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NATURAL CONCERNS

Implementing management systems for environmental performance

Are you absolutely sure that your company is in full compliance with environmental legislation? Are you concerned that your employees sometimes cut corners and increase your business and environmental risks?
Does responsibility for pollution control and prevention of accidents lie only with specialists? Do you know how much your company paid for energy, water, and raw materials on the one hand, and waste disposal, emissions and wastewater treatment on the other?
And do you know how these figures relate to production? Have you already encountered pressures on environmental performance from your business partners?


Tim Young

Are you absolutely sure that your company is in full compliance with environmental legislation? Are you concerned that your employees sometimes cut corners and increase your business and environmental risks?

Does responsibility for pollution control and prevention of accidents lie only with specialists? Do you know how much your company paid for energy, water, and raw materials on the one hand, and waste disposal, emissions and wastewater treatment on the other?

And do you know how these figures relate to production? Have you already encountered pressures on environmental performance from your business partners?

These are some of the concerns that commonly push business leaders to implement environmental management systems (EMS). Since the publication of an international standard for environmental management systems in 1996, more than 40 Slovak companies have successfully implemented EMS as a comprehensive measure to satisfy legislative, administrative and business environmental requirements.

An EMS is a systematic way to set environmental objectives, implement them in practice in a given organisation, and monitor the results. In their underlying philosophy, environmental management systems are closely linked to quality management systems (as embodied in the ISO9000 series of management standard certificates).

"The establishment of an EMS forces us to better organise our priorities and projects and to identify problems before they occur", was how one manager of a large paper mill answered the question of how EMS had contributed to the running of the firm's plant.

But there are other benefits with an EMS. It brings a significant shift in employees' environmental awareness and competence (including management), improved 'system thinking', a more even spread of environmental duties around the company and clear responsibilities for cases where regulatory non-compliance and other problems have arisen.

A further reason why foreign investors value management systems in general is the way they increase confidence in regulatory compliance, with the added certainty of successful certification in many cases. Transparency in decision making in all spheres of company management - based on written procedures, records and reporting - is another benefit of management systems that foreign investors in particular may appreciate.

In organisations that do not yet have a systematic approach to management, clear criteria for decisions on purchasing and supplier selection, choice of procedure, etc. are often absent. Here an EMS - as part of a systematic approach to management in general - is perhaps the best way to eliminate the misunderstandings, conflicting expectations and different ways of thinking between local staff and foreign managers.

The key to effective environmental management is the use of a systematic approach to planning, controlling, measuring and improving an organisation's efforts. Potentially significant environmental improvements (and cost savings) can be achieved by reviewing and improving your organisation's management processes: not all environmental problems need to be solved by installing expensive pollution control equipment.

The experience of 'cleaner production' programmes in Slovakia (as well as elsewhere in the region) show savings can be made in the form of low- and no-cost measures with significant benefits both for the environment and your bottom line. But to believe that these benefits can be realised and maintained without a systematic approach to management is an illusion.

Much of what you need for an EMS may already be in place, especially if you already have a certified quality management system. But regardless of how much external support you may choose to purchase from consultants, there is always some work involved in planning and implementing an EMS.

As the process is initiated, some people in the organisation may view EMS as unnecessary bureaucracy or an extra expense. There may be resistance to change or fear of new responsibilities. To overcome these potential obstacles, you need to make sure that everyone understands why the organisation needs an effective EMS and how it will help you manage the environmental impact your firm's activities have in a cost-effective way.

Of all the benefits, the most significant is that your employees will be competent, effective and efficient in guaranteeing environmental compliance, in improving environmental performance beyond the basic requirements of legislation, in reducing costs and enhancing your image. In leading industry sectors (such as the automotive industry) and for exporters, an EMS is starting to become an essential requirement for doing business.


Next month: Environmental impact assessment - what does Slovak legislation require from investors, how will it change and how does it match up to EU standards?


This article is the fifth in a monthly column providing a concise, up-to-date and informative insight into key environmental issues for the business community in Slovakia.

Tim Young heads AEA Technology's Bratislava office. He can be reached at tim.young@aeat.com

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