In their unique investigation, known as the National Database on Environmental Management Systems study, the UNC-led team worked with 83 facilities in 17 states. Those programs ranged from big manufacturers, electric utilities and small businesses to military bases and municipal water treatment plants.
Researchers asked what the organizations -- to whom they promised anonymity -- were doing, how they created their EMS system, what steps they took previously and what happened since the system was in place.
"We got generous cooperation and found enormous variation in what the facilities actually did," Andrews said. "Some focused on major environmental problems such as hazardous waste, while others used them simply to train employees to be more ecologically efficient with water, energy and materials to save themselves money."
Overall, most organizations said they were glad they developed their EMS, and 86 percent reported that they had reaped benefits from them, he said.
That does not mean they were in perfect compliance with environmental standards or were superior across the board.
"When people get an international ISO 14001 certification, they get to advertise that they are certified, which implies better performance in some way than their competitors," Andrews said. "That may or may not be since certification doesn't tell you whether they perform better than other comparable facilities or organizations."
Introducing an EMS cost an average of $40,000, he said. Public-sector EMS expenses could be cut through government assistance programs aimed at developing and distributing EMS models, or templates, for others to follow.
Generally, EMSs had positive effects on facilities' environmental performance, which makes sense, but which had not been confirmed before through careful study, he said. While big, publ
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill