A.20 – Transportation Environmental Management

Authors: Dr. Claude Comtois and Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue

An environmental management system is a set of procedures and techniques enabling an organization to reduce the environmental impacts of its activities and increase its operating efficiency.

1. Environmental Management Systems

All transport infrastructures vary in terms of property, investment provisions, types of activities, and traffic volume. As a result, it is impossible to provide a unique environmental management model as problems are mode-specific, and there are no agreed-upon common international standards. This is particularly the case for supply chains composed of numerous parts, sources, and modes of transportation. Nevertheless, there are several environmental management systems (EMS) that provide procedures and specifications in a structured and verifiable manner to meet environmental objectives. Obviously, transport and logistics firms can only manage environmental issues on which they can exert a controlling influence. The best environmental practices include procedures that:

  • Match transport facilities, operations or projects with environmental components.
  • Link environmental components with regulatory requirements.
  • Assess risks, impacts and responsibilities.
  • Identify environmental issues to be addressed.
  • Develop commercial strategies and operations of private and public sector organizations.
  • Introduce best practices.
  • Undertake continuous monitoring and auditing.

These issues must be clearly understood before designing and implementing a particular framework of environmental management for a transport or logistics services provider. The choice of a system is specific to each transport enterprise in relation to the problem, risks, impacts, and responsibilities identified and the geographical environment in which the enterprise must operate. The most often mentioned environmental management systems are EMAS and ISO 14001:

  • Eco-Management and Audit System. In 1993, the European Union created the norm EMAS, which was conceived to provide European firms with a framework and operational tools to protect the environment better. This approach rests on the necessity to identify environmental impacts and the various types of environments affected by the operations and activities of any organization, including transport enterprises. The impacts are evaluated according to a step-by-step procedure that examines each activity of an enterprise and its impacts on the environment. Each impact is then assessed in relation to criteria developed by the organization. These criteria must evaluate the potential damage to the environment, the fragility of the environment, the size and frequency of the activity, the importance of that activity for the organization, the employees, and the local community, and the legal obligations emanating from environmental legislation. The EMAS standards were revised several times (I, II, and III) to favor its integration with the ISO 14001 standard. This means that an organization complying with ISO 14001 can comply with EMAS III through a simpler audit.
  • ISO 14001. The International Standard Organization has developed a set of norms representing the main industrial reference in terms of environmental management systems and sustainability. Introduced in 1996, ISO 14001 offers three categories of indicators to measure the environmental performance that could be applicable to the transport industry. The indicators of environmental conditions (IEC) present the information on the environmental conditions permitting a better understanding of the impacts or the potential impacts of transport operations. The indicators of management performance (IMP) present information on the management efforts that are being made to influence the environmental performance of transport operations. The indicators of operational performance (IOP) present information on the environmental performance of transport operations. Generally, these indicators allow identifying the most significant environmental impacts that are associated with transport operations, evaluating, reviewing, and increasing the environmental performance of transport corporations, identifying new practices and opportunities for better management of transport operations, and having constant, credible, and measurable information and data on the relationship between the environmental performance of the firm and its environmental objectives, targets and policies.

ISO 14001 has become the international standard, while EMAS has been developed to stimulate and synchronize European environmental policies and is thus limited to the European Union and its related trade. EMAS mainly addresses manufacturing and transportation issues and is site-specific. It has a focus on internal corporate activities (as ISO) but also on external stakeholders. As a result, EMAS holders are required to publish environmental statements for the public, while ISO 14001 has no such provision. In contrast, ISO is global in scope and is company-specific. The corporate benefits do not differ between the two systems, and studies suggest that the two standards have no practical effects on environmental performance. The most important issue is that both EMS and ISO 14001 have strengths and areas to improve. Still, the corporate environmental outlook is the real engine to a high level of environmental performance and, therefore, a strong EMS.

The main drivers of EMS certification (either EMAS or ISO 14001) remain the perceived benefits a transportation and logistics service provider may gain from the process. The emerging perspective is that supply chains are competing, and their combined environmental performance is the frame of reference. The most common benefits of EMS for multimodal supply chains include:

  • Improved environmental performance and management methods of the transport or supply chain.
  • Improved company image and stakeholder satisfaction.
  • Competitive advantage in regulated markets.
  • Mitigation of non-tariff trade barriers and the associated inspections and fines.
  • Reducing capital and insurance costs for investments and operations.

2. Operational Constraints

Adopting an environmental management system (EMS) favors the conformity and the adaptability of transport operations to environmental legislation. The issue of responsibility is at the heart of the processes of environmental sustainability. The history of environmental legislation reveals that different laws have been promulgated on a wide range of physical components of the environment, with air and water quality among the most prevalent. In the field of transport, several measures have been adopted to reflect the objectives of a sustainable environment. While many of these measures are perfectible, international environmental laws and legislation tend to put pressure within and beyond national boundaries. In the broader context of supply chains, key issues such as flexibility, timeliness, and integration are not part of EMS.

The growth in the number and strength of environmental policies, rules, and practices has increased the number of standards. It has permitted the development of a wide range of techniques for environmental sustainability, such as voluntary remediation programs, flexible standards, and procedures, and financial and technical support. The main benefit resides in reducing legal costs that affect the profits and the productivity of the transport industry. There exist four functions that can anchor the administrative responsibility of the transport industry:

  • Quantify the terms of reference. Everywhere, transport companies have to adapt their environmental objectives in relation to a great variety of geographical conditions, commercial, technological changes and environmental policies, legislation, and regulations. Henceforth, transport corporations cannot limit themselves to enunciate principles or policies in the field of the environment. Environmental management systems applied to transportation require a massive amount of information on environmental conditions and the dynamics of the transport system. The best practices are those adopting an analytical framework disaggregating environmental objectives. This implies homogenous, exploitable, and credible units of measurement that are time referenced to observe the evolution and comparison by sector and at different geographical scales. Data must permit the environmental impacts of transport activities to be quantified continuously. Reasonable objectives need to be fixed that would, in turn, represent benchmarks for defining strategies of environmental sustainability in different sectors and at different levels. For instance, this could reduce emissions by a certain percentage over a given period of time in relation to a given benchmark.
  • Devise a calendar of operations. The objectives of a sustainable environment can be very complex for several reasons: 1) the lack of data for evaluating the impact and the cost of environmental measures; 2) the importance of strategies and actions at the international level; 3) the lack of procedures or methods to solve the problems; 4) conflicts of jurisdictions; and 5) the growth in the production of polluting emissions. New issues may need to be controlled or solved while our understanding of environmental problems improves and new environmental technologies are introduced. The most efficient strategies target short, medium, and long-term objectives with precise values. The best strategies are dynamic and integrated within a continuous evaluation process.
  • Establish benchmarking. There is a need to establish the minimum standards of quality that are sought from transport operations. Since it is almost impossible to establish a pristine reference, the standards must permit to specify the desired state of environmental quality. These standards must express the specific environmental status regarding water, air, soil, and all the other components of the physical environment within a precise geographical area. The standards will clarify the level of pollution or other impacts that can be supported by people and the environment without any risks. The best practices are those that: 1) establish standards based on scientific criteria; 2) engage public administration in the development of procedures for writing, applying, and controlling legislation; and 3) integrate these standards within the practices of territorial planning.
  • Implement measures of control. It is important to impose quality standards and parameters for the different components of the physical environment. The objective must be to eradicate any toxic substances that may present a risk to people’s health and the environment. The practices and environmental sustainability policies within the transport industry demonstrate the need for flexibility and adaptability of transport systems to the challenges of protecting the environment by adopting appropriate technologies and materials. Notwithstanding the criteria of analysis in the environmental management plan, it is important to undertake frequent assessments to control the respect of transport operations to the existing environmental legislation. Environmental certification represents the best instrument of control of the transport industry.

3. Governance Strategies

Environmental legislation is placing increasing restrictions on transport activity, and the statutory authorities are having to respond by developing management systems enabling them to meet regulatory requirements. The trajectories of environmental sustainability depend on the role and function that transport corporations could or should play within sustainable development. Implementing an environmental management system (EMS) requires a broad range of instruments. Six instruments are conducive to the implementation of strategies for environmental sustainability applied to the transport industry:

  • Strategic instruments. Any strategy of environmental sustainability must rest on a vision of development that defines general orientations and interacts with existing policies. Corporate leadership plays a key role in the success of practices of a sustainable environment. A company-wide vision of sustainability facilitates the integration of sustainable environmental goals within management practices. Furthermore, it may help to receive government support and encourage the participation of stakeholders.
  • Legal instruments. Legislation remains one of the most important instruments for achieving a sustainable environment. The best practices are associated with different legislation emanating from public administrations at the local, regional, national, and international levels.
  • Geographic instruments. Geographic and cartographic tools are fundamental for environmental sustainability planning. For transport enterprises, these tools permit the construction of databases on the physical characteristics of land uses, inventory and mapping of freight and passenger flows, trip length, and frequencies.
  • Economic instruments. Cost-benefit analyses are essential in elaborating pricing and fiscal policies and fixing quotas to protect the environment from transport activities. Economic instruments can further be modified to assess more accurately the costs of environmental damage. The most efficient “green taxes” rely on establishing dues that reflect the marginal costs of environmental damages.
  • Communication instruments. Personnel training, research and development activities, dissemination of impact assessment, and risk evaluation reports are extremely important in influencing the behavior of transport users and corporate decision-making. The best performances in a sustainable environment are achieved in transport firms that have adopted knowledge growth and environmental responsibilities among all the personnel working in the transport organization.
  • Cooperation instruments. These instruments aim at increasing the institutional capacity of the transport industry by integrating all the elements of environmental sustainability into corporate strategies. Cooperation and voluntary alliances between governments and the transport industry stimulate and facilitate the identification of objectives and elaborating strategies for a sustainable environment.

Notwithstanding the criteria of analysis in the environmental management plan, it is important to undertake frequent assessments to control the respect of transport operations to the existing environmental legislation. Environmental certification represents the best instrument of control of the transport industry.

Related Topics


  • European Commission (2017) Moving towards a circular economy with EMAS: Best practices to implement circular economy strategies, Luxembourg: European Union.