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The Changing Environmental Management Scene: Federal Policy Impacts the Private and Public Sectors

January 2001

Citation: 31 ELR 10079

Issue: 1

Author: John Voorhees

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be genuinely interested in promoting the development of environmental management systems (EMSs) for businesses, municipalities, universities and colleges, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In November 2000, EPA issued an EMS Action Plan that contains strong advocacy and credible new program initiatives to encourage the use of EMSs to reduce environmental impacts and to improve environmental performance. EPA continues to advocate that businesses implement EMSs for compliance and enforcement purposes, but the EMS Action Plan—the most extensive policy guidance issued to date on the subject—suggests that EMSs can be used for a wider range of applications. Together with President Clinton's "Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management" Executive Order,2 which mandates EMSs for federal agencies, these policy initiatives may cause a rapid expansion in the use of EMSs and facilitate new multidisciplinary approaches for a much larger group of organizations.

An EMS is a tool that converts ordinary thinking about the daily affairs of a business enterprise or organization into a systems approach designed to reduce environmental impacts and improve the environment in which we live. An EMS is no longer simply a means by which heavy industry can achieve environmental compliance and avoid sanctions for noncompliance. Innovations are occurring in how EMSs are designed and implemented that are reshaping how we think about the interaction between human behavior and the environment. EMSs are being used by a new group of organizations. Municipalities, universities and colleges, service firms, and other NGOs have begun considering the application of a systems approach to achieve superior environmental performance. A trend is emerging in which these and other proactive organizations are implementing systems, not because of fear or apprehension of federal criminal prosecution, although this is clearly possible,3 but rather because it makes sense financially, socially, and morally to undertake "a systems approach" to improve environmental performance.

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