standardised framework necessary not just for demonstrating their commitment to the practice of sustainability, but for making progress towards its actual achievement.
As mentioned in the Introduction,economic growth and the environment are often regarded as being at odds, andthe ISO 14000 Standards are particularly important for helping organizationsand industry to reach their desired level of sustainability, and to incorporatethe environment into their general framework. Determining an EMS is anorganization’s first, and most vital step in establishing what itsenvironmental aspects are, and how it is going to deal with them. That said,any organization can develop an EMS, and though it is an important startingpoint, it proves little about an organization’s sustainability in and ofitself.
Environmental Reporting is therefore essential not just to act as the company’s own environmental audit, but to demonstrate to stakeholders and society that they are indeed conducting themselves in a sustainable manner. Moreover, achieving sustainability is a complicated and long-term (if not permanent) process; Environmental Reporting allows a company not only to evaluate its accomplishments, but also the opportunity to re-evaluate its target. The following section outlines some case studies of how organizations have used EMS and Environmental Reporting to minimize their environmental impact.
This section will present a fewcase studies to illustrate the value of EMSs and Environmental Reporting. Eachcase study has been selected to show range in the applicability of thestandards as well as to demonstrate their use in both the public and privatesectors.
Solid Waste Management Division, Department of Public Works. Berkeley,California, USA.
The Solid Waste Management Divisionis Berkeley’s municipal waste collection and disposal facility. It collectsplant debris, refuse and recycling from approximately 40,000 residential andcommercial properties, as well as operating a transfer station, anoil-recycling depot, and a drop-off and buy-back recycling centre. The SolidWaste Management System decided to implement an EMS (involving about 25 percent of their 102 employees) for a variety of reasons, including: improving thefacility’s environmental performance, as well as employees participation inthis improvement; making the particular division consistent with the City’soverall environmental principles; the EMS’ value as a marketing/publicrelations tool; the reduction of costs; and finally, an increased competitiveadvantage.
Through implementing an EMS, theSolid Waste Management Division was able to jointly determine whatenvironmental impacts the facility had, or might have in the future. These werethen ranked and goals set to lessen the environmental impact of the facility.These included: eliminating 98 per cent of dust particles, reducing theelectricity used by 250Kwh annually, improving the control of hazardousmaterials brought into the site by 75 per cent, adding three mailings per yearto enhance consumer participation in recycling collection, reducing waterconsumption by 25 per cent, and reducing number of pickups scheduled to reducefuel consumption and emissions.
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Some of the direct benefits andcontributions to Sustainable Development have been: a reduction in airpollution for the entire City of Berkeley; gaining respect and bettercooperation from the Department of Public Works, including budget changes; andconsultation by other City of Berkeley Departments and other Solid Wastepractices all over the United States. Additionally, conducting an EnvironmentalReport to determine the effects of the EMS allowed the facility not only to seethe improvements that it had already made, but to analyse them and set newtargets such as: revising the job descriptions, rerouting to reduce the numberof miles covered each day, and implementing a new dust suppression system.
Beacon Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, United Kingdom.
One aspect of the Beacon Council’sEnvironmental Reporting System is a fully computerised monitoring andtargeting (M&T) system for evaluating performance at all 600 of theirbuildings. Data from all utility providers (including electricity, gas, coal,oil, biomass, and water) are recorded in the specialist system. These are thenmonitored and benchmarked against national performance, and create the abilityto instigate corrective action to improve performance.
As reported by the Beacon Council,the M&T system carries out the following functions: sets energy targets andmonitors performance; sets energy budgets and controls expenditure; validatesand verifies bills and recovers overcharges; and monitors and reduces CO2emissions. The continual reporting of the M&T system has been vital in itsconstant monitoring and improving of the Beacon Council’s environmentalsustainability.
Gillepsie Decals, Inc. Wilsonville, Oregon, USA.
Gillepsie Decals, Inc. is a40-employee screen-printing company in Oregon. To develop an EMS, the companytook the following steps: first, it developed its environmental policy; second,it identified the company’s environmental aspects and then ranked them in orderof importance; and third, it set out environmental goals and developed programsto achieve them.
The company made a number ofimprovements and took significant steps towards achieving environmentalsustainability. Two noteworthy examples are: one, they reduced the amount ofwaste ink by developing standards for ink mixing, and a computer record ofcolours and mixes for repeat jobs; and two, they reduced their water usage by requestinginformation from other companies on their water recycling systems, bypurchasing bottled drinking water for employees (and thereby improving employeespirits); and by installing low-flush toilet models.
Gillespie’s have stated their commitment to continuous environmental improvement, and have decided to develop other environmental aspects in the future. It is unclear whether Gillespie’s carried out Environmental Reporting, but it is apparent that this process would be useful for both confirming the environmental improvements already made, and determining what remains to be done to achieve the desired level of sustainability.
EMS and Environmental Reportingwill indeed aid in the concept of Sustainable Development in application. TheCase Studies in the previous section demonstrated some of the positive resultsof an organization’s implementation of an EMS. All three examples illustratedhow an EMS, and Environmental Reporting, contribute to the improvedenvironmental performance of the institutions in question. The Gillespie CaseStudy was a very small-scale example of EMS that demonstrated how the systemcould work even for a small company.
Furthermore, the first two case studies certainly are a demonstration of how the EMS and Environmental Reporting can contribute to more than just their institutions environmental performance. In the Berkeley example, it showed not just how an EMS can contribute to Sustainable Development for the single institution, but also how this affects the city as a whole, and can influence similar institutions nation- (or even world-) wide. The Beacon Council Case Study is a useful example of how EMS can make not just environmental sense, but financial sense as well.
The first two examples also servedto illustrate what a vital component Environmental Reporting really is. Theyvalidated Rice’s line of reasoning that for an EMS to be effective, theEnvironmental Reporting not only has to occur, but occur continuously.Environmental Reporting needs to be pushed further down the time-line of theISO 14000 Series, and be something that occurs after the EMS has beenimplemented (so it acts not just as a statement of objectives but as an actualreport), and on a continual basis because sustainability it not a one-off andsimple achievement.
The Gillespie example is therefore a useful illustration of how EMS can be effective, but without consistent re-evaluation and continuous reporting, the first set of changes are unlikely to be followed by another set. If this is the case, an organization’s environmental performance will at best remain stagnant, but more likely decline, instead of continuously improving. This will certainly not aid the concept of Sustainable Development in application.
EMS and Environmental Reporting arenot, however, the panacea for Sustainable Development. Critiques of thestandards that are proffered simply because they do not guarantee SustainableDevelopment are contrary, and risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater,or rejecting the essential with the inessential. EMS and EnvironmentalReporting are rather two single parts of a possible solution with an infinitenumber of components. They should be seen, and valued, as such.
Berkeley,City of (2005) Solid Waste Management Division, Department of Public WorksCase Study, available from Eco-efficiency is the primary way in which businesses can contribute to theconcept of sustainable developmentThe vision of eco-efficiency is simply toproduce more from less. Reducing waste and pollution, and using fewer energyand raw materials is obviously good for the environment. It is alsoself-evidently good for business because it cuts companies’ costs, excerptsfrom the Bulleting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development(The Lexington Group, 2005: 6).
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