Environmental Management Systems (EMSS) represent a new generation of voluntary “beyond compliance” environmental policies that neither set substantive goals nor specify final outcomes. As a result, many stakeholder groups are lukewarm toward them. Since 1993 two major supranational EMSs—ISO 14001 and the European Union's Environmental Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)—have been introduced. Firms receive formal accreditation after their EMS has been certified by outside verifiers. This accreditation can potentially bestow monetary and nonmonetary benefits on these firms.
Firm-level EMS adoption patterns in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States vary, thereby suggesting that national contexts influence firms' responses to them. In Germany and the U.K. a significant number of sites have become either ISO 14001 or EMAS certified, while the take-up of ISO 14001 in the U.S. (EMAS is available only to European sites) has been less enthusiastic.
This article begins with the hypothesis that firms in countries with adversarial economies— where regulators and business are on less than friendly terms—are less likely to adopt EMS-based programs. This hypothesis explains why ISO 14001 take-up has been relatively high in the U.K. and relatively low in the U.S. However, it cannot explain (1) the high rate of take-up of both ISO 14001 and EMAS in Germany, where the stringency of environmental legislation has been a contentious issue between the government and industry and (2) why EMAS has been more popular in Germany than in the U.K. This article argues that the original hypothesis, while largely correct, is underspecified. To better explain the cross-national differences in EMS adoption, one must take into account the type of adversarial economy (adversarial legalism versus prescriptive interventionism) and the nature of the policy regime (procedural versus substantive).