Corporate Eye

WANTED: Environmental management for SMEs

It’s like some kind of spoof yet serious Wild West movie…  The Man With No Name walks into a bar, tips his hat, but it’s not Clint Eastwood but Gene Wilder.  Bizarre, but true.

For many a year, down at the old drinking saloon in Sustainability City the small business community have got together and complained about how there’s no real standard for them to follow.  I mean, sure there’s GRI and AA1000 but you need real resources to be able to do these heavyweight things.

And so they chew the cud and slurp their orange juices, mumbling to one another about the injustice of it all.  Then, one day, the silence is broken by a loud p-touwng of tobacco juice hitting the bottom of a spittoon and a grizzled old chap at the end of the bar stands up and offers his help.

You, ask the assembled SMEs .. and just who are you?

I, he replies thumping his chest proudly, am EMAS .. the Eco Management and Audit Scheme.  I’ve been around since before you lot were born (1995 to be precise) and I can truly help you.  Listen…

And he draws up a chair, orders orange juices all round and explains just what he’s all about.

EMAS is the EU’s own little pet environmental management system.  It was first established in 1995 for a limited number of sectors and then broadened to encompass all sectors in 2001.

When compared to behemoths of GRI it appears lightweight but that’s only because the number of boxes needing to be ticked and the frequency of ticking required is drastically reduced.  However, it’s also fully compliant with ISO 9000, is just as rigorous as more weighty management systems and exceeds ISO 9000 requirements in key areas.

All of this makes it perfect for SMEs (and larger companies, incidentally) because a comparatively small outlay can bring real recognition for environmental efforts made.

Key aspects of EMAS

In broad terms EMAS is based upon 19 steps which are split into Plan, Do, Check and Act implementation phases, a process which should be iterated at least once every three years.  The two key outputs from these phases are the company’s Environmental Policy and its Environmental Review.

The Environmental Policy under EMAS is a much more comprehensive document than the “we will do what we believe we should do” documents which often pass as policies.  It must be written in a clear manner so as to be accessible to all stakeholders and should give a precise picture of all the company’s operations and which parts will be encompassed by the environmental management system.

The policy is also required to stress the process of continual improvement and cite which regulations the business is subject to and demonstrate compliance (or otherwise) with those regulations.

The Environmental Review is basically a record of the company’s environmental performance.  It has to include real data on emissions, waste, raw materials used, energy and water consumed and other significant environmental effects (eg. land contamination).

Between them, the Policy and Review provide the foundation for the the management system the company then goes forwards to implement.  This is one of the things which differentiates EMAS from other management systems which tend to want to establish the process first.

The other key difference is that there is no self-certification for EMAS.  The final step of all management systems is to get the results audited and EMAS insists on two things: first that that audit is done by an independent professional, and secondly that that audit is done in situ on the company’s premises.

Why is EMAS good for SMEs?

Just this brief summary shows EMAS is far more rigorous than many of the environmental management systems large companies already employ, yet because of its comparatively lightweight nature costs are kept low.

Estimations depend upon the nature of a company’s business and its size, but past experience gives a range of between £9,000 – £45,000 to set up and there could be government grants available to help with these costs.  Once EMAS has been established the running costs are similarly low and are estimated at a man-day per week.

As noted before, EMAS isn’t a new thing at all but it has steadily been gaining ground.  Since 2006 the number of organisations which are EMAS certified has grown by nearly 30% and the number of auditors by over 20%.  This has been driven almost entirely by the SME sector: over 50% of EMAS businesses are micro or small and over 80% are SMEs.

However one of the best reasons for using EMAS in an SME environment is its simple accessibility.  The EU has gone out of its way to produce a special EMAS for SMEs Toolkit on the DG Environment website.  This takes a company succinctly yet comprehensively through the steps needed to establish and run an EMAS environment management system.  I don’t believe there’s any other which has gone to this effort, so it’s well worth checking out.

Picture Credit: Gunslinger by Michael Dorausch under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence. Trimmed by Chris Milton.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.