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How to make standardised environmental management systems (EMSs) a more powerful tool in local authorities
Sara Emilsson, Linköping University, Sweden
It has become increasingly common to implement environmental management tools (that sometimes are “imported” from the private sector) in order to streamline and improve local authorities’ environmental performance. One example of such a tool is standardised environmental management systems (EMSs). Recent research and experiences concerning local authorities’ use of EMSs show that the tool is often not used to its full potential. Prior to these findings, this paper presents proposals on how local authorities could or should use EMSs more efficiently with respect to improving their corporate environmental performance (including handling of environmental impact from all activities). This paper explores the practical use of Standardised Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) in local authorities in Sweden, where almost half of the local authorities use the EMS tool in one way or another. The paper gives a brief description of the state of the art when it comes to EMS use in Swedish local authorities and how the local authorities use EMS standards. It also discusses reasons why these local authorities implement EMSs (e.g. in relation to New Public Management theories). Furthermore, the paper presents common weak points and activities that have been found difficult to deal with in the practical use of EMSs in local authorities. It has for example been found that many Swedish local authorities exclude the indirect environmental impact (such as environmental impact from decision-making, budgeting, planning and information) in their EMSs, which means that an important part of the environmental impact caused by the local authority is missing in the EMS. Hence, there is a risk that important issues are neglected and not dealt with, which means that the EMS could be considered as a less useful tool for local authorities.
 
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