Environmental management systems (EMS) are used by companies to systematically deal with environmental aspects in their organisation. The approaches that are developed to help companies with setting up an EMS currently do not fit the characteristics of medium-sized enterprises (MEs). This study constructs a conceptual framework of an EMS based on a literature review of corporate sustainability literature, and organisation theory. Based on the elements of the framework, a case study of environmental management in MEs in the Dutch metal industry is conducted, as well as an analysis of existing EMS approaches. Results are combined to identify how an EMS should be designed to suit the characteristics of MEs. The conceptual framework includes a self- and stakeholder assessment, strategy development, implementation, and corrective action. It is a dynamic system subject to continuous improvement cycles and aimed at organisational learning. It includes the organisation’s social and physical dynamics, as well as its formal and informal aspects. It is found that the informal nature of MEs, and their focus on short-term survival strongly affect their organisation and EMS. These companies are reacting to current demands originating from customers and legislation, and adapting their organisation accordingly. Due to the flat structure and small size of MEs, and because of the short lines of communication, informal control mechanisms are effectively used to maintain the EMS. Existing EMS approaches offer various tools and methods that MEs can use, but also impose a variety of requirements that are a burden to MEs
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