Regulating from the Inside: Can Environmental Management Systems Achieve Policy Goals?

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Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) offer an approach to regulatory policy that lies somewhere between free market and traditional command and control methods. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of private firms have adopted or are considering adopting these internally-managed systems for improving environmental performance. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has established a special recognition for firms that, among other things, adopt EMSs. And, already, numerous state agencies have proposed or adopted so-called green tier systems under which firms with EMSs can be exempted from otherwise applicable requirements. Yet, while both private and public sector interest in EMSs has been booming, the enthusiasm of proponents contrasts sharply with the limited empirical evidence that is available about the efficacy of EMSs in fulfilling environmental goals while lowering costs. To close the gap between advocacy and analysis, this study brings together cutting-edge work of leading scholars, providing a comprehensive analysis of environmental management systems. Intended to frame the future policy and the research agenda about EMSs, the discussions are organized around two critical questions: How have EMSs worked in firms that have already adopted them? What potential and limitations do they have as policy tools in the future? Addressing the arguments of both advocates and the sceptics, the chapters examine why firms adopt EMSs; how firms implement EMSs; how EMSs answer concerns about fairness, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability; and what kind of impact EMSs may have on the global economy. As the editors note, while the EMS "train" has left the station, there remain many issues about how well EMSs function and how they should be considered as an instrument for public policymaking.

Publication Citation

Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2001

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