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Is Carbon a Competitor or a Subset of EMS?

Jean Cannon

PO Box 4073, Norwood South, SA 5067.,


With the current focus on carbon emission trading and greenhouse gas reporting, unfortunately this has become what “going green” is about. There is a decreased awareness of the need to care for other aspects of the environment and many businesses that were considering an EMS are opting for carbon management.

Carbon emission trading is barely even a subset of EMS. The emphasis is on auditing carbon emissions then buying carbon offsets. There is no environmental management plan, risk analysis or system in this and it is expensive.

Many businesses are interested in reducing their emissions by comprehensively reviewing their potential emissions resulting in a carbon management plan, reduction of emissions, tracking of the energy and other waste reductions and a saving of money. Carbon offsets should only be used as a last resort.

When carbon management is done like this, it can be a subset of an EMS


Climate change, Greenhouse gas emissions, green business, environmental management system, energy management, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme


With the current focus on carbon emission trading and greenhouse gas reporting, unfortunately “green business” has become all about emissions and emission trading for a high proportion of our business population. There is a decreased awareness of the need to care for other aspects of the environment and many businesses that were considering an environmental management system or EMS are opting instead for carbon management alone.

An EMS or environmental management system is about managing the environment in a systematic way and starts by identifying all the environmental aspects of the business operation that could cause a significant impact. The next stage is to look at the risk and identify how significant that risk is before setting objectives, targets and the resources needed to reduce the risk of harm. The EMS then builds in monitoring, review and continual improvement.

The two major problems with the current political approach are that firstly greenhouse gas emissions commonly referred to as “carbon” have overridden all the other environmental impacts and the other is the emphasis on financial accounting associated with these greenhouse gas emissions rather than managing and reducing them.

Climate change caused by atmospheric pollution is a very real problem and we must reduce our greenhouse emissions and do so urgently, but this is not the only environmental impact that should be considered. There is a real danger of ignoring other environmental issues as we concentrate on one thing alone.

Where a business uses a systematic EMS approach to reducing their greenhouse emissions, carbon reduction can be thought of as a subset of EMS but this is becoming increasingly rare and is not included in the political framework at this stage. A systematic approach to identifying and monitoring the carbon equivalents through a business can be set up within an EMS so that the business is prepared to cope with the accounting side of the political trading scheme if they find themselves in a supply chain and need to produce figures.

A criticism could have been levelled at some earlier environmental management systems was that they failed to consider energy management and greenhouse emissions a seriously as they could have. It was easy for people to become locked into their current energy use and regard this as essential where there is a more critical look at this in more recent systems as a result of the greater awareness of the problem.

Unfortunately at present there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about how we, as a society and as individuals should manage our energy needs. The accounting frameworks are not yet fully established and many of the so called carbon neutral auditing schemes are less than robust. Some in fact are almost meaningless. The embodied energy in buildings and equipment in particular are often totally omitted as inexperienced auditors focus on a limited list of easily measurable emissions.

There are many examples of businesses that think that they have “gone green” in this new ideology. A typical scenario is that someone, often the Office Manager, has organised a carbon audit and the business has paid the first of many bills for offsets without changing anything in their business. They are paying to pollute although hopefully this practice will decrease as it becomes increasingly expensive; because the aim of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is to raise the price of this pollution as a means of providing an incentive to greenhouse gas emission reduction. Paying to pollute fails to produce any behavioural change within an organisation.

Carbon offsets are traded for a wide variety of and while some of very effective in reducing greenhouse emissions, others are harder to verify and measure and can be considered as more questionable. The broad public perception of what can be traded as offsets is usually tree planting but in fact it can be much more measurable than this activity. Insulating houses is being subsidised using carbon offsets which does provide for a reduction in carbon emissions associated with heating and cooling those houses. Replacing incandescent globes with compact fluorescent (CFL) ones is another activity funded by offsets although a concern here is that the facilities for correct disposal of those CFL globes is not being provided because mercury going to landfill is not included in the trading scheme. It is a pity about that significant environmental impact. Householders having the globes changed are not being advised of the need for correct disposal now where to dispose of them. Methane capture from some landfill sites and some composting activities are also being traded for offsets.

There are some serious issues that should be considered with tree schemes and these include the most appropriate use of fertile farmland, the difficulties in accurate accounting of the carbon in seedling trees, the ongoing maintenance of the plantations, the increasing risk involved with fire management and last but no means least, biodiversity issues associated with the choice of plantings. Payment to landholders to retain existing vegetation makes more sense. There are certainly some more significant environmental impacts that are being ignored in the area of tree planting.


At present carbon is certainly competing with the environment for publicity and for government support but the best way for an individual business to implement a sensible carbon management plan and prepare for carbon accounting is to include careful energy management into a comprehensive environmental management system so that they are able to get real business benefits and rewards from their EMS rather than merely paying to continue polluting. In that case, good carbon management is a subset of EMS.

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