The eco-management and audit scheme for Irish local authorities : a preliminary study
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As we approach the 21st century the management of environmental affairs is undergoing change. Global concepts such as Sustainability and Agenda 21 are the cornerstones of a new focus on the environment. In the fifth action programme entitled "Towards Sustainability", the EU signalled a change to its traditional "command and control" approach on environmental matters. This has broadened the range of environmental protection mechanisms to include management systems and the concept of self regulation. Irish local authorities have been recently undergoing changes in the management of its environmental activities. The EPA has assumed the mantle of overall environmental watchdog and local authorities have to reorganise their policies in the light of this. A range of new environmental legislation has begun to include local authority affairs forcing them to release environmental information to the public and be more accountable for their actions. The Local Agenda 21 process places an onus on local authorities to "put their own house in order" with regards to sustainability. Each local authority has to formulate a plan detailing how it will incorporate sustainable principles into its work practices. The implementation of an environmental management system is examined to assess its benefits in managing this period of change within Irish local authorities. An ever increasing range of environmental management systems are available. Examples include the UK standard (BS7750), Irish standard (IS 310), EU standard (EMAS) and the soon to be published global standard ISO 14001. EMAS was chosen as the model for assessing management systems application within Irish local authorities due to its international nature. The development of the management systems approach and the experience gained by local authorities in two other countries (UK and Norway) are assessed. The primary factors to be considered before embarking on the process are examined and potential problems highlighted to reduce difficulties during implementation. Three approaches for local authorities are outlined. Firstly, full implementation of the EMAS process. Secondly, use of the EMAS framework to manage a particular environmental effect and thirdly, short term measures to lay the foundations for the scheme. It is evident that full implementation of EMAS within Irish local authorities will be a demanding but ultimately worthwhile process. The benefits of the scheme far outweigh the drawbacks and if the process is planned properly and has strong management commitment it will succeed.
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