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Chapter 54 - Environmental Policy


Larry R. Kohler

This is the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety to explicitly integrate relevant environmental issues within its scope. This chapter highlights a number of basic environmental policy issues which are increasingly linked to occupational safety and health. Other specialized environmental chapters include Environmental Health Hazards and Environmental Pollution Control. In addition, a special effort has been made to include sections concerning environment within each of the chapters on key industrial sectors. When first considering whether such a strategy to integrate environmental issues was indeed warranted in the Encyclopaedia, we began with the very limited perspective of including only a single chapter which would serve as a useful “cross-reference” demonstrating how occupational safety and health issues and the working environment have become increasingly linked to environmental issues. As the ILO has been stating for the past twenty-plus years: the working environment and the general environment represent “two sides of the same coin”.

It is also blatantly clear, however, that the magnitude and scope of the challenges this “two-sided coin” represents for the workers of this world are grossly underestimated and under-targeted for action. The meritable successes which receive legitimate attention and praise in this Encyclopaedia risk leading us towards a dangerous and false sense of security and confidence as regards the present state of the art in occupational safety and health and the environment. The very best of our technologies, management practices and tools have indeed made impressive strides towards remediating and preventing problems in a number of key sectors, particularly in industrialized countries. But it is also true that the global reach of these technologies, management practices and tools is indeed insufficient and limited, especially in developing countries and in transition economies.

This chapter describes a few of the most useful tools and practices available to deal with occupational health and safety and environmental problems and challenges, although it would be misleading to suggest that these are already in fact widely applied throughout the world. It is important, however, that occupational health and safety practitioners all over the world learn more about these tools and practices as a step towards their greater application and practical adaptation to different economic and social conditions.

The first article in this chapter provides a brief review of inter-relationships between occupational safety and health and the working environment, policies and issues related to the general environment and the concept of “sustainable development”. This concept became the guiding principle for Agenda 21, the action plan for the 21st century adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The past comfortable—and yet seriously misleading—view that it was not only possible but essential to differentiate problems and responses between those that deal with action at the workplace and those that deal with what occurs outside the gates of the enterprise has become blurred. In fact, today both workers and employers and their organizations have begun to recognize explicitly that the enterprise gate is far from impermeable to the effects of policies and problems encountered on both sides of that gate.

Given the growing recognition that occupational safety and health issues may have been treated in too isolated a manner in the past, this chapter provides a series of brief descriptions of a number of environmental policy issues which occupational safety and health practitioners may find particularly relevant to their own activities and concerns. The chapter contains two articles on environmental law and regulations which describe the present state of the art as regards the rapid expansion of international and national legal responses to existing and potential future environmental problems and concerns.

The chapter contains four articles describing some of the most important environmental policy tools being used today to improve environmental performance not only in industry, but also in all other sectors of our economy and throughout our societies. The articles focus upon environmental impact assessments, life-cycle analysis, risk assessment and communication and environmental auditing. The final section of this chapter provides two perspectives on pollution prevention and control: one focusing on making pollution prevention a corporate priority and the other providing a trade union perspective of pollution prevention and cleaner production technologies.

The overall objective of this chapter is to enable the reader to better perceive and understand the growing inter-relationships between occupational safety and health and the working environment, and the broader environmental issues beyond the workplace. A greater recognition of these linkages will hopefully also lead to more extensive and effective exchanges of experience and information between occupational health and safety and environmental specialists, with a view to enhancing our capacity to respond to challenges in the working environment and beyond.


Larry R. Kohler

It should come as no surprise to occupational health and safety practitioners that if one traces back from most of our present major environmental problems—one arrives at a workplace! Likewise, the serious occupational health and safety consequences of some chemicals and substances have become an early warning system of potential environmental health consequences far beyond the workplace.

Despite the obvious inter-relationship between the working environment and the environment, many governments, employers and workers continue to respond to the causes and consequences of both working environment and environment issues in very disparate and isolated ways. (Given the importance of distinguishing between the working environment and those broader environmental perspectives represented by such adjectives as physical, general or external, this article will use the term working environment to encompass all occupational health, safety and environment issues within the workplace and the term environment to encompass those environmental issues beyond the workplace.) The goal of this article is to draw attention to the significant advantages which may arise from responding to the environment—within and outside the workplace—in a more integrated and strategic fashion. This is true not only for industrialized countries, which have made significant progress regarding both occupational safety and health and environment, but as well in transition economies and developing countries, which have a much broader and overwhelming challenge yet before them.

As this article has been specifically prepared for the Fourth Edition of the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety it does not attempt to review the full range of occupational health and safety (OHS) issues related to the environment, many of which are reflected in other chapters of the Encyclopaedia. In fact, occupational health and safety is an integral part of every enterprise’s “environmental” performance. This is not to suggest that OHS and environmental protection are always totally compatible and mutually reinforcing; occasionally they may also be antagonistic. Nevertheless, the objective should be to find ways to protect both workers’ health and safety and the broader environment, and to avoid options which suggest that one needs to choose one or the other. The identification of environmental problems and response strategies has too often led to the creation of false dichotomies—environmental protection versus worker safety or environmental protection versus job security. While such conflicts may indeed exist in very specific and special circumstances, the majority of situations require a series of trade-offs and careful longer-term approaches for meeting both environmental and worker protection and employment objectives. This leads to a corollary thesis that worker-employer collaboration is a critical factor necessary for improved performance regarding both OHS and environment.

This perspective on environment and the world of work is especially evident if one assumes that OHS performance at the workplace should be driven by a focus on prevention rather than simply on control and remediation. The concept of prevention is fundamental to future improvements in OHS and the environment. Early in the 20th century in industrialized countries, OHS was often driven by a simplistic focus on control—the protection of workers from exposure to health and safety risks. Special emphasis was given to engineering solutions to limit accidents by improving machinery—for example, by introducing protective devices. As our knowledge of the health consequences related to the exposure of workers to certain chemicals and substances expanded, the “logical” response strategy was often first to protect the worker from exposure by improving ventilation systems or the wearing of protective devices. While important early exceptions exist, particularly in industrialized countries, it is a relatively recent phenomenon of the past few decades that so much public attention is being increasingly devoted in a number of key industrial sectors to eliminating or replacing the dangerous or toxic chemicals/substances with those which are significantly less harmful. It is interesting to note that this growing emphasis on prevention of the emission itself, or the use of specific chemicals, has grown at the same time as the public has become increasingly aware of and actively involved in environmental challenges.

This new environmental awareness has stressed both the immediate and longer-term consequences of environmental degradation for our societies and our economies. Such public interest in the environment appears to have also supported workers’ ongoing efforts to collaborate with employers to improve occupational safety and health. Nevertheless, it is blatantly clear that serious action to date regarding OHS and environment represents only a tip of the proverbial iceberg of OHS and environmental problems evident on our planet, and even more dramatically evident in developing countries and transition economies.

Environmental priorities and policies in industrialized countries have travelled a very similar path from control to prevention strategies, albeit in a much shorter time span than that of OHS. Concern for the environment in its early stages was in fact limited to a concern about “pollution”. Attention was focused primarily on emissions to air, water and soils generated by the production process. Therefore, response strategies similarly often focused on “end-of-pipe” strategies to deal with the problem of local emissions. Citing just one rather simple example, this narrow approach led to solutions such as taller chimneys, which unfortunately did not eliminate the pollution but rather dispersed it far beyond the enterprise gate and the local community. While this often satisfied the local community and the workers who lived and worked there, new environmental problems were created—long-distance and even transboundary air pollution, which in some cases leads to what has been called “acid rain”. Once the secondary effects of this end-of-pipe solution became evident, there followed considerable delay before some of the relevant stakeholders accepted that there were indeed other serious negative consequences created by the tall-chimney solution. The next innovative step in this process was to add on a sophisticated filtering system to trap the problem emissions before they left the chimney. As this example demonstrates, the focus of policy-makers was not on the prevention of the emissions but rather on various actions to control those emissions. Today, increasing efforts are being made to prevent the emissions by changing fuels and improving combustion technologies, as well as changing the production process itself through the introduction of so-called cleaner production technologies.

This preventive approach—which also requires a more holistic approach—has at least four significant advantages for the world of work and the environment:

·     Unlike end-of-pipe technologies, which create additional costs for the production process without usually providing improvements in productivity or economic return, cleaner production technologies often lead to improvements in productivity and in measurable economic returns. In other words, end-of-pipe technologies clean up the environment but usually do not help the balance sheet. Cleaner production technologies prevent environmental degradation while also creating viable economic benefits.

·     Cleaner production technologies often lead to significant improvements in the efficient use of natural resources and energy (i.e., use less natural resources to achieve comparable outputs) and also often lead to decreases in the amount of—and the toxicity of—the wastes generated.

·     Efforts to introduce cleaner production technologies can and should explicitly identify measures to also improve OHS performance within the enterprise.

·     Worker involvement concerning the protection of health, safety and environment as part of the cleaner technology process will lead to improvements in worker morale, understanding and job performance—all of which are well-documented factors in achieving good quality production.

Environmental policies, legislation and regulation have evolved and are leading—or at least are trying to keep up with—this process of transition from control-based approaches to prevention-centred strategies.

Both end-of-pipe and cleaner production strategies, however, have direct consequences for employment protection and creation. It is clear that in many parts of the world, particularly in industrialized countries and transition economies, there are major opportunities for job creation related to clean-up and remediation activities. At the same time, cleaner production technologies also represent a vibrant new industry which will lead to the creation of new job opportunities and, of course, will require new efforts to meet skill and training requirements. This is particularly evident in the dire need to ensure that those workers involved in meeting the challenge of environmental remediation receive effective OHS and environmental training. While much attention is being given to the potential negative impact on employment of increased regulations and controls, in the field of environment, regulation and controls, if properly developed, can lead to the creation of new jobs and promote improved environmental and OHS performance.

Another critical change in perspective towards the environment has occurred since the 1960s: a shift from an exclusive focus on production processes to give attention also to the environmental consequences of the products themselves. The most obvious example is the automobile, where considerable efforts have been made to improve its environmental “efficiency”, although much animated debate remains over whether a more efficient car should be complemented by an efficient public transport system. But clearly, all products have some environmental implications—if not in their production or use, most certainly in their eventual disposal. This shift in emphasis has led to an increasing number of environmental laws and regulations concerning the use and disposal of products, even the restriction or elimination of certain products. It also has led to new analytical techniques such as environmental impact assessments, life-cycle analysis, risk assessment and environmental auditing (see the articles later in this chapter). These new, broader perspectives on environment have implications as well for the world of work—for example, upon conditions of work for those involved in the safe disposal of products and on future employment prospects for those involved in the manufacture, sale and servicing of prohibited and restricted products.

Another driving force for environmental policy has been the rather dramatic number and scope of major industrial accidents, particularly since the Bhopal disaster in 1984. Bhopal and other major accidents like Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez, demonstrated to the world—the public, politicians, employers and workers—that the traditional view that what happened within the gates of the workplace could not or would not affect the external environment, the general public or the health and livelihood of surrounding communities, is false. While major accidents had occurred before, the global, visual coverage of these events shocked wide segments of the public in developed and developing countries and transitional economies into a new awareness and support for environmental protection which would also protect workers and the public. It should be noted, however, that this provides another similarity to the history of action to improve occupational health and safety laws and regulations, which was also significantly promoted, for example, following early major factory fires and mining disasters.

One of the most obvious examples of the effects of these environmental driving forces, and particularly recent major “environmental” accidents, may be seen within the ILO itself, as reflected in recent decisions by its tripartite constituents. For example, the ILO has significantly enhanced its activities related to environment and the world of work. Most importantly, since 1990 three major sets of ILO working environment Conventions and Recommendations have been adopted:

·     Convention No. 170 and Recommendation No. 177 concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work (1990)

·     Convention No. 174 and Recommendation No. 181 concerning the Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents (1992)

·     Convention No. 176 and Recommendation No. 183 concerning Safety and Health in Mines (1995).

These standards reflect an explicit extension of the traditional ILO scope from that of an exclusive focus on worker protection to also include a more holistic approach to these matters by references in the preambular or operative paragraphs to relevant aspects of the protection of the public and the environment. For example, Article 3 of Convention No. 174 states that the term major accident means “a sudden occurrence leading to a serious danger to workers, the public or environment, whether immediate or delayed”, and Article 4 states: “each Member shall formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy concerning the protection of workers, the public and the environment against risk of major accidents.” The ILO’s wide range of Conventions and Recommendations related to the working environment provides a very useful source of guidance for countries working to improve their OHS and environmental performance. In this regard, it may also be useful to note that the ILO provides advisory assistance and support to its tripartite constituents with a view to helping them to ratify and implement relevant ILO standards.

In addition to these driving forces, however, there is a wide range of other factors which significantly influence the relationship between the working environment and the general environment. Clearly one of the most obvious is that despite many common concerns and issues (e.g., chemicals, accidents, health) the OHS and environmental aspects are often governed by different government ministries, different legislation, regulations and standards, and different enforcement and inspection mechanisms. These differences lead to considerable confusion, possibly additional costs as a result of duplication and, most disconcerting, to the existence of possible gaps which may lead to serious omissions concerning the protection of workers, the public and the environment. For example, recent reviews of a number of national inspectorates have drawn attention to potential problems of duplication, gaps and inconsistencies in the responsibilities assigned to factory, labour and environmental inspectorates. These reviews have also cited examples of situations in which labour inspectorates have been assigned new environmental inspection responsibilities without receiving adequate new staff and financial resources or specialized training. This has tended to deflect existing staff away from fully meeting their OHS inspection responsibilities. In addition, in many countries these legislative and inspectorate responsibilities still remain extremely limited and are not receiving adequate political and financial support. More emphasis will need to be given to developing a more integrated approach to the monitoring, enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms related to OHS and environment regulations and standards.

While inspectorates will be essential components in any OHS and environmental protection system, by themselves they can never be sufficient. Workplace health and safety and the link between environment and the world of work will need to remain largely the responsibility of those at the enterprise level. The best way to ensure optimal performance is to ensure optimum confidence and collaboration between the workforce and management. This will need to be supported by effective training of workers and management as well as efficient joint mechanisms to support collaboration. These efforts at the enterprise level will be all the more successful if they are supported by good relations with, and access to, an adequately financed, well-trained and independent inspectorate.

The present wave of support for deregulation and structural adjustment, particularly within the public sector, if properly designed and implemented could lead to the more effective and efficient management of occupational safety and health and environmental protection. However, there are very troubling signs that suggest that this process may also lead to a deterioration of both OHS and environmental performance if governments, employers, workers and the public do not give adequate priority to these issues. All too often, OHS and environment are seen as issues which can be dealt with “later”, once more immediate economic requirements have been met. Experience suggests, however, that today’s short-term savings may lead to expensive remediation activities in the future to rectify the problems which could have been prevented at lower costs today. OHS and environment should not simply be seen as end-of-pipe and unproductive costs but rather as critical and productive social, environmental and economic investments.

Collaborative action between employers and workers at the workplace to deal with OHS issues has a long history and has clearly demonstrated its value. It is interesting to note that initially OHS issues were considered the exclusive prerogative of employers. Nevertheless, today, following very extensive efforts by the social partners, OHS issues are now seen as a matter of bipartite and/or tripartite collaboration in most countries throughout the world. In fact, many countries have established legislation requiring the creation of joint occupational health and safety committees at the workplace.

Here again, however, similar paths of development between OHS and environment are evident. When workers and their trade unions first raised issues of occupational health and safety as issues of direct concern to them, they were often dismissed as not having the knowledge and technical competence to understand or to deal with these issues. It has taken decades of dedicated effort for workers and their unions to demonstrate their fundamental role in understanding and effectively responding to these issues at the enterprise level. Workers had to insist that it was their health and safety and that they had a right to be involved in the process leading to decisions, and a positive contribution to make. Similarly, many employers and their organizations have come to recognize the benefits which have come from this collaborative process. Today, workers and their trade unions are often confronted with similar dismissive attitudes by some employers as regards their capacity and right to contribute to environmental protection. It should also be noted, however, that it is again the far-sighted and responsible employers in a limited number of high-profile sectors who are in the forefront of recognizing the talent, experience and practical common sense approach which workers can provide to improving environmental performance, and who support a well-trained, well-motivated, fully informed and fully involved workforce.

Nevertheless, some employers still argue that environment is an exclusive management responsibility and have opposed the establishment of joint safety, health and environment committees or separate joint environmental committees. Others have recognized the very critical and practical contribution that collaborative employer/worker action can make to ensuring that enterprises set and meet appropriate environmental performance standards. Such standards are no longer restricted to simply meeting mandatory legal requirements, but also include voluntary action to respond to the needs of local communities, global competitiveness, green marketing and so on. Voluntary environmental performance policies and programmes within individual enterprises or through sectoral associations (e.g., the chemical industries Responsible Care programme) often explicitly integrate both OHS and environmental considerations. Similarly, specialized and often voluntary standards prepared by organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also have had an increasing influence on both OHS and environmental protection.

The positive experience with collaboration between employers’ and workers’ organizations has also led to new collaborative partnerships and alliances which go beyond the workplace to ensure that all the stakeholders concerned with safety, health and environment are able to constructively participate in the process. Within the ILO we have called this new effort to expand collaborative links beyond the workplace to local community groups, environmental NGOs and other institutions involved in helping to make improvements in the world of work, “tripartite-plus” collaboration.

Several emerging issues are on the horizon which may lead to special challenges and opportunities for more effective linkages between OHS and environment. Two sectors which have been particularly difficult to reach as regards both OHS and environmental performance are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the urban informal sector. This is especially relevant as regards the awesome implications of one of the most critical environmental and developmental challenges of the 21st century: clean water and sanitation. New participatory approaches will need to be developed in order to better communicate the significant risks for workers and the environment related to many existing activities. Beyond the risks, however, there are also new opportunities to make improvements in productivity and to increase incomes from traditional activities, as well as the prospect of the creation of new income-generating activities directly related to the environment. Given the many direct and indirect linkages between the formal sector and SMEs and the urban informal sector, innovative approaches need to be designed which will facilitate the sharing of experiences on ways to improve OHS and environmental performance. Employers’ and workers’ organizations could play a very positive and practical role in this process.

Another emerging issue area is that of indoor air pollution. In the past we have tended to see large industrial establishments as the primary target to correct unhealthy working conditions. Today, however, there is growing recognition that many offices and commercial premises may also be encountering new occupational health problems due to indoor air pollution. This pollution is related to the increased use of chemicals and electronic equipment, intake of contaminated ambient air, the use of closed air recirculation and air conditioning systems, and the possible increased sensitivity of workers as a result of changing health patterns—for example, the growing number of cases of allergies and asthma. It may be expected that action to respond to indoor air pollution concerns will require a more integrated approach to both OHS and environmental factors than has been the case in the past.

Links to Sustainable Development

This article has so far briefly and superficially highlighted some of the past and potential future inter-relationships between OHS and the environment. This, however, already should be seen as a rather narrow perspective compared to the more holistic and integrated approach represented by the concept of sustainable development. This concept was the key—if not the “magic formula”—underlying the preparatory process to negotiate and endorse Agenda 21, the action plan for the 21st century adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 (see Robinson 1993). The concept of sustainable development is and will continue to be the subject of great discussion, debate and dispute. Much of this debate has been focused on semantics. For the purpose of this article, sustainable development represents both a goal and a process. As a goal, sustainable development implies development which equitably meets the needs of today’s and future generations. As a process, it means setting policies in such a way that they take into account not only economic factors but environmental and social factors as well.

If such a holistic concept is to be successfully operationalized, then the approach to all these factors will require new analysis and responses. It is essential that OHS issues become a fundamental factor in evaluating future investment and development decisions at all levels from the workplace to the negotiation of international standards. The protection of workers will need to be assessed not simply as one of the costs of doing business, but as a critical factor necessary to the achievement of economic, environmental and social objectives which are an integral part of sustainable development. This means that the protection of workers should be seen and calculated as an investment with a potentially positive rate of return within projects aimed at the achievement of environmental, social and economic objectives. The protection of workers as well cannot simply be seen as protecting them at their workplace, but should take into account the inter-relationship between their work, general health, living conditions (water, sanitation, housing), transport, culture and so on. It also implies that action to improve OHS is a prerequisite for meeting the basic economic and social development perspectives in developing countries, and not simply a luxury to be reserved for the rich countries.

As the Director-General of the ILO, Michel Hansenne, stated in his Report to the International Labour Conference in 1990:

There is in fact one central issue which pervades almost every environmental policy discussion—how to share equitably the costs and benefits of environmental action. “Who will pay for environmental improvements?” is a question which will need to be discussed and resolved at all levels, from the perspective of consumers, workers, employers, as well as from that of local, national, regional and international institutions.

For the ILO, the social and human implications of how these potential environmental costs and benefits are shared within society and between countries may be as important as the environmental actions themselves. An inequitable sharing of the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of development, within and between countries, cannot lead to global sustainable development. Rather, it could accentuate poverty, injustice and division (ILO 1990).

In the past, and too frequently still today, workers have been called upon to pay an inequitable part of the costs of economic development through deplorable safety and health conditions (e.g., the tragic fire at the Kader Industrial Toy Company in Thailand, which took the lives of 188 workers), inadequate wages (insufficient income to meet basic family needs of food, shelter, education), lack of freedom of association and even the loss of human dignity (e.g., the use of bonded child labour). Similarly, workers and their local communities also have assumed much of the direct costs of day-to-day environmental degradation or decisions to close plants for environmental reasons. It also should be remembered that while most attention in industrialized countries has been focused on ways to avoid the potential loss of jobs as a result of environmental legislation and regulations, millions of people have already lost or have had their traditional livelihoods severely reduced as a result of ongoing desertification, deforestation, flooding and soil erosion.

Sustainable development implies that these environmental and social costs which have been “externalized” by industry and society in the past must now be internalized and reflected in the market costs of products and services. This internalization process is being encouraged by market forces and consumer groups, new laws and regulations including so-called economic instruments, as well as by decisions taken by the enterprises themselves. Nevertheless, to be successful this process of integrating the actual social and environmental costs of production and consumption will require new approaches to collaboration, communication and participation in decision-making processes. Workers’ and employers’ organizations have a critical stake in this process. They should also have a say in its design, implementation and monitoring.

In this context it may be useful to draw attention to the major diplomatic effort under way as part of the follow-up process of the UNCED Conference to facilitate an examination of the current imbalances in the global patterns of production and consumption. Chapter 4 of  Agenda 21, entitled “Changing Consumption Patterns”, indicates that action is needed to meet the following objectives:

(a) to promote patterns of consumption and production that reduce environmental stress and will meet the basic needs of humanity

(b) to develop a better understanding of the role of consumption and how to bring about more sustainable consumption patterns.

It also clearly encompasses the concept of the need for greatly expanding the basic consumption of millions of people in many parts of our world currently confronted with dire poverty and hardship. Ongoing negotiations and discussions within the framework of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) may be expected to be very slow and complex. Nevertheless they could lead to significant changes in present production and consumption patterns, particularly in some of the most critical industrial sectors of our economies, including chemicals, energy and transport. They also will have significant repercussions on international trade and commerce. Such changes will no doubt also have important implications for OHS and environment practices in developed and developing countries and for many other areas of the world of work, especially employment, incomes and training.

Although these issues currently are being discussed primarily at the global level, it is obvious that it is at each workplace where they will need to be implemented. Therefore, it is essential that this global negotiation process reflect reality, that is, the constraints and opportunities at the workplace level all across our planet. With the globalization of our economies, and the rapid changes in the organization and structures of our workplaces (e.g., sub-contracting, part-time work, homeworkers, teleworking), and indeed changes in our perception of work, livelihoods and employment itself in the 21st century, this will be no easy task. If this process is to be successful, however, it will require the support of a tripartite collaborative process between governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations at all stages. Clearly such a bottom-up approach will play a vital role in guiding the national and global CSD process to achieve more sustainable production and consumption patterns in the future.


Articles in this chapter focus on action at the national and international levels as well as on practical policy tools to improve environmental performance. It is clear, however, that the most important environmental policies of the future will not be set at the national or international level or even by local communities—although each of these has an essential role to play. The real changes must and will come at the enterprise and workplace level. From the chief executive officer of large multinational corporations to the managers of small family businesses to rural farmers and independent workers in the informal sector will come the true impetus and commitment to follow through to achieve sustainable development. Change will be possible only through the growing awareness and joint action by employers and workers within enterprises and other relevant sectors (e.g., local communities, non-governmental organizations, etc.) to integrate OHS and environmental objectives within the overall objectives and priorities of the enterprise. Despite the magnitude of the challenge, one can foresee the range of formal and informal safety, health and environmental policies at the enterprise level developed, implemented and monitored by a collaborative process between management and workers and other stakeholders.

Occupational health and safety clearly has a significant impact on the achievement of our overall economic, environmental and social objectives. Therefore, OHS must be seen as a critical element to be included within the complex integration process to achieve sustainable development. Following the UNCED Conference, all national governments have been called upon to develop their own national Agenda 21 strategies and plans for sustainable development. Environmental objectives already are seen as an integral part of that process. Much work remains, however, before OHS and employment and social objectives and targets will become an explicit and intrinsic part of that process and the economic and political support necessary for the achievement of those objectives is mobilized.

The preparation of this article has been greatly facilitated by the technical support, useful advice and comments and regular encouragement from colleagues, governments, employers and workers from around the world who are keenly committed and competent in this field, but particularly key representatives from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy and General Workers’ Unions (ICEF); Canadian Labour Congress; the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers’ Unions of Canada; and the Labourers’ International Union of North America, who have stressed the urgent need for action in this field.


Françoise Burhenne-Guilmin

The relationship between human health and the human environment has been recognized from time immemorial. This tenet of medicine can be traced back to Hippocrates, who taught his pupils to “attend to the airs, waters, and places” if they sought to understand the sources of health and diseases in their patients (Lloyd 1983).

This ancient view of the link between human health and the environment has persisted. The degree of a society’s acceptance of this link has been influenced by three factors: development of a scientific understanding of the human body; increased capacity to cure individual illnesses; and the evolution of parallel scientific, religious and cultural concepts.

Environmental factors as a cause of health or diseases of entire classes of people were given increased attention during the Industrial Revolution. The trend has continued to this day, assisted by the development of the environmental sciences and of techniques for determining causality and assessing risks.

It was in the workplace that causal links between health and the environment were first clearly established. It was also in the workplace that the consequences of the increase in the amount and variety of contaminants resulting from the diversification of industrial processes were first felt. Yet these contaminants cannot be confined to the occupational environment. Once released, their pathway may become difficult to follow or trace, but it inevitably ends in nature: environmental toxins are present in the soil, water and air of even the most remote environments. Human health, in turn, is affected by the pollution of the natural environment, whether of local, national or transboundary origin. Along with other types of environmental degradation, which cause worldwide depletion of natural resources, this accords a planetary dimension to the interaction between environmental conditions and public health.

The conclusion is inescapable that the quality of the work environment and of the natural environment are inextricably linked. Lasting solutions to either of these problems can be successful only if both are tackled in tandem.

Environmental Law: A Means to an End

The formulation of policies to maintain and improve both the natural and the work environment is a prerequisite to successful environmental management. Policies, however, remain a dead letter unless they are implemented. Such implementation is only achievable through the translation of policy principles into rules of law. From this perspective, law is at the service of policy, giving it concreteness and a degree of permanency through appropriate legislation.

Legislation, in turn, is a framework structure which is useful only if implemented and enforced. Implementation and enforcement are dependent on the political and social contexts in which they take place; if they are not backed by the public, they are likely to remain inefficient.

Therefore, enactment, implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation are, to a large extent, dependent on understanding and acceptance of the rules established by those to whom these rules are addressed—hence the importance of disseminating environmental information and knowledge to the public at large, as well as to specific target groups.

The Role of Environmental Law: Prevention and Cure

The role of law in the environmental field, as in many other fields, is twofold: first, to create rules and conditions which are conducive to the control or prevention of damage to the environment or human health; and, second, to offer remedies for situations where damage has occurred in spite of these rules and conditions.

Prevention through command techniques

Land use controls

The regulation of land use is a major element of environmental law, and a prerequisite to the control and guidance of land development and the utilization of natural resources. The issue is usually whether a particular environment may be put to another use, it being understood that non-use is also a type of land use.

Land use controls allow siting human activities where they are best located (or least damaging), and also subject contemplated activities to restrictions. These two goals are usually achieved by establishing a requirement for prior authorization.

Prior authorization

Prior authorization is a generic term for any form of permission (e.g., licence, permit) which must be obtained from a regulatory authority before certain activities may be undertaken.

The first step is to determine by law those private and public sector activities which are subject to prior authorization. Several approaches are possible and are not mutually exclusive:

Controls of sources. When a category of sources of environmental harm is clearly identifiable, it is usually subject to prior authorization as such (e.g., all classes of industrial facilities and motor vehicles).

Controls of substances. When a particular substance or class of substances is identified as potentially harmful to the environment, the use or release of these substances may be made subject to prior authorization.

Media-oriented controls, and integrated pollution control. Media-oriented controls are those which are directed at protecting a specific component of the environment (air, water, soil). Such controls may lead to shifting environmental harm from one medium to another, and thus fail to reduce (or may even increase) the overall degree of environmental harm. This has led to the development of coordinated prior authorization systems, whereby all pollution from one source and all recipient media are considered before one single, all-embracing authorization is granted.

Environmental standards

Environmental standards are maximum permissible limits which may be imposed directly by a law, or indirectly as conditions to obtain an authorization. These limits may be related either to the effects or the causes of environmental harm:

·     Effect-related standards are those which take the target as a baseline. They include:  (1) biological standards, (2) exposure standards and (3) environmental quality standards.

·     Cause-related standards are those which take the cause of the possible environmental harm as a baseline. They include: (1) emission standards, (2) product standards and (3) process or operating standards.

A variety of factors, including the nature of the pollutant, the recipient media and the state of the art, determine which type of standard is most appropriate. Other considerations also play an important role: standard-setting provides a means to achieve a balance between what is environmentally desirable in a particular place at a particular point in time, and the socioeconomic feasibility of achieving a specific environmental goal.

It goes without saying that the stricter the standards are, the higher production costs become. Therefore, differing standards in different locations within a state or between states play an important role in determining competitive market advantages or disadvantages, and may constitute non-tariff barriers to trade—hence the desirability of seeking harmonization at the regional or global level.

Prevention through incentives and disincentives

Controls voluntarily submitted to may be used as flanking measures or as alternatives to command techniques. They usually consist of setting recommended (rather than compulsory) values, and of providing economic incentives or disincentives to achieve them.

The purpose of an incentive (e.g., accelerated depreciation allowance, tax benefit, subsidy) is to reward and, therefore, to generate, a specific environmentally friendly conduct or activity. Thus, instead of trying to achieve a certain emission level by the stick, the carrot of economic benefit is offered.

The purpose of a disincentive (e.g., fees, such as effluent or emission charge, tax or levy) is to induce environmentally friendly conduct so as to avoid paying the fee in question.

There are also other ways of inducing adherence to recommended values, for instance, through the creation of eco-label award schemes, or providing marketing advantages where consumers are sensitized to environmental concerns.

These so-called voluntary approaches are often referred to as alternatives to “legal” controls, forgetting that incentives and disincentives also have to be established by law!

Cure through sanctions or remedies

Sanctions imposed by the regulatory agency

In cases where environmental management measures may be prescribed by the regulatory agency (e.g., through a prior authorization mechanism), legal regimes usually also provide the agency with enforcement powers. A variety of techniques are available, ranging from the imposition of monetary sanctions (e.g., per day) until compliance with the requirement, to execution of the measures required (e.g., building filters) at the cost of the addressee, and finally to closure of the facility for non-compliance with administrative requirements, etc.

Each legal system provides for ways in which these measures may be challenged by those to whom they are applied. Equally important is to provide the possibility for other interested parties (e.g., NGOs representing the public interest) to challenge the decisions of the regulatory agency. In the latter case, it is not only the action of the administration which should be eligible for challenge, but also its inaction.

Penal sanctions

Legislation prescribing a certain environmental norm or conduct usually indicates that disregarding the established rules, whether intentionally or not, constitutes an offence, and determines the type of penal sanctions which are to be applied to each case. Penal sanctions may be monetary (fines) or, in serious cases, may entail incarceration, or a combination of both. Penal sanctions for environmental offences depend upon the penal system of each country. Thus, sanctions are often imposed in reference to the main body of criminal law in a particular country (e.g., a penal code), which may also include a chapter on environmental offences. Penal sanctions can be triggered by the administration or by an aggrieved party.

The legislation of many countries has been criticized for failing to declare certain environmental misconducts as penal offences, or for providing overly mild penalties for environmental offences. It has often been observed that if the quantum of the sanctions is less than the cost of internalizing environmental management measures, the culprits are likely to deliberately prefer the risk of a penal sanction, especially if this sanction may be only a fine. This is especially true when there is an enforcement deficit—that is, when the enforcement of environmental norms is lax or lenient, as is often the case.

Liability for damages

Each legal system’s rules applying to liability for damage naturally also apply to health and environmental damage. This usually means that compensation is due either in kind or specie only when the damage proves to have been caused directly by the fault of one or more originators.

In the environmental field, the difficulties in applying these principles are numerous, and have led to the enactment of sui generis environmental liability laws in an increasing number of countries. This has made it possible to provide for liability without fault, and, therefore, to allow for compensation independently of the circumstances which caused the damage. In such cases, however, a certain monetary ceiling is usually set with a view to permitting eligibility for insurance coverage, which may also be made compulsory by law.

These special regimes also attempt to better provide redress in cases of damage to the environment per se (ecological damage as opposed to economic damage), usually requiring the restoration of the environment to the status quo ante whenever the nature of the damage permits. In such a scenario, monetary damages are in order only if restoration is impossible.

Access to remedies

Not everyone may take action to generate sanctions or obtain remedies. These may traditionally be triggered only by the administration, or a physical or legal person directly affected by a certain situation. In cases where it is the environment that is affected, this is usually insufficient, since much environmental damage is not directly linked to individual human interests. Therefore, it is important for legal systems to grant “representatives” of the public interest the right to sue the administration for failure to act or for insufficient action, or to sue individuals or enterprises for breaking the law or causing damage to the environment. There are various ways in which this can be achieved: designated non-governmental organizations may be given this right; the legal system may provide for class action or citizens’ suits, etc. The right to sue in defence of the public interest, rather than only to defend a proprietary interest, is one of the most important elements of modern environmental legislation.


Good environmental legislation is a prerequisite to achieve and maintain the desired levels of quality in the natural, as well as in the work environment.

What “good” environmental legislation is, might be difficult to define. Some wish to see a decline in command and control methods, and their replacement by softer incitation techniques but, in practice, there is no standard formula to decide what the ingredients of the law should be. What is important, however, is to make legislation relevant to the particular situation of the country concerned, adapting available principles, methods and techniques to the needs, capacities and legal traditions of each country.

This is all the more true at a time when large numbers of developing nations and nations with economies in transition seek to equip themselves with “good” environmental legislation, or to retrofit legislation already in place. In striving towards this goal, however, legislation which is successful in a particular legal, economic and social context, frequently that of an industrialized country, is still too often imported as a model in countries and legal systems for which it is totally inappropriate.

“Particularizing” legislation is, therefore, perhaps the most important element in achieving the goal of effective environmental legislation.


David Freestone

The publicity surrounding the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, confirmed the central place that global environmental concerns over issues such as global warming and loss of biological diversity have on the world political agenda. In fact, in the twenty years between the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment and the 1992 UNCED there has been not only a major increase in awareness of the threats to the environment from human activities on both a local and global scale, but also a massive increase in the number of international legal instruments governing environmental issues. (There are large numbers of collections of environmental treaties: see, e.g., Burhenne 1974a, 1974b,1974c; Hohmann 1992; Molitor 1991. For a contemporary qualitative assessment see Sand 1992.)

It will be recalled that the two main sources of international law (as defined by the 1945 Statute of the International Court of Justice) are international conventions and international customary law (Article 38(1) of the Statute). International customary law derives from state practice repeated over time in the belief that it represents legal obligation. Although it is possible for new rules of custom to emerge relatively swiftly, the speed with which awareness of global environmental problems has reached the international political agenda has meant that customary law has tended to take second place to treaty or conventional law in the evolution of legal norms. Although certain basic principles, such as the equitable utilization of shared resources (Lac Lanoux Arbitration 1957) or the obligation not to allow activities which damage the environment of neighbouring states (Trail Smelter Arbitration 1939, 1941) can be attributed to judicial decisions derived from customary law, treaties have without doubt been the main method by which the international community has responded to the need to regulate activities which threaten the environment. Another important aspect of international environmental regulation is the development of “soft law”: non-binding instruments which lay down guidelines or desiderata for future action, or through which states commit themselves politically to meeting certain objectives. These soft law instruments sometimes develop into formal legal instruments or become linked to binding instruments as, for example, through decisions of the parties to a Convention. (On the significance of soft law in relation to international environmental law see Freestone 1994.) Many of the collections of international environmental law documents cited above include soft law instruments.

This article will give a brief overview of the main international environmental conventions. Although such a review inevitably concentrates on the main global conventions, the significant and growing web of regional and bilateral agreements should also be borne in mind. (For a systematic exposition of the whole body of international environmental law, see Kiss and Shelton 1991; Birnie and Boyle 1992. See also Churchill and Freestone 1991.)


Prior to the 1972 Stockholm Conference the majority of environmental conventions related to the conservation of wildlife. Of historical interest only are the very early bird protection conventions (e.g., the 1902 Convention for the Protection of Birds Useful to Agriculture; see further Lyster 1985). More significant in the longer term are the general nature conservation conventions, although the 1946 Washington Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (and its 1956 Protocol) is particularly noteworthy in this period—over time it has of course changed its focus from exploitation to conservation. A pioneering convention in conservation terms was the 1968 African Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Algiers, which despite its comprehensive and innovative approach to conservation made the mistake of many other conventions in not establishing an administrative structure to oversee its supervision. Also notable and considerably more successful is the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, which establishes a network of protected wetland areas in the territories of member states.

Other noteworthy developments in this period are the first global Oil Pollution Conventions. The 1954 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) (amended 1962 and 1969) broke new ground by developing a regulatory framework for the carriage of oil by sea, but the first conventions to provide for emergency action and for compensation for oil pollution damage were developed directly in response to the world’s first major oil-tanker casualty—the wreck of the Liberian oil tanker Torrey Canyon off the coast of southwest England in 1967. The 1969 International Convention relating to Intervention on the High Seas in cases of Oil Pollution Damage authorized emergency action by coastal states outside territorial waters, and its fellows, the 1969 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1971 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage of Brussels, provided a basis for compensation claims against the owners and operators of oil tankers supplemented by an international compensation fund. (Note also the significant industry voluntary compensation schemes such as TOVALOP and CRISTAL; see further Abecassis and Jarashow 1985.)

From Stockholm to Rio

The years 1972 to 1992 witnessed an astonishing increase in the number and variety of international environmental law instruments. Much of this activity is directly attributable to the Stockholm Conference. Not only did the famous Conference Declaration (Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 1972) lay down certain principles, the majority of which were de lege ferenda (i.e., they stated what the law ought to be rather than what it was), but it also developed a 109-point Environmental Action Plan and a Resolution recommending institutional and financial implementation by the UN. The result of these recommendations was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established by UN General Assembly Resolution (UNGA 1972) and based eventually in Nairobi. UNEP was directly responsible for the sponsoring of a number of key global environmental treaties and for the development of the important Regional Seas Programme, which has resulted in a network of some eight regional framework conventions protecting the marine environment, each with protocols developed to meet the special requirements of the region. A number of new regional programmes are still in the pipeline.

In order to provide an overview of the large number of environmental conventions developed during this period, they are divided into a number of groups: nature conservation; protection of the marine environment; and regulation of transboundary environmental impacts.

Conservation of nature and natural resources

This period saw the conclusion of a number of nature conservation treaties both at a global and regional level. At the global level, particularly noteworthy are the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the 1973 Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the 1979 Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. At a regional level the large number of treaties include the 1974 Nordic Convention on the Protection of the Environment, the 1976 Convention on Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific (Apia Convention, in Burhenne 1974a) and the 1979 Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (European Treaty Series). Note also the 1979 EC Directive 79/409 on the conservation of wild birds (OJ 1979), now amended and supplemented by Directive 92/43 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna (OJ 1992), the 1979 Convention for the Conservation and Management of the Vicuna and the 1985 ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (reproduced in Kiss and Shelton 1991). (Also of note are the treaties relating to the Antarctic—an area of global commons outside the jurisdiction of any state: the 1980 Canberra Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the 1988 Wellington Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities and the 1991 Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection, signed in Madrid.)

Protection of the marine environment

In 1973 the negotiations began of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). The nine years of UNCLOS negotiations culminated in the 1982 Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC), which included in its Part XII a general framework for the regulation of marine environmental issues including vessel and land-based sources of pollution and dumping, as well as laying down certain general duties regarding protection of the marine environment.

At a more detailed level, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was responsible for the development of two major global conventions: the 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, as amended in 1978 (MARPOL 1973/78), and a third relating to oil spills entitled the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in 1990, establishes a global legal framework for collaboration and assistance in response to major oil spills. (Other Maritime Conventions which are not primarily environmental but are of relevance include the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG); the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); the 1976 ILO Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention (No. 147) and the 1978 Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch Keeping for Sea Farers).

The 1972 London Convention adopted what has now become a common approach by listing substances (Annex I) which could not be dumped in the ocean; Annex II listed substances which could be dumped only with a permit. The regulatory structure, which requires signatory states to enforce these obligations against any vessels loading in their ports or their flag vessels anywhere in the world, has progressively tightened its regime to the extent that parties have now effectively ended the ocean dumping of industrial waste. The 1973/78 MARPOL Convention replaces the 1954 OILPOL Convention (above) and provides the main regulatory regime for pollution from vessels of all sorts, including oil tankers. MARPOL requires flag states to impose controls on the “operational discharges” of all controlled substances. The MARPOL regime was amended in 1978 so that it would progressively extend its regime over different forms of vessel sources pollution contained in the five Annexes. All the Annexes are now in force covering oil (Annex I), noxious liquid substances (Annex II), packaged waste (Annex III), sewage (Annex IV) and garbage (Annex V). Stricter standards are enforced within Special Areas agreed by the Parties.

At a regional level, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme provides a wide, although not comprehensive, network of marine protection treaties covering: the Mediterranean (Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution, Barcelona, 16 February, 1976; protocols in 1976 (2), 1980 and 1982); Gulf (Kuwait Regional Convention for Co-operation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution, Kuwait, 24 April 1978; protocols in 1978, 1989 and 1990); West Africa (Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (Abidjan, 23 March 1981), with a 1981 protocol); South East Pacific (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas of the South-East Pacific (Lima, 12 November 1981); protocols in 1981, 1983 (2) and 1989); Red Sea (Regional Convention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment (Jeddah, 14 February 1982); protocol in 1982); Caribbean (Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, (Cartagena des Indias, 24 March 1983); protocols in 1983 and 1990); East Africa (Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the East African Region (Nairobi, 21 June 1985); 2 protocols in 1985); and the South Pacific (Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region, (Noumea, 24 November 1986); 2 protocols in 1986)—with another six or so in various stages of planning. (For texts of all the above Conventions and their protocols, as well as details of developing programmes, see Sand 1987.) These treaties are supplemented by protocols covering a wide range of issues including regulation of land-based sources of pollution, ocean dumping, pollution from (and decommissioning of) off-shore oil rigs, specially protected areas and protection of wildlife.

Other regional regimes have been developed outside the UNEP framework, notably in the North East Atlantic, where a highly comprehensive network of regional instruments covers regulation of ocean dumping (1972 Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft; protocols in 1983 and 1989), land-based sources of pollution (1974 Paris Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land Based Sources; protocol in 1986), oil pollution monitoring and cooperation (1983 Bonn Agreement for Co-operation in Dealing with Pollution of the North Sea by Oil and other Harmful Substances: Amending Decision 1989), inspection of vessels for safety and protection of the marine environment (1982 Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in Implementing Agreements on Maritime Safety and Protection of the Marine Environment, as well as nature conservation and fisheries. (See generally Freestone and IJlstra 1991. Note also the new 1992 Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which will replace the Oslo and Paris Conventions; text and analysis in Hey, IJlstra and Nollkaemper 1993.) In the Baltic the 1974 Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area has recently been revised (for text and analysis of 1992 Convention see Ehlers 1993)), and a new Convention developed for the Black Sea Region (1992 Bucharest Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea; see also 1993 Odessa Ministerial Declaration on the Protection of the Black Sea.)

Transboundary impacts

Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration provided that States had “the responsibility to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction and control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond national jurisdiction”. Although this principle is now widely regarded as having become part of customary international law, the principle grosso modo requires considerable fine tuning to provide the basis for regulation of such activities. Addressing these issues, and largely in response to well publicized crises, international conventions have been developed to address issues such as long-range transboundary air pollution, protection of the ozone layer, notification and cooperation in response to nuclear accidents, transboundary movement of hazardous waste and global climate change.

Long-range transboundary air pollution

Long-range air pollution in Europe was first addressed by the 1979 Geneva Convention (Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution). This, however, was a framework convention whose modestly expressed aims were “to limit and, as far as possible, gradually to reduce and prevent air pollution including long range transboundary pollution”. Substantive progress in regulating emissions of specific substances was made only with the development of the protocols, of which there are now four: the 1984 Geneva Protocol (Geneva Protocol on Long-term Financing of the Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-Range Transmission of Air Pollution in Europe) established a network of air quality monitoring stations; the 1985 Helsinki Protocol (on the Reduction of Sulphur Emissions) aimed to reduce sulphur emissions by 30% by 1993; the 1988 Sofia Protocol (Concerning the Control of Emissions of Nitrogen Oxides or their Transboundary Fluxes), now replaced by the Second Sulphur Protocol, Oslo, 1994, provided for a freeze on national emissions of nitrogen oxides at 1987 levels by 1994; and the 1991 Geneva Protocol (Concerning the Control of Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds or their Transboundary Fluxes) provided a range of options for emission abatement of volatile organic compounds and fluxes.

Transboundary implications of nuclear accidents

World attention had been brought to the transboundary implications of nuclear accidents after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, but even prior to that, previous conventions had addressed a number of the issues relating to the risks from nuclear devices, including the 1961 Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (1960), and the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (1963). Note also the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water. The 1980 Vienna Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material had attempted to establish standards for the protection of nuclear material from a number of threats, including terrorism. In the wake of Chernobyl two further conventions were agreed upon in 1986, on early notification of accidents (Vienna Convention on the Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident) and international cooperation in the event of such accidents (Vienna Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency).

Protection of the ozone layer

The 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer imposes general obligations on each party “in accordance with the means at their disposal and their capabilities” to:

a) cooperate by means of systematic observation, research and information exchange in order to better understand and assess the effects of human activities on the ozone layer and the effects on human health and the environment from modification of the ozone layer; (b) adopt appropriate legislative or administrative measures and cooperate in harmonizing appropriate policies to control, limit, reduce or prevent human activities under their jurisdiction or control should it be found that these activities have or are likely to have adverse effects resulting from modification or likely modification of the ozone layer; (c) cooperate in the formulation of agreed measures, procedures and standards for the implementation of the Convention, with a view to the adoption of protocols and annexes; (d) cooperate with competent international bodies to implement effectively the Convention and protocols to which they are party.

The Vienna Convention was supplemented by the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, itself adjusted and amended by the London Meeting of 1990 and most recently by the Copenhagen Meeting of November 1992. Article 2 of the Protocol requires parties to impose controls on ozone-depleting chemicals, namely CFCs, halons, other fully halogenated CFCs, carbon tetrachloride and 1,1,1-tri-chloroethane (methyl chloroform).

Article 5 provides an exemption from emissions restrictions for certain developing countries, “to meet (Their) basic domestic needs” for up to ten years, subject to certain provisos set out in Article 5(2) (3). The Protocol also provides for technical and financial cooperation for developing country parties claiming exemption under Article 5. A Multilateral Fund was agreed upon to assist such parties to research and meet their obligations (Article 10). In Copenhagen in November 1992, in the light of the 1991 Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, which found that there was new evidence of ozone decreases in both hemispheres at middle and high latitudes, a number of new measures were agreed upon, subject of course to the general regime outlined above; delays under Article 5 are still possible for developing states. All parties were required to cease using halons by 1994, and CFCs, HBFCs, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform by 1996. The use of HCFCs should be frozen by 1996, reduced 90% by 2015 and eliminated by 2030. Methyl bromide, still used as a fruit and grain preservative, was subjected to voluntary controls. Contracting parties agreed to “make every effort” to freeze its use by 1995 at 1991 levels. The overall aim was to stabilize atmospheric chlorine loading by the year 2000 and then reduce it to below critical levels by about 2060.

Transboundary movement of hazardous wastes

Following a series of notorious incidents in which shipments of hazardous waste from developed countries were found in uncontrolled and hazardous conditions in developing countries, the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes was made the subject of international regulation by the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (see also Kummer 1992). This Convention is premised upon the principle of prior informed consent on a state to state basis before the movement of such waste can take place. The Organization of African Unity has however gone further than this with its 1991 Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa, which seeks to ban entirely the import of hazardous waste into Africa.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) in a transboundary context

The 1991 Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context sets out a framework for neighbourly relations. It extends the EIA concept, developed to date exclusively in the context of national planning laws and procedures, to the transboundary impacts of development projects and related procedures and decisions.

1992 and Post-Rio Conventions

The Rio UNCED prompted, or coincided with, a large number of new global and regional environment conventions, as well as a major declaration of principles for the future in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In addition to the two conventions concluded at Rio—the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diver-sity—new environmental conventions signed in 1992 included those regulating the use of international watercourses as well as the transboundary effects of industrial accidents. At a regional level 1992 saw the Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of the Baltic Sea Area (text and analysis in Ehlers 1993) and the Bucharest Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution. Note also the 1993 Ministerial Declaration on the Protection of the Black Sea, which advocates a precautionary and holistic approach, and the Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic (text and analysis in Hey, IJlstra and Nollkaemper 1993).

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC, signed at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 by some 155 states, is loosely modelled on the 1985 Vienna Convention. As its name suggests, it provides a framework within which more detailed obligations will be negotiated by the means of detailed protocols. The basic objective of the Convention is to achieve

stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system ...hin a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner. (Article 2)

Two primary duties are imposed on all Parties by Article 4: (a) to develop, periodically update, publish and make available a national inventory of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases using comparable (and yet to be agreed upon) methodologies; and (b) to formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and regional programmes of measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change. In addition developed country parties agree to a number of general obligations which will be made specific by more detailed protocols.

For example, to undertake to promote, and cooperate in, the development of technologies; to control, prevent or reduce anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases; to promote sustainable development and the conservation and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs including biomass, forests, oceans and other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems; to cooperate in adaptation to impacts of climate change, by elaboration of plans for integrated coastal zone management, water resources and agriculture and for protection and rehabilitation of areas affected by, inter alia, floods; to promote and cooperate in the exchange of scientific, technological, socioeconomic and legal information relevant to climate, climate change and response strategies; and to promote and cooperate in relevant education, training and public awareness.

The Biological Diversity Convention

The objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, also approved at the 1992 UNCED in Rio de Janeiro, are to conserve biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources (Article 1) (for a useful critique, see Boyle 1993). Like the UNFCCC this convention too will be supplemented by protocols, but it establishes general obligations regarding conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, for identification and monitoring of biological diversity, for in situ and ex situ conservation, research and training as well as public education and awareness and EIA of activities likely to affect biodiversity. There are also general provisions relating to access to genetic resources and access to, and transfer of, relevant technology, including biotechnology, as well as international exchange of information and cooperation.

Regulation of the use of international watercourses

The 1992 Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes seeks to establish cooperative frameworks for joint monitoring and assessment, common research and development and information exchange between riparian states. It imposes basic duties on such states to prevent control and reduce transboundary impacts on such shared resources, particularly regarding water pollution, through proper management techniques, including EIA and contingency planning as well as through the adoption of low- or non-waste technology and reduction of pollution from point and diffuse sources.

The transboundary effects of industrial accidents

The Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, also signed in Helsinki in March 1992, covers the prevention of, preparedness for and response to industrial accidents capable of having a transboundary effect. The primary obligations are to cooperate and exchange information with other parties. The detailed system of thirteen annexes establishes systems to identify hazardous activities with transboundary implications, for the development of EIA with a transboundary dimension (in accordance with the 1991 Espoo Convention, above) for decisions on siting of potentially hazardous activities. It also provides for emergency preparedness and for access to information for the public as well as the other parties.


As this brief review should have demonstrated, over the last two decades there has been a major change in the attitude of the world community to environmental conservation and management. Part of that change has been a substantial increase in the numbers and the scope of international instruments addressing environmental concerns. The sheer number of instruments has been matched by new principles and institutions. The polluter pays principle, the precautionary principle (Churchill and Freestone 1991; Freestone and Hey 1996) and concern for the rights of future generations (Kiss, in Freestone and Hey 1996) are all reflected in the international conventions reviewed above. The role of the UN Environment Programme and the treaty secretariats established to service and monitor the burgeoning number of treaty regimes lead commentators to suggest that international environmental law, like, for example, the international law of human rights, has emerged as a new discrete branch of international law (Freestone 1994). UNCED played an important role in this, it has established a major agenda—much of which remains unfinished. Detailed protocols are still needed to add substance to the framework of the Climate Change Convention and, arguably, also to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Concern with the environmental impact of fishing in high seas areas led to the conclusion of the UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was in 1995. Also held in 1995 was another UN Conference on Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution—now agreed to be the cause of more than 70% of all pollution of the oceans. The environmental dimensions of world trade as well as deforestation and desertification are also issues to be addressed for the future at a global level while progress continues to enhance our awareness of impacts of human activities on world eco-systems. The challenge for this emerging international environmental law is not simply to respond with an increase in the numbers of environmental instruments, but also to enhance their impact and effectiveness.


Ron Bisset

The term used as the title of this article, environmental impact assessments, has now been increasingly, but not universally, replaced with the term environmental assessments. A quick review of the reason for this change of name will help us define the essential nature of the activity described by these names, and one of the important factors behind opposition or reluctance to using the word impact.

In 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) became law in the United States, establishing environmental policy goals for the federal government, focusing on the need to take environmental factors into account in decision-making. It is, of course, easy to state a policy objective, but it is more difficult to achieve it. To ensure that the Act had “teeth”, legislators incorporated a provision requiring that the Federal government prepare an “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) for any proposed action “likely to significantly affect the quality of the human environment”. The content of this document was to be considered before a decision was made on whether the proposed action should be initiated. The work done to prepare the EIS became known as environmental impact assessment (EIA), because it involved the identification, prediction and evaluation of the impacts of the proposed federal action.

The word “impact”, in English, unfortunately is not a positive term. An impact is thought to be harmful (almost by definition). Therefore, as the practice of EIA spread beyond the United States to Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australasia, many governments and their advisers wanted to move away from the negative aspects of impact, and so the term environmental assessment (EA) was born. EIA and EA are identical (except in the United States and those few countries which have adopted the US system, where EIA and EA have precise and different meanings). In this article only EIA will be referred to, although it should be remembered that all comments apply equally to EA, and both terms are in use internationally.

In addition to the use of the word impact, the context in which EIA was applied (particularly in the United States and Canada) was also influential on the perceptions of EIA which were (and in some cases still are) common amongst politicians, senior governmental officials and private and public-sector “developers”. In both the United States and Canada, land-use planning was weak and preparation of EISs or EIA reports were often “hijacked” by interested parties and almost became plan-making activities. This encouraged the production of large, multi-volume documents which were time-consuming and expensive to produce and, of course, virtually impossible to read and act upon! Sometimes projects were delayed while all this activity was in progress, causing irritation and financial costs to proponents and investors.

Also, in the first five to six years of its operation, NEPA gave rise to many court cases in which project opponents were able to challenge the adequacy of EISs on technical and sometimes procedural grounds. Again, this caused many delays to projects. However, as experience was gained and guidance was issued that was more clear and strict, the number of cases going to court declined significantly.

Unfortunately, the combined effect of these experiences was to give the distinct impression to many external observers that EIA was a well-intentioned activity which, unfortunately, had gone wrong and ended by being more of an obstacle than a help to development. To many people, it seemed an appropriate, if not entirely necessary, activity for self-indulgent developed countries, but for industrializing nations it was an expensive luxury they could not really afford.

Despite the adverse reaction in some places, globally the spread of EIA has proved irresistible. Starting in 1970 in the United States, EIA extended to Canada, Australia and to Europe. A number of developing countries—for example, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand—introduced EIA procedures before many Western European countries. Interestingly, the various development banks, such as the World Bank, were amongst the slowest organizations to introduce EIA into their decision-making systems. Indeed, it was only by the late 1980s and early 1990s that the banks and the bilateral aid agencies could be said to have caught up with the rest of the world. There is no sign that the rate at which EIA laws and regulations are being introduced into national decision-making systems is becoming slower. In fact, following the “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, EIA has been used increasingly as international agencies and national governments attempt to meet the recommendations made in Rio regarding the need for sustainable development.

What is EIA?

How can we explain the ever-increasing popularity of EIA? What can it do for governments, private and public sector developers, workers, their families and the communities in which they live?

Before EIA, development projects such as highways, hydro-power dams, ports and industrial installations were assessed on technical, economic and, of course, political bases. Such projects have certain economic and social objectives to achieve, and decision-makers involved in issuing permits, licences or other types of authorization were interested in knowing whether the projects would achieve them (putting to one side those projects conceived and built for political purposes such as prestige). This required an economic study (usually cost-benefit analysis) and technical investigations. Unfortunately, these studies did not take account of environmental effects and, as time passed, more and more people became aware of the increasing damage caused to the environment by such development projects. In many cases, the unintended environmental and social impacts led to economic costs; for example, the Kariba Dam in Africa (on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe) resulted in the resettlement of many villages into areas which were not suitable for the traditional agriculture practised by the people. In the resettled areas food became scarce and the government had to initiate emergency food supply operations. Other examples of unexpected “add-on” costs as well as environmental damage led to a growing realization that the traditional project appraisal techniques needed an additional dimension to reduce the chances of unexpected and unwelcome impacts.

The increasing awareness amongst governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the public of the unexpected economic penalties that could arise from major development projects coincided with a parallel growth in global understanding of the importance of the environment. In particular, concern focused on the implications of increasing population growth and the accompanying expansion in economic activities, and whether there might be environmental constraints to such growth. The importance of global biogeochemical and other processes for the maintenance of clean air and water as well as renewable resources such as food and timber were recognized increasingly. As a result, many were convinced that the environment could no longer be seen as a passive and never-ending deliverer of goods and a receiver of human wastes. It had to be seen as an active part of the development process which, if treated badly, could reduce the chances of achieving development objectives. This realization has led to the development and implementation of a number of procedures or practices to incorporate the environment into the development process by considering the extent to which it might be harmed or improved. One such procedure is EIA. The overall aim is to reduce the risk—for homo sapiens in general, and local groups in particular—that environmental damage will result in life-threatening consequences such as famines and floods.

Basically, EIA is a means of identifying, predicting and evaluating the environmental impacts of a proposed development action, and its alternatives, before a decision is made to implement it. The aim is to integrate EIA into the standard, pre-feasibility, feasibility, appraisal and design activities which are carried out to test whether a proposal will meet its objectives. By undertaking EIA work in parallel with these studies it should be possible to identify, early, the significant adverse impacts (and those which are beneficial) and to “design out”, as far as possible, the harmful impacts. Additionally, benefits can be enhanced. The outcome of any EIA should be a proposal which, in its location, design and method of construction or operation, is “environmentally friendly” in so far as its environmental implications are acceptable and any environmental deterioration is unlikely to cause difficulties. EIA is, therefore, a preventive tool, and medicine provides an appropriate analogy. In the field of community medicine it is better, and economically cheaper, to prevent illness rather than cure it. In the development process it is better to minimize environmental damage (while still achieving economic objectives) than to fund expensive clean-up or rehabilitation actions after damage has occurred.

Application of EIA

To what types of development activities does EIA apply? There is no standard or correct answer. Each country decides on the type and scale of activities to be subject to EIA; for example, a proposed 10 km road in a small tropical island may cause significant impacts, but a similar road in a large, semi-arid country with a low population density probably would be environmentally neutral. In all countries, EIA is applied to “physical” development projects according to national criteria; in some countries EIA is applied also to development plans, programmes and policies (such as sector development programmes for energy supply and national development plans) which might cause significant environmental impacts. Amongst the countries which apply EIA to these kinds of actions are the United States, the Netherlands and China. However, such countries are the exception to normal practice. Most EIAs are prepared for physical development projects, although there is no doubt that “strategic” EIAs will increase in importance in the future.

What kinds of impacts are analysed in EIAs? Again this varies from country to country, but to a lesser extent than in the case of the types of proposed activities subject to EIA. The usual answer given is “environmental” impacts, to which the inevitable response is likely to be, “Yes, but what is ‘environmental’?” Generally, most EIAs focus on the biophysical environment—that is, impacts on such factors as:

·     water quality and quantity

·     air quality

·     ecosystems and ecological processes

·     noise levels.

In some cases no other impacts are considered. However, the limitations of restricting EIA to biophysical impacts have been questioned and, increasingly, more and more EIAs are based on a broad concept of the environment and include, when appropriate, impacts on:

·     local communities (“social” impacts)

·     local economies

·     health and safety

·     landscapes

·     cultural resources (archaeological or historical sites, environmental features with spiritual significance for local communities, etc.).

There are two reasons which help explain this wider definition of “environmental” impacts. First, it has been found to be socially and politically unacceptable to consider the impacts of a proposal on the biophysical environment and, at the same time, ignore the social, health and economic effects on local communities and inhabitants. This issue has been dominant in developed countries, especially those which have weak land-use planning systems into which social and economic objectives are incorporated.

In developing countries, this factor also exists and is joined by an additional, complementary explanation. The majority of the population in developing countries has a closer and, in many ways, more complex set of direct relationships with their environment than is the case in developed countries. This means that the way that local communities and their members interact with their environment can be changed by environmental, social and economic impacts. For example, in poor localities a major, new project such as a 2,400 MW power station will introduce a source of new labour opportunities and social infrastructure (schools, clinics) to provide for the large workforce needed. Basically, the income injected into the local economy makes the power station locality an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty. This attracts poor people to the area to try to improve their standard of living by trying to obtain a job and to use the new facilities. Not all will be successful. The unsuccessful will try to offer services to those employed, for example, by supplying firewood or charcoal. This will cause environmental stress, often at locations distant from the power station. Such impacts will occur in addition to the impacts caused by the influx of workers and their families who are directly employed at the station site. Thus, the main induced social effect of a project—in-migration—causes environmental impacts. If these socioeconomic implications were not analysed, then EISs would be in danger of failing to achieve one of their main objectives—that is, to identify, predict, evaluate and mitigate biophysical environmental impacts.

Virtually all project-related EIAs focus on the external environment, that is, the environment outside the site boundary. This reflects the history of EIA. As noted above it had its origins in the developed world. In these countries there is a strong legal framework for occupational health protection and it was inappropriate for EIA to focus on the internal, working environment as well as the external environment, as this would be a duplication of effort and misuse of scarce resources.

In many developing countries the opposite situation is often the reality. In such a context, it would seem appropriate for EIAs, particularly for industrial facilities, to consider the impacts on the internal environment. The main focus of considering such impacts as changes in internal air quality and noise levels is the health of workers. There are two other aspects which are important here. First, in poor countries the loss of a breadwinner through illness, injury or death can force the other members of a family to exploit natural resources to maintain income levels. If a number of families are affected then the cumulative impacts may be locally significant. Secondly, the health of family members can be affected, directly, by chemicals brought into the home on the clothes of workers. So there is a direct link between the internal and external environments. The inclusion of the internal environment in EIA has received little attention in the EIA literature and is conspicuous by its absence from EIA laws, regulations and guidelines. However, there is no logical or practical reason why, if local circumstances are appropriate, EIAs should not deal with the important issues of workers’ health and the possible external implications of a deterioration in the physical and mental well-being of workers.

Costs and Benefits of EIAs

Perhaps the most frequent issue raised by those who are either opposed to EIA or are neutral towards it concerns the cost. Preparation of EISs takes time and resources, and, in the end, this means money. It is important, therefore, to consider the economic aspects of EIA.

The main costs of introducing EIA procedures into a country fall on project investors or proponents, and central or local government (depending on the nature of the procedures). In virtually all countries, project investors or proponents pay for preparation of EIAs for their projects. Similarly, initiators (usually government agencies) of sectoral investment strategies and regional development plans pay for their EIAs. Evidence from developed and developing countries indicates that the cost of preparing EISs ranges from 0.1% to 1% of the capital cost of a project. This proportion can increase when mitigating measures recommended in the EISs are taken into account. The cost depends on the type of mitigation recommended. Obviously, resettling 5,000 families in such a way that their standard of living is maintained is a relatively costly exercise. In such cases the costs of the EIS and mitigation measures can rise to 15 to 20% of capital cost. In other cases it may be between 1 and 5%. Such figures may seem to be excessive and to indicate that EIA is a financial burden. There is no doubt that EIA costs money, but in the experience of the author no major projects have been halted because of the costs of EIA preparation, and in only a few cases have projects been made uneconomical because of the costs of necessary mitigating measures.

EIA procedures also impose costs to central or local governments which arise from the staff and other resources which need to be directed to managing the system and processing and reviewing the EISs. Again, the cost depends on the nature of the procedure and how many EISs are produced per year. The author is not aware of any calculations which attempt to provide an average figure for this cost.

To return to our medical analogy, prevention of illness requires a significant up-front investment to ensure future and possibly long-term dispersed benefits in terms of the health of the population, and EIA is no different. The financial benefits can be examined from the perspectives of the proponent as well as those of the government and the wider society. The proponent can benefit in a number of ways:

·     prevention of delays in obtaining authorizations

·     identification of mitigation measures involving recycling and recovery of components of waste streams

·     creation of cleaner working environments

·     identification of cheaper alternatives.

Not all of these will operate in all cases, but it is useful to consider the ways in which savings can accrue to the proponent.

In all countries various permits, permissions and authorizations are needed before a project can be implemented and operated. The authorization procedures take time, and this can be extended if there is opposition to a project and no formal mechanism exists by which concerns may be identified, considered and investigated. There seems little doubt that the days of passive populations welcoming all development as signs of inevitable economic and social progress are nearly over. All projects are subject to increasing local, national and international scrutiny—for example, the continuing opposition in India to the Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) complex of dams.

In this context, EIA provides a mechanism for public concerns to be addressed, if not eliminated. Studies in developed countries (such as the UK) have shown the potential for EIA to reduce the likelihood of delays in obtaining authorizations—and time is money! Indeed, a study by British Gas in the late 1970s showed that the average time taken to obtain authorization was shorter with EIA than for similar projects without EIA.

The add-on costs of mitigation have been mentioned, but it is worth considering the opposite situation. For facilities which produce one or more waste streams, the EIA may identify mitigation measures which reduce the waste load by use of recovery or recycling processes. In the former case recovery of a component from a waste stream might enable the proponent to sell it (if a market is available) and cover the costs of the recovery process or even make a profit. Recycling of an element such as water can reduce consumption, thus lowering expenditure on raw material inputs.

If an EIA has focused on the internal environment, then the working conditions should be better than would have been the case without the EIA. A cleaner, safer workplace reduces worker discontent, illness and absences. The overall effect is likely to be a more productive workforce, which again is a financial benefit to the proponent or operator.

Finally, the favoured option selected using solely technical and economic criteria may, in fact, not be the best alternative. In Botswana, a site had been selected for water to be stored before it was transported to Gaborone (the capital). An EIA was implemented and it was found, early in the EIA work, that the environmental impacts would be significantly adverse. During survey work, the EIA team identified an alternative site which they were given permission to include in the EIA. The alternative site comparison showed that the environmental impacts of the second option were much less severe. Technical and economic studies showed that the site met technical and economic criteria. In fact it was found that the second site could meet the original development objectives with less environmental damage and cost 50% less to build (IUCN and Government of the Republic of Botswana, undated). Unsurprisingly, the second option has been implemented, to the benefit not only to the proponent (a parastatal organization) but to the entire tax-paying population of Botswana. Such examples are likely to be uncommon, but do indicate the opportunity provided by EIA work to “test” various development options.

The main benefits of EIA procedures are dispersed amongst the component parts of society, such as government, communities and individuals. By preventing unacceptable environmental deterioration EIA helps to maintain the essential “life processes” upon which all human life and activities depend. This is a long-term and dispersed benefit. In specific instances, EIA can avoid localized environmental damage which would necessitate remedial measures (usually expensive) at a later date. The cost of remedial measures usually falls on local or central government and not the proponent or operator of the installation which caused the damage.

Recent events, especially since the Rio “Earth Summit”, are slowly changing the objectives of development activities. Until recently the objectives of development were to improve economic and social conditions in a specified area. Increasingly, the achievement of “sustainability” criteria or objectives is occupying a central place in the traditional hierarchy of objectives (which still remain relevant). The introduction of sustainability as an important, if not yet primary, objective in the development process will have a profound influence on the future existence of the sterile debate of “jobs versus environment” from which EIA has suffered. This debate had some meaning when environment was on the outside of the development process and looking in. Now the environment is becoming central and the debate is centred on mechanisms of having both jobs and a healthy environment linked in a sustainable manner. EIA still has a crucial and expanding contribution to make as one of the important mechanisms for moving towards, and achieving, sustainability.


Sven-Olof Ryding

The need to safeguard the environment for future generations makes it necessary not only to discuss the emerging environmental problems, but to make progress in identifying strategies that are cost-effective and environmentally sound to solve them and to take actions to enforce the measures that result from such discussion. There is ample evidence that enhancing the state of the environment as well as establishing policies to sustain the environment must take on greater priority within this generation and those that follow. While this belief is commonly held by governments, environmental groups, industry, academics and the general public, there is considerable debate on how to achieve improved environmental conditions without sacrificing current economic benefits. Furthermore, environmental protection has become an issue of great political importance, and ensuring ecological stability has been pushed to the top of many political agendas.

Past and present efforts to protect the environment are to a large extent characterized as single-issue approaches. Each problem has been dealt with on a case-by-case basis. With regard to problems caused by point-source pollution from easily identified emissions, this was an effective way of reducing environmental impacts. Today, the situation is more complex. Much pollution now originates from a large number of non-point sources easily transported from one country to another. Furthermore, each of us contributes to this total environmental pollution load through our daily patterns of living. The different non-point sources are difficult to identify, and the way in which they interact in impacting the environment is not well known.

The increasing environmental problems of more complex and global character will most likely entail great implications for several sectors of society in enforcing remedial actions. To be able to play a role in environmental protection, sound and universal policies must be applied jointly as an additional, multi-issue approach by all those actors taking part in the process—the scientists, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, companies and agencies of authority at the national and governmental levels, as well as the media. Therefore, it is important that all areas of sectoral interest be coordinated in their environmental ambitions, in order to get necessary interactions and responses to proposed solutions. It is likely that there may be a unanimous view with regard to the ultimate objectives of better environmental quality. However, it is equally likely that there may be disagreement about the pace, means and time required to achieve them.

Environmental protection has become a strategic issue of increasing importance for industry and the business sector, both in the siting of plants and in the technical performance of processes and products. Industrialists are increasingly becoming interested in being able to look holistically at the environmental consequences of their operations. Legislation is no longer the sole dimensioning factor following the growing importance of product-related environmental issues. The concepts of environmentally sound product development and environmentally friendly or “green” products are assuming wider acceptance among producers and consumers.

Indeed, this is a great challenge for industry; yet environmental criteria are often not considered at the beginning of the design of a product, when it may be easiest to avoid adverse impacts. Until recently, most environmental impacts were reduced through end-of-pipe controls and process design rather than product design. As a result, many companies spend too much time fixing problems instead of preventing them. A great deal of work, however, is needed to develop a suitable and accepted approach to incorporate environmental impacts into the various production stages and industrial activities—from raw material acquisition and manufacture to product use and final disposal.

The only known concept to deal with all these new complex issues seems to be a life-cycle approach to the problem. Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) have been widely recognized as an environmental management tool for the future, as product-related issues assume a more central role in the public debate. Although LCAs promise to be a valuable tool for programmes on cleaner production strategies and design for the environment, the concept is relatively new and will require future refinement to be accepted as a general tool for environmentally sound process and product development.

The Business Framework for Life-Cycle Assessment

The necessary new approach to environmental protection in the business sector, to look at products and services in their totality, must be linked to development of a common, systematic and structured approach which enables relevant decisions to be made and priorities to be set. Such an approach must be flexible and expandable to cover various decision-making situations in industry as well as new input as science and technology progress. However, it should rest upon some basic principles and issues, for example: problem identification, survey of remedial measures, cost/benefit analysis and final assessment and evaluation (figure 54.1).

Figure 54.1 Outline of consecutive steps for setting priorities in decisions on  environmental protection measures in industry

The problem identification ought to highlight different types of environmental problems and their causes. These judgements are multidimensional, taking into account various background conditions. There is indeed a close relationship between the work environment and the external environment. The ambition to safeguard the environment should therefore include two dimensions: to minimize the burden on the external environment following all kinds of human activities, and to promote the welfare of employees in terms of a well-planned and safe work environment.

A survey of potential remedial measures should include all the available practical alternatives for minimizing both pollutant emissions and the use of non-renewable natural resources. The technical solutions should be described, if possible, giving their expected value both in reducing resource use and pollution loads as well as in monetary terms. The cost/benefit analysis aims at producing a priority list by comparing the different identified approaches of remedial measures from the perspectives of product specifications and requirements to be met, economic feasibility and ecological efficiency. However, experience has shown that great difficulties often arise when seeking to express environmental assets in monetary terms.

The assessment and evaluation phase should be regarded as an integral part of the procedure of setting priorities to give the necessary input for the final judgement of the efficiency of the suggested remedial measures. The continuous exercise of assessment and evaluation following any measure that is implemented or enforced will give additional feedback for optimization of a general decision model for environmental priority strategies for product decision. The strategic value of such a model will likely increase in industry when it becomes gradually apparent that environmental priorities might be an equally important part of the future planning procedure for new processes or products. As LCA is a tool for identifying the environmental releases and evaluating the associated impacts caused by a process, product or activity, it will likely serve as the major vehicle for industry in their search for practical and user-friendly decision-making models for environmentally sound product development.

Concept of Life-Cycle Assessment

The concept of LCA is to evaluate the environmental effects associated with any given activity from the initial gathering of raw material from the earth until the point at which all residuals are returned to the earth. Therefore, the concept is often referred to as a “cradle-to-grave” assessment. While the practice of conducting life-cycle studies has existed since the early 1970s, there have been few comprehensive attempts to describe the full procedure in a manner that would facilitate understanding of the overall process, the underlying data requirements, the inherent assumptions and possibilities to make practical use of the methodology. However, since 1992 a number of reports have been published focusing on describing the various parts of a LCA from a theoretical viewpoint (Heijungs 1992; Vigon et al. 1992; Keoleian and Menerey 1993; Canadian Standards Association 1993; Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 1993). A few practical guides and handbooks have been published taking on the specific perspectives of product designers in making practical use of a complete LCA in environmentally sound product development (Ryding 1996).

LCA has been defined as an objective process to evaluate the environmental burdens associated with a process, product, activity or service system by identifying and quantifying energy and materials used and released to the environment in order to assess the impact of those energy and material uses and releases to the environment, and to evaluate and implement opportunities to effect environmental improvements. The assessment includes the entire life cycle of the process, product, activity or service system, encompassing extracting and processing raw materials, manu-facturing, transportation and distribution, use, reuse, maint-enance, recycling and final disposal.

The prime objectives of carrying out LCA are to provide as complete a picture as possible of the interactions of an activity with the environment, to contribute to the understanding of the overall and interdependent nature of environmental consequences of human activities and to provide decision-makers with information which identifies opportunities for environmental improvements.

The LCA methodological framework is a stepwise calculation exercise comprising four components: goal definition and scoping, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation. As one component of a broader methodology, none of these components alone can be described as an LCA. LCA ought to include all four. In many cases life-cycle studies focus on the inventory analysis and are usually referred to as LCI (life-cycle inventory).

Goal definition and scoping consists of a definition of the purpose and the system of the study—its scope, definition of the functional unit (the measure of performance which the system delivers), and the establishment of a procedure for quality assurance of the results.

When initiating an LCA study, it is of vital importance to clearly define the goal of the study, preferably in terms of a clear and unambiguous statement of the reason for carrying out the LCA, and the intended use of the results. A key consideration is to decide whether the results should be used for in-company applications to improve the environmental performance of an industrial process or a product, or whether the results should be used externally, for example, to influence public policy or consumer purchase choices.

Without setting a clear goal and purpose for the LCA study in advance, the inventory analysis and the impact assessment may be overdone, and the final results may not be properly used for practical decisions. Defining whether the results should focus on environmental loads, a specific environmental problem or a holistic environmental impact assessment will directly clarify whether to conduct an inventory analysis, classification/characterization or a valuation (figure 54.2). It is important to make all consecutive LCA components “visible” in order to make it easier for any user to choose the level of complexity they wish to use.

Figure 54.2 Purposes and completeness of life-cycle assessment

An illustration of the relationship between various purposes of life-cycle assessment studies  and the resultant completeness of carrying out the various life-cycle assessment components.

In many general programmes for cleaner production strategies, design for the environment or environmentally sound product development, the principal objective is often to lower the overall environmental impact during a product’s life cycle. To meet these demands it is sometimes necessary to arrive at a highly aggregated form of the environmental impact assessment which in turn emphasizes the need for identifying a general accepted valuation approach for a scoring system to weigh the different environmental effects against each other.

The scope of an LCA defines the system, boundaries, data requirements, assumptions and limitations. The scope should be defined well enough to ensure that the breadth and depth of analysis are compatible with and sufficient to address the stated purpose and all boundaries, and that assumptions are clearly stated, comprehensible and visible. However, as an LCA is an iterative process, it may be advisable in some cases not to permanently fix all aspects included in the scope. The use of sensitivity and error analysis is recommended to make possible the successive testing and validation of the purpose and scope of the LCA study versus the results obtained, in order to make corrections and set new assumptions.

Inventory analysis is an objective, data-based process of quantifying energy and raw material requirements, air emissions, waterborne effluents, solid waste and other environmental releases throughout the life cycle of a process, product, activity or service system (figure 54.3).

Figure 54.3 Stepwise elements in a life-cycle inventory analysis

The calculation of inputs and outputs in the inventory analysis refers to the system defined. In many cases, processing operations yield more than one output, and it is important to break down such a complex system into a series of separate sub-processes, each of which produces a single product. During the production of a construction material, pollutant emissions occur in each sub-process, from raw material acquisition to the final product. The total production process may be illustrated by a “process tree” where the stem may be seen as the main chain of flow of materials and energy, whereas the branches may illustrate sub-processes and the leaves the specific figures on pollutant emissions and so on. When added together, these sub-processes have the total characteristics of the original single system of co-products.

To estimate the accuracy of the data gained in the inventory analysis, a sensitivity and error analysis is recommended. All data used should therefore be “labelled” with relevant information not only as to reliability but also source, origin and so on, to facilitate future updating and refinement of the data (so-called meta-data). The use of a sensitivity and error analysis will identify the key data of great importance for the outcome of the LCA study that may need further efforts to increase its reliability.

Impact assessment is a technical, qualitative and/or quantitative process to characterize and assess the effects of the environmental loading identified in the inventory component. The assessment should address both ecological and human health considerations, as well as other effects such as habitat modifications and noise pollution. The impact assessment component could be characterized as three consecutive steps—classification, characterization and valuation—all of which interpret the effects of environmental burdens identified in the inventory analysis, on different aggregated levels (figure 54.4).

Figure 54.4 Conceptual framework for the successive level of data aggregation in the impact assessment component

Classification is the step in which the inventory analyses are grouped together into a number of impact categories; characterization is the step in which analysis and quantification takes place, and, where possible, aggregation of the impacts within the given impact categories is carried out; valuation is the step in which the data of the different specific impact categories are weighted so that they can be compared amongst themselves to arrive at a further interpretation and aggregation of the data of the impact assessment.

In the classification step, the impacts may be grouped in the general protection areas of resource depletion, ecological health and human health. These areas may be further divided into specific impact categories, preferably focusing on the environ-mental process involved, to allow a perspective consistent with current scientific knowledge about these processes.

There are various approaches to characterization—to relate data to no-observable-effect concentrations or to environmental standards, to model both exposure and effects and apply these models in a site-specific way, or to use equivalency factors for the different impact categories. A further approach is to normalize the aggregated data for each impact category to the actual magnitude of the impacts in some given area, to increase the comparability of the data from the different impact categories.

Valuation, with the aim of further aggregating the data of the impact assessment, is the LCA component that has probably generated the most heated debates. Some approaches, often referred to as decision theory techniques, are claimed to have the potential to make the valuation a rational, explicit method. Valuation principles may rest on scientific, political or societal judgements, and there are currently approaches available that cover all three perspectives. Of special importance is the use of sensitivity and error analysis. The sensitivity analysis enables the identification of those selected valuation criteria that may change the resultant priority between two process or product alternatives because of the uncertainties in the data. The error analysis may be used to indicate the likelihood of one alternative product being more environmentally benign than a competitor product.

Many are of the opinion that valuations have to be based largely on information about social values and preferences. However, no one has yet defined the specific requirements that a reliable and generally accepted valuation method should meet. Figure 54.5  lists some such specific requirements of potential value. However, it should be clearly emphasized that any valuation system for assessing the “seriousness” of environmental impacts of any human activity must be largely based on subjective value judgements. For such valuations it is probably not possible to establish criteria which are tenable in all situations worldwide.

Figure 54.5 List of suggested requirements to be met for a LCA valuation method

Interpretation of the results is a systematic evaluation of the needs and opportunities to reduce the environmental burden associated with energy and raw materials use and waste emissions throughout the whole life cycle of a product, process or activity. This assessment may include both quantitative and qualitative measures of improvements, such as changes in product design, raw material use, industrial processing, consumer demands and waste management.

Interpretation of the results is the component of an LCA in which options for reducing the environmental impacts or burdens of the processes or products under study are identified and evaluated. It deals with the identification, evaluation and selection of options for improvements in processes and product design, that is, technical redesign of a process or product to minimize the associated environmental burden while fulfilling the intended function and performance characteristics. It is important to guide the decision-maker regarding the effects of the existing uncertainties in the background data and the criteria used in achieving the results, to decrease the risk of making false conclusions regarding the processes and products under study. Again, a sensitivity and error analysis is needed to gain credibility for the LCA methodology as it provides the decision-maker with information on (1) key parameters and assumptions, which may need to be further considered and refined to strengthen the conclusions, and (2) the statistical significance of the calculated difference in total environmental burden between the process or product alternatives.

The interpretation component has been identified as the part of an LCA that is least documented. However, preliminary results from some large LCA studies carried out as comprehensive efforts by people from academia, consultancy firms and many companies all indicated that, from a general perspective, significant environmental burdens from products seem to be linked to the product use (figure 54.6). Hence, the potential seems to exist for industry-motivated initiatives to minimize environmental impacts through product development.

Figure 54.6 Outline of some general experiences of where in the life-cycles of  products the major environmental burdens occur

A study on international experiences of environmentally sound product development based on LCA (Ryding 1994) indicated that promising general applications of LCA seem to be (1) for internal use by corporations to form the basis for providing guidance in long-term strategic planning concerning product design, but also (2) to some extent for use by regulatory agencies and authorities to suit general purposes of societal planning and decision-making. By developing and using LCA information regarding environmental effects that are both “upstream” and “downstream” of the particular activity under scrutiny, a new paradigm may be created for basing decisions in both corporate management and regulatory policy-making.


Knowledge about human threats to the environment seems to grow faster than our ability to solve them. Therefore, decisions in the environmental arena must often be taken with greater uncertainties present than those in other areas. Furthermore, very small safety margins usually exist. Present ecological and technical knowledge is not always sufficient to offer a complete, fool-proof strategy to safeguard the environment. It is not possible to gain full understanding of all ecological responses to environmental stress before taking action. However, the absence of complete, irrefutable scientific evidence should not discourage making decisions about and implementation of pollution abatement programmes. It is not possible to wait until all ecological questions are scientifically substantiated before taking action—the damage that may result through such delays could be irreversible. Hence, the meaning and scope of most problems is already known to a sufficient extent to justify action, and there is, in many cases, sufficient knowledge at hand to initiate effective remedial measures for most environmental problems.

Life-cycle assessment offers a new concept to deal with the future complex environmental issues. However, there are no shortcuts or simple answers to all questions posed. The rapidly emerging adoption of a holistic approach to combat environmental problems will most likely identify a lot of gaps in our knowledge about new aspects that need to be dealt with. Also, available data that may be used are in many cases intended for other purposes. Despite all difficulties, there is no argument for waiting to use LCA until it gets better. It is by no means hard to find difficulties and uncertainties in the present LCA concept, if one wants to use such arguments to justify an unwillingness to conduct an LCA. One has to decide whether it is worthwhile to seek a holistic life-cycle approach to environmental aspects despite all difficulties. The more LCA is used, the more knowledge will be gained about its structure, function and applicability, which will be the best guarantee for a feedback to ensure its successive improvement.

To make use of LCA today may be more a question of will and ambition than of undisputed knowledge. The whole idea of LCA ought to be to make the best use of present scientific and technical knowledge and to make use of the result in an intelligent and humble way. Such an approach will most likely gain credibility.


Adrian V. Gheorghe and Hansjörg Seiler

Government, industry and the community recognize the need to identify, assess and control the industrial risks (occupational and public) to people and the environment. Awareness of hazards and of the accidents that may result in significant loss of life and property have led to the development and application of systematic approaches, methods and tools for risk assessment and communication.

The risk assessment process involves: system description, the identification of hazards and the development of accident scenarios and outcomes for events associated with a process operation or a storage facility; the estimation of the effects or consequences of such hazardous events on people, property and the environment; the estimation of the probability or likelihood of such hazardous events occurring in practice and of their effects, accounting for the different operational and organizational hazard controls and practices; the quantification of ensuing risk levels outside the plant boundaries, in terms of both consequences and probabilities; and the assessment of such risk levels by reference to quantified risk criteria.

The process of quantified risk assessment is probabilistic in nature. Because major accidents may or may not occur over the entire life of a plant or a process, it is not appropriate to base the assessment process on the consequences of accidents in isolation. The likelihood or probability of such accidents actually occurring should be taken into account. Such probabilities and resultant risk levels should reflect the level of design, operational and organizational controls available at the plant. There are a number of uncertainties associated with the quantification of risk (e.g., mathematical models for consequence estimation, setting of probabilities for different accident scenarios, probability effects of such accidents). The risk assessment process should, in all cases, expose and recognize such uncertainties.

The main value of the quantified risk assessment process should not rest with the numerical value of the results (in isolation). The assessment process itself provides significant opportunities for the systematic identification of hazards and evaluation of risk. The risk assessment process provides for the identification and recognition of hazards and enables the allocation of relevant and appropriate resources to the hazards control process.

The objectives and uses of the hazard identification process (HIP) will determine in turn the scope of the analysis, the appropriate procedures and methods, and the personnel, expertise, funding and time required for the analysis, as well as the associated documentation necessary. Hazard identification is an efficient and necessary procedure to assist risk analysts and decision making for risk assessment and management of occupational safety and health. A number of major objectives may be identified:

·     to establish what dangerous situations exist within a plant or a process operation

·     to establish how these dangerous situations may come about

·     to assist in the assessment of the safety of a hazardous installation.

The first general objective aims at extending the general understanding of the important issues and situations that might affect the risk analysis process for individual plants and processes; the synergy of individual hazards to the area study level has its special significance. Design and operational problems can be identified and a hazard classification scheme can be considered.

The second objective contains elements of risk assessment and deals with accident scenario development and interpretation of results. Consequence evaluation of various accidents and their impact propagation in time and space has special significance in the hazard identification phase.

The third objective aims at providing information that can later assist further steps in risk assessment and plant operations safety management. This may be in the form of improving the scenario specifications for risk analysis or identifying appropriate safety measures to comply with given risk criteria (e.g., individual or societal), or advice for emergency preparedness and accident management.

After defining objectives, the definition of the scope of the HIP study is the second most relevant element in the management, organization and implementation of the HIP. The scope of the HIP in a complex risk assessment study can be described mainly in terms of the following parameters: (1) potential sources of hazards (e.g., radioactive releases, toxic substances, fire, explosions); (2) plant or process damage states; (3) initiating events; (4) potential consequences; and (5) prioritization of hazards. The relevant factors that determine the extent to which these parameters are included in the HIP are: (a) the objectives and intended uses of the HIP; (b) the availability of appropriate information and data; and(c) the available resources and expertise. Hazard identification requires the consideration of all relevant information regarding the facility (e.g., plant, process). This might typically include: site and plant layout; detailed process information in the form of engineering diagrams and operating and maintenance conditions; the nature and quantities of materials being handled; operational, organizational and physical safeguards; and design standards.

In dealing with the external consequences of an accident, a number of such consequences may result (e.g., number of fatalities, number of people being hospitalized, various types of damage to the ecosystem, financial losses, etc.). The external consequences from an accident caused by the substance i for an identified activity j, can be calculated from the relationship:  Cij = Aa fa fm, where: Cij = number of fatalities per accident caused by the substance i for an identified activity j; A = affected area (ha); a = population density in populated areas within the affected zone (persons/ha); fa and fm are correction factors.

The consequences of (major) accidents to the environment are more difficult to estimate due to the variety of substances that can be involved, as well as the number of environmental impact indicators relevant in a given accident situation. Usually, a utility scale is associated with various environmental consequences; the relevant utility scale could include events related to incidents, accidents or catastrophic outcomes.

Evaluating monetary consequences of (potential) accidents requires a detailed estimate of possible consequences and their associated costs. A monetary value for special classes of consequences (e.g., loss of life or special biological habitats) is not always accepted a priori. The monetary evaluation of consequences should also include external costs, which are very often difficult to assess. 

The procedures for identifying hazardous situations which may arise in process plants and equipment are generally considered to be the most developed and well established element in the assessment process of hazardous installations. It must be recognized that (1) the procedures and techniques vary in terms of comprehensiveness and level of detail, from comparative checklists to detailed structured logic diagrams, and (2) the procedures may apply at various stages of project formulation and implementation (from the early decision-making process to determine the location of a plant, through to its design, construction and operation).

Techniques for hazard identification essentially fall into three categories. The following indicates the most commonly used techniques within each category.

·     Category 1: Comparative Methods: Process or System Checklist; Safety Audit Review; Relative Ranking (Dow and Mond Hazard Indices); Preliminary Hazard Analysis

·     Category 2: Fundamental Methods: Hazard Operability Studies (HAZOP); “What If” Analysis; Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA)

·     Category 3: Logic Diagrams Methods: Fault Tree Analysis; Event Tree Analysis. 

Cause Consequence Analysis; Human Reliability Analysis

The appropriateness and relevancy of any one particular technique of hazard identification largely depend on the purpose for which the risk assessment is being undertaken. When further technical details are available one can combine them in the overall process for risk assessment of various hazards. Expert and engineering judgements can often be employed for further evaluation of risk for installations or processes. The primary principle is to first examine the plant or operations from the broadest viewpoint possible and systematically identify possible hazards. Elaborate techniques as a primary tool may cause problems and result in missing some obvious hazards. Sometimes it may be necessary to adopt more than one technique, depending on the level of detail required and whether the facility is a new proposed installation or an existing operation.

Probabilistic safety criteria (PSC) are associated with a rational decision-making process which requires the establishment of a consistent framework with standards to express the desired level of safety. Societal or group risks should be considered when assessing the acceptability of any hazardous industrial facility. A number of factors should be borne in mind when developing PSC based on societal risk, including public aversion to accidents with high consequences (i.e., the risk level chosen should decrease as the consequence increases). Whilst individual fatality risk levels include all components of risk (i.e., fires, explosions and toxicity), there may be uncertainties in correlating toxic concentrations with fatality risk levels. The interpretation of “fatal” should not rely on any one dose-effect relationship, but should involve a review of available data. The concept of societal risk implies that risk of higher consequences, with smaller frequency, are perceived as more important than those of smaller consequences with higher probabilities.

Irrespective of the numerical value of any risk criteria level for risk assessment purposes, it is essential that certain qualitative principles be adopted as yardsticks for risk assessment and safety management: (1) all “avoidable” risks should be avoided; (2) the risk from a major hazard should be reduced whenever practicable; (3) the consequences of more likely hazardous events should, wherever possible, be contained within the boundaries of the installation; and (4) where there is an existing high risk from a hazardous installation, additional hazardous developments should not be allowed if they add significantly to that existing risk.

In the 1990s an increasing importance has been given to risk communication, which has become a separate branch of risk science.

The main tasks in risk communication are:

·     identifying controversial aspects of perceived risks

·     presenting and explaining risk information

·     influencing risk-related behaviour of individuals

·     developing information strategies for emergency cases

·     evolving cooperative/participative conflict resolution.

The scope and objectives of risk communication can differ, depending on the actors involved in the communication process as well as the functions and expectations they attribute to the communication process and its environment.

Individual and corporate actors in risk communication use manifold communicative means and channels. The main issues are health and environmental protection, safety improvement and risk acceptability.

According to general communication theory, communication can have the following functions:

·     presentation of information 

·     appeal

·     self-presentation

·     definition of a relationship or decision path. 

For the risk communication process in particular it can be helpful to distinguish between these functions. Depending on the function, different conditions for a successful communication process should be considered.

Risk communication can sometimes play the role of a simple presentation of facts. Information is a general need in a modern society. In environmental matters in particular there exist laws which, on the one hand, give the authorities the duty to inform the public and, on the other hand, give the public the right to know about the environmental and risk situation (e.g., the so-called Seveso Directive of the European Community and “Community Right-to-Know” legislation in the United States). Information can also be determined for a special public segment; for example, the employees in a factory must be informed about the risks they face within their workplace. In this sense risk communication must be:

·     as neutral and objective as possible

·     complete

·     comprehensible for those who should get the information.

Appeals tend to incite someone to do something. In risk-related matters the following appeal functions can be distinguished:

·     appeal to the general public or to a special segment of the public about risk prevention measures which could or should be taken (e.g., appeal to employees in a factory to take safety measures at work)

·     appeal to the general public or to a special segment of the public about preventive measures for emergency cases

·     appeal to the general public or to a special segment of the public about measures to be taken in case of an emergency situation (crisis management).

Appeal communication must be:

·     as simple and comprehensible as possible, and as complete as necessary

·     reliable; having confidence in the persons, authorities or other bodies which make the appeal is essential for the success of the appeal.

Self-presentation does not impart neutral information, but is mainly part of a persuasion or marketing strategy in order to improve the public image of an individual or to achieve public acceptance for a certain activity or to get public support for some kind of position. The criterion for the success of the communication is whether the public believes in the presentation. In a normative view, although the self-presentation aims at convincing someone, it should be honest and sincere.

These forms of communication are mainly of a one-way type. Communication aimed at reaching a decision or agreement is of a two-way or many-way type: there is not only one side which gives information—various actors are involved in a risk communication process and communicate with each other. This is the usual situation in a democratic society. Especially in risk- and environment-related matters communication is considered as an alternative regulatory instrument in complex situations, where easy solutions are not possible or accessible. Therefore the risky decisions with a relevant political importance have to be taken in a communicative atmosphere. Risk communication, in this sense, may include, among others, communication about highly politicized risk topics, but it may also mean, for example, the communication between an operator, the employees and the emergency services in order that the operator be best prepared in case of accident. Thus, depending on the scope and objective of the risk communication, different actors can participate in the communication process. The potential main actors in a risk communication environment are:

·     the operator of a risky facility

·     the potential victims of an undesired event (e.g., employees, neighbours)

·     the regulatory authorities and appropriate political bodies

·     the emergency services and general public 

·     interest groups

·     the media

·     insurers

·     scientists and experts.

In a systems-theory approach all these categories of actors correspond to a certain social system and therefore have different codes of communication, different values and interests to be communicated. Very often it is not easy to find a common basis for a risk dialogue. Structures must be found in order to combine these different views and to achieve a practical result. Topics for such types of risk communication are, for example, a consensus decision about siting or not siting a hazardous plant in a certain region.

In all societies there exist legal and political procedures in order to deal with risk-related issues (e.g., parliamentary legislation, government or administrative decisions, legal procedures before a court, etc.). In many cases these existing procedures do not result in solutions that are entirely satisfactory for the peaceful settlement of risk disputes. Proposals reached by integrating elements of risk communication into the existing procedures have been found to improve the political decision process.

Two main issues have to be discussed when proposing risk communication procedures:

·     the formal organization and legal significance of the process and of its results

·     the structure of the communication process itself.

For the formal organization of risk communication there are various possibilities:

·     The communication can take place inside or between existing bodies (e.g., between an agency of the central government, a local authority and existing interest groups).

·     New bodies can be established specifically for the process of risk communications; various models have been developed (e.g., citizen juries, citizen panels, negotiation and mediation structures, mixed commissions consisting of operators, authorities and citizens). Most of these models are based on the idea of organizing a structured discourse in small groups. Significant differences of opinion exist about whether these groups should consist of experts, laymen, representatives of the political system, etc.

In any case the relationship between these communication structures and the existing legal and political decision-making bodies has to be clarified. Usually the result of a risk communication process has the effect of a non-binding recommendation to the deciding bodies.

Concerning the structure of the communication process, under the general rules of practical discourse, any argument is allowed if it fulfils the following conditions:

·     adequate logical consistency

·     sincerity (This means: The discourse should not be influenced by strategic or tactical thinking.)

·     that the one who promotes an argument must be ready to accept the consequences of that argument also against himself or herself.

In the risk communication process various special rules and proposals have been developed in order to concretize these rules. Among these, the following rules are worth mentioning:

In the risk communication process a distinction must be made between:

·     communicative claims

·     cognitive claims

·     normative claims

·     expressive claims. 

Correspondingly, differences of opinion can have various reasons, namely:

·     differences in information

·     differences in the understanding of facts

·     differences in normative values.

It may be helpful to make clear through the risk communication process the level of differences and their significance. Various structural proposals have been made for improving the conditions for such a discourse and, at the same time, to help decision-makers to find fair and competent solutions—for example:

·     For a fair discourse the result must be open-ended; if the aim is just to achieve acceptance for a decision that has already been made, it would not be sincere to open a discourse.

·     If some solutions are simply not possible for factual, political or legal reasons, this must be clarified from the beginning.

·     It may be helpful first to discuss not the alternatives, but the criteria which should be applied in evaluating the alternatives.

Effectiveness of risk communication can be defined as the degree to which an initial (undesired) situation is changed toward an intended state, as defined by initial goals. Procedural aspects are to be included in the evaluation of risk communication programmes. Such criteria include practicability (e.g., flexibility, adaptability, implementability) and costs (in terms of money, personnel and time) of the programme.


Robert Coyle

Origins of Environmental Auditing

Environmental safety and health auditing developed in the early 1970s, largely among companies operating in environmentally intensive sectors such as oils and chemicals. Since then environmental auditing has spread rapidly with a corresponding development of the approaches and techniques adopted. Several factors have influenced this growth.

·     Industrial accidents. Major incidents such as the Bhopal, Chernobyl and Exxon-Valdez disasters have reminded companies that it is not sufficient to set corporate policies and standards on environmental health and safety matters without ensuring that they are being implemented. Audits can help reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises.

·     Regulatory developments. Since the early 1970s regulations on environmental topics have increased substantially. This has made it steadily more difficult for a company to ascertain whether a specific plant in a particular country is complying with all of the relevant legislation.

·     Public awareness. The public has become increasingly aware of, and vocal about, environmental and safety issues. Companies have had to demonstrate to the public that they are managing environmental risks effectively.

·     Litigation. The growth of legislation has led to a corresponding explosion of litigation and liability claims, particularly in the United States. In Europe and elsewhere, there is growing emphasis on the responsibilities of individual directors and on making information available to the public.

What is an Environmental Audit?

It is important to draw the distinction between auditing and techniques such as environmental impact assessment (EIA). The latter assesses the potential environmental effects of a proposed facility. The essential purpose of an environmental audit is the systematic scrutiny of environmental performance throughout a company’s existing operations. At best, an audit is a comprehensive examination of management systems and facilities; at worst, it is a superficial review.

The term environmental audit means different things to different people. Terms such as assessment, survey and review are used to describe the same type of activity. Furthermore, some organizations consider that an “environmental audit” addresses only environmental matters, whereas others use the term to mean an audit of health, safety and environmental matters. Although there is no universal definition, auditing, as practised by many leading companies, follows the same basic philosophy and approach summarized by the broad definition adopted by the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC) in its publication Environmental Auditing (1989). The ICC defines environmental auditing as:

a management tool comprising a systematic, documented periodic and objective evaluation of how well environmental organization, management and equipment are performing, with the aim of helping safeguard the environment by:

(i) facilitating management control of environmental practices and

(ii) assessing compliance with company policies which would include meeting regulatory requirements.

The European Commission in its proposed regulation on environmental auditing also adopts the ICC definition of environmental audit.

Objectives of Environmental Auditing

The overall objective of environmental auditing is to help safeguard the environment and minimize risks to human health. Clearly, auditing alone will not achieve this goal (hence the use of the word help); it is a management tool. The key objectives of an environmental audit therefore are to:

·     determine how well the environmental management systems and equipment are performing

·     verify compliance with the relevant national, local or other laws and regulations

·     minimize human exposure to risks from environmental, health and safety problems.

Scope of the Audit

As the prime objective of audits is to test the adequacy of existing management systems, they fulfil a fundamentally different role from the monitoring of environmental performance. Audits can address one topic, or a whole range of issues. The greater the scope of the audit, the greater will be the size of the audit team, the time spent onsite and the depth of investigation. Where international audits need to be carried out by a central team, there can be good reasons for covering more than one area while onsite to minimize costs.

In addition, the scope of an audit can vary from simple compliance testing to a more rigorous examination, depending on the perceived needs of the management. The technique is applied not only to operational environmental, health and safety management, but increasingly also to product safety and product quality management, and to areas such as loss prevention. If the intention of auditing is to help ensure that these broad areas are managed properly, then all of these individual topics must be reviewed. Items which may be addressed in audits, including environment, health, safety and product safety are shown in table 54.1 .

Table 54.1 Scope of environmental audit



Occupational Health

Product Safety

Site history


Storage of materials

above ground

below ground

Air emissions

Water discharges

Liquid/hazardous wastes


Waste disposal



Oil/chemical spill prevention


Safety policy/procedures

Accident reporting

Accident recording

Accident investigation

Permit to work systems

Special procedures for confined space entry, work on electrical equipment, breaking into pipelines, etc.

Emergency response

Fire fighting

Job safety analysis

Safety training

Safety communication/ promotion


Regulatory compliance

Employee exposure to air contaminants

Exposure to physical agents, e.g., noise, radiation, heat

Measurements of employee exposure

Exposure records

Ventilation/engineering controls

Personal protective equipment

Information and training on health hazards

Medical surveillance programme

Hearing conservation

First aid

Regulatory requirements

Product safety programme

Product quality control

Product packaging, storage and shipping

Product recall/withdrawal procedures

Customer information on product handling and quality

Regulatory compliance


Specifications for purchased materials/products/packaging

Materials safety data

Vendor qualification programme

QA testing and inspections

Record keeping

Product literature

Process control

Although some companies have a regular (often annual) audit cycle, audits are primarily determined by need and priority. Thus not all facilities or aspects of a company will be assessed at the same frequency or to the same extent.

The Typical Audit Process

An audit is usually conducted by a team of people who will assemble factual information prior to and during a site visit, analyse the facts and compare them with the criteria for the audit, draw conclusions and report their findings. These steps are usually conducted within some kind of formal structure (an audit protocol), such that the process can be repeated reliably at other facilities and quality can be maintained. To ensure that an audit is effective, a number of key steps must be included. These are summarized and explained in table 54.2 .

Table 54.2 Basic steps in environmental auditing

Basic Steps in Environmental Auditing

Criteria—what do you audit against?

An essential step in establishing an audit programme is to decide the criteria against which the audit will be conducted and to ensure that management throughout the organization knows what these criteria are. Typically criteria used for audits are:

·     company policies and procedures on environmental matters

·     applicable legislation and regulations

·     good environmental management practice.

Pre-audit steps

Pre-audit steps include the administrative issues associated with planning the audit, selecting the personnel for the audit team (often from different parts of the company or from a specialized unit), preparing the audit protocol used by the organization and obtaining background information about the facility.

If auditing is new, the need for education of those involved in the audit process (the auditors or those being audited) should not be underestimated. This also applies to a multinational company extending an audit programme in its home country to subsidiaries abroad. In these situations, the time spent on explanation and education will pay dividends by ensuring that the audits are approached in a spirit of cooperation and are not seen as a threat by the local management.

When one major US company proposed extending its auditing programme to its operations in Europe, it was particularly concerned to ensure that the plants were properly briefed, that audit protocols were appropriate for European operations and that audit teams understood the relevant regulations. Pilot audits were conducted at selected plants. In addition, the audit process was introduced in a way that stressed the benefits of a cooperative rather than a “policing” approach.

Obtaining background information about a site and its processes can help to minimize the time spent onsite by the audit team and to focus its activities, thus saving resources.

The composition of the audit team will depend on the approach adopted by a particular organization. Where there is a lack of internal expertise, or where resources cannot be devoted to the audit activity, companies frequently use independent consultants to conduct the audits for them. Other companies employ a mix of in-house staff and external consultants on each team to ensure an “independent” view. Some large companies use only in-house staff for audits, and have environmental audit groups for this specific function. Many major companies have their own dedicated audit staff, but also include an independent consultant on many of the audits they carry out.

Onsite steps

·     Understanding the internal controls. As a first step, it is necessary to develop an understanding of the controls that are in place or are thought to be in place. These will include assessing formal procedures and practices; record keeping and monitoring; inspection and maintenance programmes and physical controls for containing spills. The audit team gathers information on the various controls by observation, interviewing staff and the use of detailed questionnaires.

·     Assessing strengths and weaknesses of internal controls. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of internal controls provides the rationale for conducting subsequent audit steps. Auditors will look for indicators such as clearly defined responsibilities, competence of personnel, appropriate documentation and records and systems of authorization. It is more important to determine whether the system is effective than whether it is sophisticated.

·     Gathering audit evidence. The audit team attempts to verify that the steps and controls work as intended. Evidence may be collected through inquiry (e.g., asking a plant operator what he or she would do if there were a major chemical spill), observation (e.g., watching specific activities and operations in progress) and testing (checking records to confirm compliance with regulations).

·     Recording audit findings. All the information obtained is recorded (usually on the audit protocol document and as working papers), and a comprehensive record of the audit and the state of the facility at the time is thus produced. Where a deficiency is found, it is noted as an audit “finding”.

·     Evaluating the audit findings. The audit team integrates and evaluates the findings of the individual team members. There may also be common findings. For some observations, an informal discussion with the plant manager may be sufficient; for others, inclusion in the formal report will be appropriate.

Reporting the audit findings. This usually is done at a meeting with the plant management at the end of the team’s visit. Each finding and its significance can be discussed with the plant personnel. Prior to leaving the site, the audit team will often provide a written summary of findings for the plant management, to ensure that there are no surprises in the final report.

Post-audit steps

Following the onsite work, the next step is to prepare a draft report, which is reviewed by the plant management to confirm its accuracy. It is then distributed to senior management according to the requirements of the company.

The other key step is to develop an action plan to address the deficiencies. Some companies ask for recommendations for corrective action to be included in the formal audit report. The plant will then base its plan on implementing these recommendations. Other companies require the audit report to state the facts and the deficiencies, with no reference to how they should be corrected. It is then the responsibility of the plant management to devise the means of remedying the failings.

Once an audit programme is in place, future audits will include past reports—and progress in the implementation of any recommendations made therein—as part of their evidence.

Extending the Audit Process—Other Types of Audit

Although the most widespread use of environmental auditing is to assess the environmental performance of a company’s operations, there are variations on the theme. Other types of audit used in particular circumstances include the following:

·     Pre-acquisition audits. Concern about potential liabilities has promoted the dramatic increase in environmental auditing prior to acquisition. Pre-acquisition audits are a means of identifying actual or potential problems, and taking these into account in the final negotiations of the deal. Time scales are often very short. However, the information obtained on past operations (perhaps before the present owner), current activities, past incidents and so on can be invaluable.

·     Pre-sale audits. Less common than pre-acquisition audits, but becoming more popular, are audits conducted by the owner prior to selling a plant or a subsidiary company. A growing number of major organizations, such as the Dutch chemical company DSM and the Finnish conglomerate Neste, undertake pre-sale audits as part of corporate policy. The rationale is that the company will then know the status of environmental issues before the plant is sold, and can take action to remedy any problems if it feels that is appropriate. Equally important, it can present the results of an independent audit to a potential purchaser as confirmation of the situation. Should any environmental problems arise after the sale, a baseline has been established against which issues of liability can be decided.

Issues audits. Some organizations apply the audit technique to a specific issue that may have implications for the whole company, such as waste. The UK-based oil multinational BP has carried out audits examining the impact of ozone depletion and the implications of public concern about tropical deforestation.

Benefits of Environmental Auditing

If environmental auditing is implemented in a constructive way there are many benefits to be derived from the process. The auditing approach described in this paper will help to:

·     safeguard the environment

·     verify compliance with local and national laws

·     indicate current or potential future problems that need to be addressed

·     assess training programmes and provide data to assist in training

·     enable companies to build on good environmental performance, give credit where appropriate and highlight deficiencies

·     identify potential cost savings, such as from waste minimization

·     assist the exchange and comparison of information between different plants or subsidiary companies

·     demonstrate company commitment to environmental protection to employees, the public and the authorities.


Cecilia Brighi

The Evolution of Environmental Response Strategies

In the past thirty years there has been a dramatic increase in environmental problems due to many different factors: demographic expansion (this pace is continuing, with an estimated 8 billion people by the year 2030), poverty, dominant economic models based on growth and quantity rather than quality, high consumption of natural resources driven particularly by industrial expansion, reduction of biological diversity especially as a result of increased agricultural production through monoculture, soil erosion, climate change, the unsustainable use of natural resources and the pollution of air, soils and water resources. However, the negative effects of human activity upon the environment have also accelerated the awareness and social perception of people in many countries, leading to changes in traditional approaches and response models.

Response strategies have been evolving: from no recognition of the problem, to ignoring the problem, to diluting and controlling pollution through a top-down approach—that is, the so-called end-of-pipe strategies. The 1970s marked the first widely relevant local environmental crises and the development of new awareness of environmental pollution. This led to the adoption of the first major series of national legislation, regulations and international conventions aimed at the control and regulation of pollution. This end-of-pipe strategy soon showed its failure, for it was directed in an authoritarian way to interventions related to the symptoms and not the causes of environmental problems. At the same time, industrial pollution also drew attention to the growing contradictions in philosophy between employers, workers and environmental groups.

The 1980s was the period of global environmental issues such as the Chernobyl disaster, acid rain, ozone depletion and the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect and climate change, and the growth in toxic wastes and their export. These events and the resulting problems enhanced public awareness and helped to generate support for new approaches and solutions focusing on environmental management tools and cleaner production strategies. Organizations such as UNEP, OECD, the European Union and many national institutions started to define the issue and work together within a more global framework based on principles of prevention, innovation, information, education and the participation of relevant stakeholders. As we entered the 1990s there was another dramatic increase in awareness that the environmental crisis was deepening, particularly in the developing world and in Central and Eastern Europe. This reached a critical threshold at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Today, the precautionary approach has become one of the most important factors necessary to take into account when assessing environmental policies and solutions. The precautionary approach suggests that even when there is scientific uncertainty or controversy on environmental problems and policies, decisions should reflect the need to take precautions to avoid future negative implications whenever economically, socially and technically feasible. The precautionary approach should be pursued when developing policies and regulations, and when planning and implementing projects and programmes.

In effect, both the preventive and precautionary approaches seek a more integrated approach to environmental action, shifting from an almost exclusive focus on the production process to the development of environmental management tools and techniques applicable to all forms of human economic activity and decision-making processes. Unlike pollution control, which implied a limited, react-and-retreat approach, the environmental management and cleaner production approach is aimed at the integration of a precautionary approach within broader strategies to create a process that will be assessed, monitored and continuously improved. To be effective, however, environmental management and cleaner production strategies need to be carefully implemented through the involvement of all stakeholders and at all levels of intervention. 

These new approaches must not be considered as simply technical instruments related to the environment, but rather should be seen as holistic integrating approaches which will help to define new models of an environmentally and socially sound market economy. To be fully effective, these new approaches will also require a regulatory framework, incentive instruments and social consensus defined through the involvement of institutions, social partners and interested environmental and consumer organizations. If the scope of environmental management and cleaner production strategies is to lead to more sustainable socio-economic development scenarios, various factors will need to be taken into consideration in policy-setting, in the development and enforcement of standards and regulations, and in collective agreements and action plans, not only at the company or enterprise level, but at the local, national and international levels as well. Given the wide disparities in economic and social conditions around the world, the opportunities for success also will depend on local political, economic and social conditions.

Globalization, the liberalization of markets and structural adjustment policies, will also create new challenges to our capacity to analyse in an integrated fashion the economic, social and environmental implications of these complex changes within our societies, not the least of which will be the risk that these changes may lead to quite different power relationships and responsibilities, perhaps even ownership and control. Attention will need to be given to ensuring that these changes do not lead to the risk of powerlessness and paralysis in the development of environmental management and cleaner production technologies. On the other hand, this changing situation, in addition to its risks, also offers new opportunities to promote improvements in our present social, economic, cultural, political and environmental conditions. Such positive changes, however, will require a collaborative, participatory and flexible approach to managing change within our societies and within our enterprises. To avoid paralysis, we will need to take measures which will build confidence and emphasize a step-by-step, partial and gradual approach which will generate growing support and capacity aimed at facilitating more substantial changes in our conditions of life and work in future.

Main International Implications

As mentioned above, the new international situation is characterized by the liberalization of markets, the elimination of trade barriers, new information technologies, rapid and enormous daily capital transfers and the globalization of production, especially through multinational enterprises. Deregulation and competitiveness are the dominant criteria for investment strategies. These changes also, however, facilitate the delocalization of plants, the fragmentation of production processes and the establishment of special Export Processing Zones, which exempt industries from labour and environmental regulations and other obligations. Such effects may promote excessively low labour costs and consequently higher profits for industry, but this is frequently accompanied by situations of deplorable human and environmental exploitation. In addition, in the absence of regulations and controls, obsolete plants, technologies and equipment are being exported just as dangerous chemicals and substances which have been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted in one country for environmental or safety reasons are also being exported, particularly to developing countries.

In order to respond to these issues, it is of particular importance that the new World Trade Organization (WTO) rules are defined so as to promote socially and environmentally acceptable trade. This means that WTO, in order to ensure fair competition, should require all countries to fulfil basic international labour standards (e.g., basic ILO Conventions) and environmental conventions and regulations. Moreover, guidelines such as those prepared by OECD on technology transfer and regulations should be effectively implemented in order to avoid the export of highly polluting and unsafe production systems. 

International factors to be considered include:

·     international trade in equipment and plants

·     financial mechanisms and technical assistance

·     WTO regulations

·     raw material pricing

·     tax systems

·     transfer of technology and know-how

·     transboundary migration of pollution

·     multinational companies’ production strategies

·     development and implementation of international conventions, agreements, guidelines and regulations

·     involvement of international organizations of employers, workers and relevant environmental groups.

Developing and other countries in need of assistance should be given special financial assistance, reduction in taxes, incentives and technical assistance to help them implement the above-mentioned basic labour and environmental regulations and to introduce cleaner production technologies and products. An innovative approach which deserves further attention in the future is the development of codes of conduct negotiated by certain companies and their trade unions with a view to promoting the respect of basic social rights and environmental rules. A unique role in the assessment of the process at the international level is being played by the ILO, given its tripartite structure, and in strict coordination with other United Nations agencies and international financial institutions responsible for international aid and financial assistance.

Main National and Local Implications

An appropriate general regulatory framework also has to be defined at both the national and local level in order to develop appropriate environmental management procedures. This will require a decision-making process which links budgetary, fiscal, industrial, economic, labour and environmental policies, and also provides for the full consultation and participation of the social actors most concerned (i.e., employers, trade union organizations, environmental and consumer groups). Such a systematic approach would include linkages between different programmes and policies, for example:

·     The taxation system should provide incentives which will encourage the penetration of environmentally sound goods and raw materials into the market and penalize those products, economic activities and collective or individual behaviour which are environmentally unsound.

·     Adequate policies and resources should be available to promote research and development of environmentally and socially sound technologies, production processes and infrastructure.

·     Advisory, information and training centres for cleaner production technologies should be established to assist enterprises, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, to procure, adapt and use the technologies safely and effectively.

National and local industrial policies should be designed and implemented in full consultation with trade union organizations so that business policies and labour policies can match social and environmental needs. Direct negotiations and consultations at the national level with trade unions can help to prevent potential conflicts arising from safety, health and environmental implications of new industrial policies. Such negotiations at the national level, however, should be matched by negotiations and consultations at the level of individual companies and enterprises so as to ensure that adequate controls, incentives and assistance are also available at the workplace. 

In summary, national and local factors to be considered include:

·     national and local regulations, guidelines, agreements and policies

·     industrial relations procedures

·     involvement of social partners (trade unions and employers’ organizations), environmental NGOs and consumer organizations in all decision-making processes 

·     industrial policies

·     raw material pricing policies

·     trade policies

·     tax systems

·     incentives for research and development

·     incentives for introduction of innovative environmental management initiatives

·     integration of health and safety procedures/standards

·     establishment of advisory, information and training centres for the dissemination of cleaner production technologies

·     assistance for overcoming obstacles (conceptual, organizational, technical, skills and financial) to the introduction of new technologies, policies, regulations.

Environmental Management at Company Level

Environmental management within a given company, enterprise or other economic structure requires an ongoing assessment and consideration of environmental effects—at the workplace (i.e., the working environment) and outside the plant gates (i.e., the external environment)—as regards the full range of activities and decisions related to operations. It implies, as well, the consequent modification of the organization of work and production processes to respond efficiently and effectively to those environmental effects.

It is necessary for enterprises to foresee potential environmental consequences of a given activity, process or product from the earliest planning stages in order to ensure the implementation of adequate, timely and participatory response strategies. The objective is to make industry and other economic sectors economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Most certainly, in many cases there still will need to be a transition period which will require pollution control and remediation activities. Therefore, environmental management should be seen as a composite process of prevention and control that aims to bring company strategies in line with environmental sustainability. To do this, companies will need to develop and implement procedures within their overall management strategy to assess cleaner production processes and to audit environmental performance.

Environmental management and cleaner production will lead to a range of benefits that will not only effect environmental performance but may also lead to improvements in:

·     health and safety of workers

·     rates of absenteeism

·     preventing and resolving conflict with workers and communities

·     promoting a cooperative climate within the company

·     the company public image

·     the market penetration of new green products

·     efficient use of energy and raw materials

·     waste management, including the safe disposal of wastes

·     the productivity and quality of products. 

Companies should not simply focus on evaluating company conformity with existing legislation and regulations but should define possible environmental targets to be reached through a time-bound, step-by-step process which would include:

·     the definition of company environmental objectives and policy

·     the definition of short-, medium- and long-term strategies

·     the adoption of a cradle-to-grave approach

·     the allocation of appropriate budget resources

·     the integration of health and safety within environmental audit procedures

·     the participation of workers and trade union representatives in the analysis and decision-making process

·     the establishment of an environmental audit team with worker representatives.

There are many different approaches to assessing activities, and the following are important potential components of any such programme:

·     definition of flow diagrams for each operational unit

·     monitoring of process inputs by operational unit—for example, water, energy, raw materials used, number of workers involved, health, safety and environmental risk assessment, organization of work

·     monitoring of process outputs by operational unit—for example, quantification of products/byproducts, waste water, gaseous emissions, solid wastes for disposal on and off site

·     adoption of company targets

·     feasibility analysis of potential barriers (economic, technical, environmental, social) and adoption of consequent programmes

·     adoption and implementation of an information strategy

·     adoption and implementation of training strategy to promote worker awareness and full participation

·     monitoring and evaluation of performance/results.

Industrial Relations and Environmental Management

While in some countries basic trade union rights are still not recognized and workers are prevented from protecting their health and safety and working conditions and improving environmental performance, in various other countries the participatory approach to company environmental sustainability has been tried with good results. In the last ten years, the traditional approach of industrial relations has shifted more and more to include not only health and safety issues and programmes reflecting national and international regulations in this area, but also has begun to integrate environmental issues into the industrial relations mechanisms. Partnerships between employers and trade union representatives at company, sector and national level have been defined, according to different situations, through collective agreements and sometimes also have been covered in regulations and consultation procedures set up by local or national authorities to manage environmental conflicts. See table 54.3, table 54.4 and table 54.5 .

Table 54.3 Actors involved in voluntary agreements relevant to the environment


Employer/ State

Employer/ Union/State

Employer/ Union

Employer/ Works council
























United Kingdom






















Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Table 54.4 Scope of application voluntary agreements on environment-protection measures  between parties to collective agreements



Branch (regional)






















United Kingdom
















Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Table 54.5 Nature of agreements on environment protection measures between parties to  collective agreements


Joint declarations,  recommendations,  agreements

Branch-level  collective  agreements

Agreements on plant  level





















United Kingdom



















Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Pollution Remediation: Cleaning Up

Cleaning up contaminated sites is a procedure which has become increasingly evident and costly since the 1970s, when awareness was enhanced about the serious cases of soil and water contamination from accumulated chemical wastes, abandoned industrial sites and so on. These contaminated sites have been generated from such activities as the following:

·     waste disposal sites (industrial and public)

·     abandoned industrial sites (e.g., chemical, metal processing)

·     mining activities

·     agricultural sites

·     major accidents

·     incinerator sites

·     industrial water discharges

·     small and medium enterprise zones.

The design of a remediation/clean-up plan requires complex technical activities and procedures which must be accompanied by the definition of clear management responsibilities and consequent liability. Such initiatives should be carried out in the context of harmonized national legislation, and provide for the participation of interested populations, for the definition of clear conflict resolution procedures and for the avoidance of possible socio-environmental dumping effects. Such regulations, agreements and plans should clearly encompass not only natural biotic and abiotic resources such as water, air, soil or flora and fauna but should also include cultural heritage, other visual aspects of landscapes and damage to physical persons and properties. A restrictive definition of environment will consequently reduce the definition of environmental damage and therefore limit actual remediation of sites. At the same time, it should also be possible not only for the subjects directly affected by damages to be granted certain rights and protection, but it also should be possible for collective group action to be taken to protect collective interests in order to ensure the restoration of previous conditions.


Significant action will be required to respond to our rapidly changing environmental situation. The focus of this article has been on the need for action to be taken to improve the environmental performance of industry and other economic activities. To do this efficiently and effectively, workers and their trade unions must play an active role not only at the enterprise level, but as well within their local communities and at the national level. Workers must be seen and actively mobilized as key partners in meeting future environment and sustainable development objectives. The ability of workers and their trade unions to contribute as partners in this process of environmental management is not dependent simply on their own capacity and awareness—although efforts are indeed needed and underway to increase their capacity—but it will also depend on the commitment of management and communities to create an enabling environment which promotes the development of new forms of collaboration and participation in the future.


Robert P. Bringer and Tom Zosel

Seeing the possibilities and making them happen is what pollution prevention is all about. It is a commitment to products and processes that have a minimal impact on the environment.

Pollution prevention is not a new idea. It is the manifestation of an environmental ethic that was practised by the original inhabitants of many cultures, including Native Americans. They lived in harmony with their environment. It was the source of their shelter, their food and the very foundation of their religion. Although their environment was exceedingly harsh, it was treated with honour and respect.

As nations developed and the Industrial Revolution advanced, a very different attitude toward the environment emerged. Society came to view the environment as an endless source of raw materials and a convenient dumping ground for wastes.

Early Efforts to Reduce Waste

Even so, some industries have practised a type of pollution prevention since the first chemical processes were developed. Initially, industry focused on efficiency or increasing process yield through waste reduction, rather than specifically preventing pollution by keeping wastes from entering the environment. However, the end result of both activities is the same—less material waste is released to the environment.

An early example of pollution prevention under another guise was practised in a German sulphuric acid production facility during the 1800s. Process improvements at the plant reduced the amount of sulphur dioxide emitted per pound of product produced. These actions were most likely labelled as efficiency or quality improvements. Only recently has the concept of pollution prevention been directly associated with this type of process change.

Pollution prevention as we know it today began to emerge in the mid-1970s in response to the growing volume and complexity of environmental requirements. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created then. The first efforts at pollution reduction were mostly installations of end-of-pipe or costly add-on pollution control equipment. Eliminating the source of a pollution problem was not a priority. When it occurred, it was more a matter of profit or efficiency than an organized effort to protect the environment.

Only recently have businesses adopted a more specific environmental point of view and kept track of progress. However, the processes by which businesses approach pollution prevention can differ significantly.

Prevention versus Control

In time, the focus began to change from pollution control to pollution prevention. It became apparent that the scientists who invent the products, engineers who design the equipment, process experts who operate the manufacturing facilities, marketers who work with customers to improve product environmental performance, sales representatives who bring environmental concerns from customers back to the laboratory for solutions and office employees who work to reduce paper usage all can help reduce the environmental impact of operations or activities under their control.

Developing effective pollution prevention programmes

In state-of-the-art pollution prevention, pollution prevention programmes as well as specific pollution prevention technologies must be examined. Both the overall pollution prevention programme and the individual pollution prevention technologies are equally important in achieving environmental benefit. While the development of technologies is an absolute requirement, without the organizational structure to support and implement those technologies, the environmental benefits will never be fully achieved.

The challenge is to obtain total corporate participation in pollution prevention. Some companies have implemented pollution prevention at every level of their organization through well organized, detailed programmes. Perhaps the three most widely recognized of these in the United States are 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) programme, Chevron’s Save Money and Reduce Toxics (SMART) and Dow Chemical’s Waste Reduction Always Pays (WRAP).

The goal of such programmes is to reduce waste as much as technologically possible. But relying on source reduction alone is not always technically feasible. Recycling and reuse also must be part of the pollution prevention effort, as they are in the above programmes. When every employee is asked not only to make processes as efficient as possible, but also to find a productive use for every by-product or residual stream, pollution prevention becomes an integral part of the corporate culture.

In late 1993, The Business Roundtable in the US released the results of a pollution prevention benchmark study of successful efforts. The study identified best-in-class facility pollution prevention programmes and highlighted elements necessary to fully integrate pollution prevention into company operations. Included were facilities from Proctor & Gamble (P&G), Intel, DuPont, Monsanto, Martin Marietta and 3M.

Pollution prevention initiatives

The study found that successful pollution prevention programmes in these companies shared the following elements:

·     top management support

·     involvement of all employees

·     recognition of accomplishments

·     facilities had freedom to choose the best method to reach corporate goals

·     transfer of information between facilities

·     measurement of results

·     all included recycling and reuse of waste.

In addition, the study found that each of the facilities had advanced from concentrating on pollution prevention in the manufacturing process to integrating pollution prevention in pre-manufacturing decisions. Pollution prevention had become a core corporate value.

Top management support is a necessity for a fully operational pollution prevention programme. Top officials at both the corporate and facility levels must send a strong message to all employees that pollution prevention is an integral part of their jobs. This must begin at the chief executive officer (CEO) level because that person sets the tone for all corporate activities. Speaking out publicly and within the company gets the message heard.

The second reason for success is employee involvement. Technical and manufacturing people are most involved in develop-ing new processes or product formulations. But employees in every position can be involved in waste reduction through reuse, reclamation and recycling as part of pollution prevention. Employees know the possibilities in their area of responsibility much better than environmental professionals. In order to spur employee involvement, the company must educate employees about the challenge the company faces. For example, articles on environmental issues in the corporate newsletter can increase employee awareness.

Recognition of accomplishments can be done in many ways. The CEO of 3M presents a special environmental leadership award not only to employees who contribute to the company’s goals, but also to those who contribute to community environmental efforts. In addition, environmental achievements are recognized in annual performance reviews.

Measuring results is extremely important because that is the driving force for employee action. Some facilities and corporate programmes measure all wastes, while others focus on Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) emissions or on other measurements which best fit within their corporate culture and their specific pollution prevention programmes.

Environmental Programme Examples

Over the course of 20 years, pollution prevention has become imbedded in 3M’s culture. 3M management pledged to go beyond government regulations, in part by developing environmental management plans that merge environmental goals with business strategy. The 3P programme focused on preventing pollution, not control.

The idea is to stop pollution before it starts, and seek out prevention opportunities at all stages of a product’s life, not just at the end. Successful companies recognize that prevention is more environmentally effective, more technically sound and less costly than conventional control procedures, which do not eliminate the problem. Pollution prevention is economical, because if pollution is avoided in the first place, it does not have to be dealt with later.

3M employees have developed and implemented more than 4,200 pollution prevention projects since the inception of the 3P programme. Over the past 20 years, these projects have resulted in the elimination of more than 1.3 billion pounds of pollutants and saved the company $750 million.

Between 1975 and 1993, 3M reduced the amount of energy needed per unit of production by 3,900 BTUs, or 58%. The annual energy savings for 3M in the United States alone totals 22 trillion BTUs each year. This is enough energy to heat, cool and light more than 200,000 homes in the United States and eliminates more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide. And in 1993, 3M facilities in the United Sates recovered and recycled more solid waste (199 million pounds) than they sent to landfills (198 million pounds).

Pollution Prevention Technologies

The concept of designing for the environment is becoming important, but technologies used for pollution prevention are as diverse as the companies themselves. In general, this concept can be realized through technical innovation in four areas:

·     product reformulation—developing nonpolluting or lesspolluting products or processes by using different raw materials

·     process modification—changing manufacturing processes so they become nonpolluting or less polluting

·     equipment redesign—modifying equipment to perform better under specific operating conditions or to make use of available resources

·     resource recovery—recycling by-products for sale or for use by other companies or for use in the company’s other products or processes.

Concentrated efforts in each of these areas can mean new and safer products, cost savings and greater customer satisfaction.

Product reformulation can be the most difficult. Many of the attributes which make materials ideal for their intended uses may also contribute to problems for the environment. One example of product reformulation led a team of scientists to eliminate the ozone-depleting chemical methyl chloroform from a fabric protector product. This new water-based product greatly reduces the use of solvents and gives the company a competitive edge in the marketplace.

In making medication tablets for the pharmaceutical industry, employees developed a new water-based coating solution for the solvent-based coating solution that had been used to coat the tablets. The change cost $60,000, but eliminated the need to spend $180,000 for pollution control equipment, saves $150,000 in material cost and prevents 24 tons a year of air pollution.

An example of process modification resulted in a move away from hazardous chemicals to thoroughly clean copper sheeting prior to using it to make electric products. In the past, the sheeting was cleaned by a spray with ammonium persulphate, phosphoric acid and sulphuric acid—all hazardous chemicals. This procedure has been replaced by one that employs a light citric acid solution, a nonhazardous chemical. The process change eliminated the generation of 40,000 pounds of hazardous waste per year and saves the company about $15,000 per year in raw material and disposal costs.

Redesigning equipment also reduces waste. In the resin product area, a company regularly sampled a particular liquid phenolic resin by using a tap on the process flow line. Some of the product was wasted before and after the sample was collected. By installing a simple funnel under the sample tape and a pipe leading back to the process, the company now takes samples without any loss of product. This prevents about 9 tons of waste per year, saves about $22,000, increases the yield and decreases the disposal cost, all for a capital cost of about $1,000.

Resource recovery, the productive use of waste material, is extremely important in pollution prevention. One brand of wool soap pads is now made entirely of post-consumer recycled plastic soda bottles. In the first two years of this new product, the company used in excess of a million pounds of this recycled material to make soap pads. This is the equivalent of more than 10 million two-litre soda bottles. Also, waste rubber trimmed from floor mats in Brazil is used to make sandals. In 1994 alone, the plant recovered about 30 tons of material, enough to make more than 120,000 pairs of sandals.

In another example, Post-it® Recycled Paper Notes use 100% recycled paper. One ton of recycled paper alone saves 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 4,100 kilowatt hours of energy, enough to heat the average home for six months.

Life-Cycle Analysis

Life-Cycle Analysis or a similar process is in place at every successful company. This means that each phase of a product’s life cycle from development through manufacturing, use and disposal offers opportunities for environmental improvement. The response to such environmental challenges has led to products with strong environmental claims throughout industry.

For example, P&G was the first commercial-goods manufacturer to develop concentrated detergents which require 50 to 60% smaller packaging than the previous formula. P&G also manufacturers refills for more than 57 brands in 22 countries. Refills typically cost less and save up to 70% in solid waste.

Dow has developed a new highly effective herbicide that is non-toxic. It is less risky for people and animals and is applied in ounces rather than pounds per acre. Using biotechnology, Monsanto developed a potato plant that is resistant to insects, so it reduced the need for chemical insecticides. Another herbicide from Monsanto helps restore the natural habitat of wetlands by controlling weeds in a safer way.

Commitment to a Cleaner Environment

It is critical that we approach pollution prevention on a comprehensive scale, including commitment to both programmatic and technological improvements. Increasing efficiency or process yield and reducing waste production has long been a practice of the manufacturing industry. However, only within the last decade have these activities focused more directly on pollution prevention. Substantial efforts are now aimed at improving source reduction as well as tailoring processes to separate, recycle and reuse by-products. All these are proven pollution prevention tools.


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