This paper aims to increase the understanding of how standardised environmental management systems (EMSs) affect environmental performance. Based on interviews with environmental managers from 18 different companies and two environmental consultants, we make clear how companies identify, formulate and assess their environmental aspects.
The results show that consultants have an important role concerning EMSs. Many of the environmental managers have deficient knowledge concerning their own EMS, since they cannot explain central EMS procedures. This can probably be explained by too much external assistance, from consultants, in combination with internal barriers such as lack of competence, time and motivation.
The characteristics of the companies’ assessment methods are presented, which among other things include which parameters are used and their relative weight. From an environmental point of view, it is positive that environmental parameters, in general, have a big influence. However it should also be noted that some of the companies use methods in which business parameters seem to dominate. Other important results show that most systems, overall, are facility oriented. In most cases it was difficult to understand the scope of individual aspects, for example, concerning what environmental impacts were considered. A majority of the environmental managers were rather uncertain about issues in relation to scope and system perspectives. Therefore, it is recommended that incentives be taken to increase environmental managers’ competence and to improve the standards, the guiding documents and the systems for their application.