Environmental Management | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Environmental Management

Successful actions to protect the ENVIRONMENT and conserve natural RESOURCES constitute environmental management.

Environmental Management

Successful actions to protect the ENVIRONMENT and conserve natural RESOURCES constitute environmental management. More formally, environmental management refers to decisions and actions regarding how to allocate or develop resources; and how to use, restore, rehabilitate, monitor or evaluate environmental change. Environmental management involves decisions, strategies, programs and projects to use or protect the environment in order to meet broader social objectives.

Actions associated with environmental management may be undertaken by individuals, households, industry or government agencies at all levels. Increasingly, environmental management is undertaken by Aboriginal peoples (seeENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES) and civil society actors - most frequently environmental non-governmental organizations. These groups may engage in a range of activities including strategic planning, goal setting, and implementing programs, as well as monitoring and assessing their own programs or those of government agencies. Environmental management is typically characterized by changing circumstances, scientific and societal uncertainty, and conflicts in values and interests among different social groups. While we used to consider "environmental management" as an activity of senior managers or technicians within government agencies, increasingly groups such as scientists, citizens and industry proponents have important roles to play.

Driving Forces

Perhaps the most important step in implementing effective environmental management is convincing decision makers that it is necessary. Unfortunately ethical and biophysical arguments about the importance of a healthy environment, of maintaining basic ECOSYSTEM services and life-support functions and of preserving BIODIVERSITY are not always compelling enough to persuade people in governments, institutions and industry to make substantive changes. However, social pressures and observed environmental changes have given new urgency to the need to take concrete actions to protect the environment. Also, leading actions (such as the carbon tax in British Columbia) in some jurisdictions can sometimes place pressure on other jurisdictions to improve their practices, and/or offer models for change.

Environmental Legislation

One of the major driving forces in environmental management is legislation (seeENVIRONMENTAL LAW), regulation and enforcement. Canadian federal, provincial and municipal laws, regulations and bylaws regarding the environment are now stricter and carry much tougher penalties than when they were first introduced.

Most infractions of environmental laws and regulations are strict liability offences, so a defence of due diligence is possible. This means the accused had acted in a manner consistent with current accepted practice, which should have prevented the infraction, or had mistakenly believed what were thought to be facts, which led to inappropriate action.

In April 2008, migrating birds landed on a tailings pond owned by Syncrude located near FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta. Deterrence measures were not put in place and about 1600 ducks drowned after they were coated in oil. Despite an apology and new measures to prevent a reoccurrence from Syncrude, the company was charged under both federal and provincial legislation. Perhaps more serious, however, was the enormous negative public attention given to the company and to the environmental record of oil sands (seeBITUMEN) exploitation in northern Alberta. This negative image has tarnished not only the company but also the environmental reputation of the province and the Government of Canada on the international stage. Legal penalties are only one tool for environmental management and they are reactive in the sense that they frequently apply after damage is done. A range of management systems is available for the private sector to demonstrate its commitment to environmental protection while engaging in resource extraction or manufacturing.

Environmental Management Systems

Environmental management systems (EMS) have been used by the private sector to demonstrate actions related to environmental protection. Recently, steps have been taken by many different groups to standardize environmental management systems so that corporations and institutions will have some broadly accepted guidelines about what is required for effective environmental management. The following is a list of some of the more important EMS. The British Standards Association was the first to set out guidelines for environmental management systems in their 1992 report BS7750.

The Global Environmental Management Initiative is a Washington-based organization of 28 member companies across 20 business sectors, which promotes environmental excellence in business and has published a set of voluntary guidelines for an EMS as part of their collaborative work.

The European Union has drafted their guidelines for an Eco-Management and Auditing Scheme (EMAS). Although the scheme was first only available to companies in the industrial sector, the European Union has since expanded it, making it available to all economic sectors. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), composed of more than 160 countries, approved a draft guideline for an Environmental Management System (ISO 14001) in June 1995. Today, the ISO 14000 series includes standards on EMS, as well as standards on environmental assessment of sites and organizations, life cycle assessment and environmental communication.

In Canada, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) helps to administer the ISO 14000 series and manages the Canadian Advisory Committees, which provide input to other international environmental standards activities. CSA has guides to implement the ISO series and to address environmental technology, sustainable forest management and climate change. In Canada, certification of timber coming from our forests has been an important element in maintaining trade relations. A growing number of forest firms are now seeking various forms of certification. Different systems exist. The Canadian Sustainable Forestry Certification Coalition is promoting the CSA's development of an international system of forestry certification using the ISO 14000 series of EMS standards. This system has been criticized, however, because it does not focus on actual on-the-ground performance and for not requiring a clearly documented and verifiable "chain of custody" to the forest from which the wood originated.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-governmental organization, was established in 1993 in order to offer certification. The FSC focuses on product labelling and tracking of forest products to their origin (the "chain of custody"). Companies may also become certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Today, forestry companies in Canada operating across more than 140 million hectares are certified to one of the 3 certification programs in Canada.

There is a challenge to harmonize the different environmental management systems. For example, concerns about how and what to verify remain, including to whom the companies are accountable.

Environmental Management Tools

Many tools have been developed and refined to make resource CONSERVATION and protection of the environment more efficient, fair and effective.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The use of environmental protection and resource conservation skills and knowledge early in the planning process before specific projects, products or actions are implemented is the aim of strategic environmental planning. STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (SEA) is an effort to ensure environmental factors have been adequately considered in the strategic planning process.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT (EIA) has typically been applied to specific large-scale development projects. The intention is to review environmental (and associated social) effects and decide whether to proceed with, modify or restrict development. A central criticism of EIAs is that they take place some time down the decision chain, when financial and other commitments to projects are well-advanced. SEAs are intended to address this criticism as they are to be applied to specific policies or programs prior to any specific project proposal. SEAs are also subject to criticism, however, because it is often difficult to select an appropriate spatial or temporal scale for analysis and without such specification, it is hard to know what environmental and social components are relevant.

Thus both project-based and strategic environmental assessments are subject to a high degree of subjectivity, particularly in the judgements made about what components are relevant for analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis is an important, closely related tool that is often part of an EIA. Analysis of environmental impacts after implementation of policies or construction is a form of audit and is often called environmental review.

The federal and provincial governments specify the requirements for EIAs in areas where their legislation applies. Municipal governments are working on development of similar processes appropriate to their scale and location. The World Bank has also set policies, procedures and guidelines for international projects.

Environmental Audit

An environmental audit is an assessment of elements of an organization's environmental management, including its EMS, compliance with laws, regulations and bylaws, etc. Audits must be done on a regular cycle of one to 3 years and can tell an organization how well a policy is being implemented and how it should be adjusted. They provide data for development of indicators.

Product and Technology Assessment

Product and technology assessment attempts to predict the adverse environmental, health and safety impacts of products or technologies and then find effective means of reducing these adverse impacts to acceptable levels. Activities that incorporate some of the elements of product and technology assessment and set precedents for it include the following: safety and emissions regulations for automobiles; health and safety requirements for children's toys, clothing, car seats, etc; regulations governing drugs and food additives; and regulations governing the sale and use of pesticides.

Product and technology assessment is the basis for developing product guidelines for people wishing to purchase products that have less impact on the environment. The CSA guideline on product and technology assessment is "Environmentally Responsible Procurement" (Z766-95).

The average consumer cannot do his or her own product and technology assessment so the CSA has developed "Environmental Labels and Declarations - Self-Declared" (CAN/CSA-ISO 14021-00), which defines the claims that can be made about the environmental characteristics of products.

Another form of product and technology assessment being developed to assist consumers is the EcoLogo program. The Government of Canada originated the program in 1988 but it is now used across North America and recognized internationally on thousands of certified products. Products are reviewed by a technical panel. To gain the right to use the EcoLogo, the products must be clearly superior to other products on the market on a life cycle assessment basis. The Blue Angel program established in 1978 in Germany is similar to Canada's, but some programs in other countries are based solely on manufacturers' unverified claims.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) can demonstrate the important role that private firms can play in protecting the environment. The life cycle concept is a "cradle to grave" approach to thinking about products, processes and services. It requires that when designing a product, companies consider resource efficiency and pollution prevention, with a concern for reducing the environmental burdens of products, processes and services. Life cycle assessments quantify energy and resource inputs and outputs at all stages of a product's development and use, from the acquisition of raw materials to the management of waste after use. This concept has also been developed into a framework called the Extended Producer Responsibility, which requires producers to be responsible for the discard of byproducts and endproducts of the goods they produce. This framework has been used successfully in several European countries as well as in Korea, Japan and Taiwan. In 2009, the Council of Ministers approved in principle a Canada-wide "Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility" and a Canada-wide "Strategy for Sustainable Packaging." Further work across jurisdictions will be required before the plan and strategy are introduced across the country.

Environmental Indicators and Reporting

Environmental indicators and reporting are systematic and credible measures of changes in the environment or how an organization's environmental management is reducing its environmental impacts. Environmental reports are very important for establishing baselines for the development or adjustment of policies, or for baseline data for EIAs. They provide feedback for strategic planning and for allocation of scarce resources to where they are most needed and would be most effective.

Interestingly, while governments reduced their involvement in environmental reporting in the 1990s, a number of non-governmental organizations have been very influential. For example, the CSA has developed guidelines for environmental reporting by publishing its "Reporting on Environmental Performance" (PLUS 1131), which was developed in co-operation with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants and others.

Every 5 years, Ecojustice publishes a review of water quality and waste water. Its reports have been instrumental for changes to municipal systems. The World Wildlife Fund now regularly calculates and publicly reports on the consumption of ecological capacity by country. Regionally, the Fraser Basin Council provides regular "State of the Fraser Basin" reports, while GPIAtlantic (Genuine Progress Indicators) has developed and applied a suite of economic, social and environmental indicators used to determine the Atlantic Region's sustainability. Other groups, such as the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University compare Canada's environmental performance against that of other countries around the world.

Economic Instruments

Economic instruments are incentives, disincentives and other market adjustments that direct behaviours or internalize costs that would otherwise be borne by the public and future generations or by the environment, rather than by the party that caused the adverse impact. Economic instruments include deposit-return systems, effluent and emission fees (tradable or non-transferable), disposal user-pay pricing, disposal fee and recycling credits, etc. Economic instruments have grown in importance as a means to address greenhouse gas emissions. These systems are viewed as one means by which industrialized countries can provide income to developing nations while reducing global emissions.

Shared Approaches

Environmental management is no longer the sole purview of government. There is a need to incorporate a wide range of stakeholders in decisions and actions to protect the environment and chart a sustainable future. Municipal, regional, provincial and federal government agencies are all key players in environmental management. Canada's Indigenous people also have a significant role to play, both as right holders under treaties (seeLAND CLAIMS) and the Canadian CONSTITUTION, and as residents who frequently are the first to feel the effects of environmental resource exploitation. The private sector is also a key driver of environmental change and a critical innovator in ensuring environmental protection. Private individuals, local communities and non-governmental organizations are also significant in establishing and implementing new arrangements for environmental management. Their roles may vary, ranging from simply being informed about environmental issues, to participating in specific stewardship programs and restoration activities, monitoring long-term change, engaging in public awareness campaigns or direct action, or sitting on advisory committees or boards that make recommendations to government or industry. This range of players and activities suggests that environmental management should be considered more broadly in terms of ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE in which government agencies work with Indigenous peoples, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and local communities to determine the rules and procedures by which actions are taken.


The use of environmental management tools allows institutions to anticipate and to avoid problems in a proactive rather than reactive way. They assist with analysis and reporting of performance and with day-to-day management, which requires timely feedback to make appropriate adjustments. The tools are important for the allocation of scarce resources. There is a wide diversity of approaches, which is slowly being narrowed. The CSA and the ISO are playing important roles at the national and international levels in developing environmental management tools and pollution prevention guidelines.

Important, however, is the number and range of organizations that are involved in generating tools for environmental management and protection. The number of players and activities suggest that "management by government" has given way to a broader set of processes and players in environmental governance.

The harmonization of terms and methodologies has to be attained if the advantage of universal application, regardless of the jurisdiction, location, environment or resource involved is to be achieved. The problem now faced by the very rapid application of the tools is preferable to the earlier stages in which there was a slow acceptance of the need for such tools. The tools are now being used, despite their imperfections, with the understanding that the users of the tools are learning how to improve them.

This continuous improvement dictates that environmental researchers (scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars) must not only refine their classical research skills, but also their skills in negotiation and public engagement. They will need to be able to work with other stakeholder groups to define research problems; to learn how to integrate knowledge from local, traditional and formal sources; to negotiate the kinds and means of research with those most directly affected; to conduct research that maintains the respect and integrity of all affected parties; and to communicate clearly the results of their work to a range of stakeholders and decision makers. Research for environmental protection is not undertaken in the simple and ivory towers of academia, but in the rather more messy and complex "real world" where values, interests and ethics are also important components.


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