Differences between ESD and Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

ESD and Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

Environmental Management Systems, or ‘EMS’ as they are often termed, are frameworks designed to assist individuals or organisations manage the way they conduct their operations, generally to reduce their impact on the environment. 

An EMS involves the development of a plan that includes the issues covered, the targets set, details of the management actions that will be taken to achieve the targets, along with how performance will be monitored and evaluated. 

Although approaches to developing an EMS have varied greatly in the past, the development of standardised approaches, such as the ISO 14000 standard, provides a useful base.  However, to be useful an EMS does not have to be ISO accredited.  Moreover, as the ISO accreditation systems only audits the process, not the outcomes, if there is no regulatory standard that is used as the targets within the EMS, these systems cannot guarantee that appropriate environmental outcomes will be generated. 

The major difference between an EMS and ESD is that the ESD framework is designed to encompass all aspects and issues of the management of activities that may affect natural resources.  However, an EMS may be developed to only address a single issue.  For example, within a fishery, some operators may have an EMS that relates to the appropriate handling of fish to achieve improved quality of fish product reaching the market.

The aspects related to the overall sustainability of the fish captured by the fishery are most likely to be covered within a fishery management plan, administered by a regulatory body.  Thus, the use of an EMS is mostly appropriate only for individuals or organisations, particularly for those aspects that are not covered by fisheries legislation.

Therefore, having an EMS is likely to be an important mechanism in achieving the implementation of ESD principles.  However, an EMS is only one possible method for achieving ESD principles.

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