Environment impact is widespread, of very different character, and sometimes difficult to foresee. To protect the environment by addressing each damage separately seems to be a hopeless undertaking. Instead we need a new approach to environmental protection. We should conduct our business in society in such a way that the problem never arrives. Such a systematic approach to industrial production, infrastructure, agriculture, and in fact work within any organization, is collected under the umbrella of environmental management. Environmental management is a set of tools to deal with any activity, tools for managing, reducing and preventing environmental impact. In this chapter we will look more closely into this approach to environmental protection.
Monitoring the use of resources, the input side, and products and emissions, the output side, is basic. With these measurements it is possible to continuously calculate performance indicators, and make systematic follow-ups. The goal is continuous improvement.
Industry and manufacturing for a long time have seen environmental problems as something "out there". With the new approach these problems are taken into the plant, they become problems of production. In the production process emissions are simply the misuse of resources. The resources coming into the plant should leave as products, not pollution. To solve the problem of the misuse of resources there are tools like the so-called waste audit. Through changes in production, emissions are reduced or eliminated. This is better economy and in this sense it is "normal" management.
If several production plants are organized in this way it is called industrial ecology or industrial symbiosis. Here, for instance, the steam from one plant is channeled into the next for energy purposes, or outgoing water is used in the next plant.
The products themselves are major outputs from factories. Eco-design is the proper tool here. To analyze a product in detail one conducts a Life Cycle Assessment, LCA. This is a "from the cradle to the grave" analysis. It thus addresses not only production and distribution but also raw materials before production as well as use, maintenance and scrapping after the production. LCA is in general complicated and various simpler ways to estimate the impact of a product or activity have also been developed.
Not only the producers but also the customers should have the possibility to make informed choices. Products are therefore increasingly often labeled to indicate their environmental profile, giving also the consumers a management tool.
The environmental management approach is promising in the work for a better environment for several reasons: It coincides with economic and in general business interests. It is a general method to work with environmental protection that can be applied by anyone. It is using a preventive approach. It coincides with other management interests, for instance better working environment and quality management, and these may be combined into so-called total quality management. Two standards for environment management are in wide use today, the European Union's Environmental Management and Auditing System (EMAS), and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Environmental certification according to ISO 14001 or EMAS has during the 1990s become common in the West. The rapid spread of environmental management in the 1990s is a development promising for the future.