The Relevance of Environmental Management Systems

The historical basis of sustainable business management and CSR is environmental management. In order to develop efficient solutions to manage CSR, it is worth considering the experiences made so far in environmental management, its management systems (EMAS, ISO 14001, sector and SME approaches) and its environmental accounting instruments (EMA, e.g. environmental cost accounting, environmental performance indicators, check lists etc.).

Since the mid-1990s numerous research projects and company practice have made a considerable contribution to the knowledge available on corporate environmental management.

Loew and Clausen (2003) carried out a presumably unique 6 year longitudinal analysis on the long-term effects of environmental management systems in companies. The analysis clearly shows how and why the initial euphoria of many companies has notably reduced.

In the meantime, many companies have switched from EMAS to the international standard ISO 14001 or have even given up maintaining external auditing systems. The main reasons for leaving EMAS are (Loew 2003):

  • costs (expenditure and internal workload) for the environmental statement,
  • European limitedness of EMAS,
  • cost of external auditing,
  • increased internal workload,
  • lack of marketing advantages.


The decline in EMAS registrations should not, however, be understood as a complete failure. On the one hand, due to competition with EMAS, ISO 14001 has clearly improved and become more challenging. On the other hand, a lot of improvements in environmental performance and the management system have been achieved within the companies which are still beneficial. However, the question remains how EMAS and ISO will be treated in future especially at the political level.

Accounting Instruments for Environmental Performance

Appropriate accounting instruments for controlling are essential for the continuous improvement of corporate environmental performance. The research began as early as the mid-1980s when the corporate input-output balance and the life cycle assessment were first developed as environmental management accounting instruments.

In the 1990s further instruments were developed including environmental performance indicators (EPI), different approaches to environmental cost accounting and various methods for calculating ecological impact (e.g. ecological footprint, MIPS - Material Impact Per Service Unit, impact equivalents - best known for measuring CO2 emissions) (e.g. Hallay and Pfriem 1989, Schaltegger and Sturm 1994, BMU and UBA 2001).

A more in-depth analysis on how these instruments can be combined efficiently for environmental management and how they can be supported by software systems was carried out in the research project INTUS (Lang et al. 2004).


The sources quoted are available at

Loew T, Beucker S, Jürgens G (2002) Vergleichende Analyse der Umweltcontrollinginstrumente Umweltbilanz, Umweltkennzahlen und Flusskostenrechnung <Comparitive Analysis on the Environmental Accounting Instruments Input-Output Balances, Environmental Performance Indicators and Flow Cost Accounting>

Download PDF

Loew T, Clausen J (2005)
Wie weiter mit EMAS? Ergebnisse eines Monitorings von 1979 bis 2002 <What Next with EMAS? Results of a Monitoring from 1997 until 2002> Discussionpaper 4 Sustainability (with English abstract)

Download PDF