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Environmental Governance

National Database on Environmental Management Systems

In response to a surge of interest in evaluating voluntary environmental management systems (EMSs) as a possible tool in public policy innovation and decision making, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the States--many of which are members of the Multi-State Working Group (MSWG)--launched a series of pilot projects to collect and analyze comparable, high quality data on EMSs. A wide variety of firms and other regulated organizations voluntarily provided data on the design and implementation of their EMSs, which were often based on the ISO 14001 standard.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), supported by USEPA, compiled this data in the National Database on Environmental Management Systems (NDEMS) in order to determine how the environmental and economic performance of a range of corporate, military and municipal facilities were affected by the implementation of EMSs. Both institutions have worked closely with ten state environmental agencies that have actively solicited pilot facilities for this project. The participating states were Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire. North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.

There were two groups of participating facilities: the first group comprised the MSWG pilot project participants, as well as USEPA’s municipalities project participants, and USEPA Region I StarTrack facilities; the second group comprised facilities interested in collecting and reporting comparable data but not participating in federal or state pilot projects. From a research standpoint, these facilities served as "controls" for comparison with pilot facilities. Some were specifically recruited by ELI to provide data for that purpose. We are grateful to all participating facilities for their generosity in sharing information and cooperating in this study.

A set of research protocols, developed by UNC and ELI in consultation with EPA and the States, provided the basis for the project's data collection, quality assurance, and standardization. Their primary function was to guide the collection of standardized and comparable data from a wide variety of pilot project and non-pilot project control facilities. Only in this way could the information be incorporated into NDEMS. The data called for in the protocols represent the kinds of information that facilities seeking to establish an EMS based on ISO 14001 would generally need to collect. As such, the protocols have been constructed so as to minimize any additional reporting burden that participating facilities might face.

Over a period of several years, each participating facility responded to a series of questions contained in the protocols. The data fell into seven categories: 1. Existing Management Systems; 2. Environmental Performance; 3. Regulatory Compliance; 4. Pollution prevention; 5. Interested Party Involvement; 6. Economic Performance (Cost and Benefits); and, 7. EMS Design and Implementation. 

The protocols were organized into three documents: Baseline Protocols, EMS Design Protocols, and Update Protocols.

The Baseline Protocol, the first of the three, was a one-time study to be completed during the first year of each facility's participation. The Baseline Protocol elicited a detailed description of the facility's baseline performance in the main data categories before its adoption of a formal EMS. Only by establishing pre-participation performance could researchers identify how the adoption of an EMS altered performance.

Their answers to the EMS design protocol provided information on the content of their EMS and on the process by which it was developed. Facilities completed as much of this protocol as was relevant as of November 30, 1999. Facilities further along in their EMS design process, more (or all) sections of the protocol were completed at that time. Facilities that had not fully designed their EMS by November 1999 provided that data in the Update Protocol.

Finally, their answers to the Update Protocols provided information on changes from baseline conditions following EMS implementation, and on further changes in the EMS itself. Completed every six months starting from June 2000, the Update Protocols asked facilities to update their baseline data as well as their EMS design data, including any additions or changes to their EMSs. In this way, researchers could identify how the adoption of an EMS altered performance and how the operation of EMSs evolved over time.

The UNC/ELI research team published periodic public reports, as relevant data became available, that described the progress of the NDEMS project. Those reports, as well as other documents about and papers resulting from this research, are available on this web site.