Compliance with applicable laws and regulations is a basic company (facility) operating requirement that must be achieved through line management and confirmed by audits. In the environmental area, there is never a lack of data. However unless those data are translated into useful information, they are nothing but a huge set of numbers useless for setting priorities or making decisions. The overriding goal for effective environmental performance measurement systems should not be on compliance; rather, it should be to gather information (not data) for use in identifying opportunities for continuous improvement. Herein lies the linkage between environmental measurement systems and any quality improvement process, which can be paraphrased as total quality environmental management (TQEM).
Most companies are just beginning to implement TQEM programs. Useful environmental performance measurements require several years of information because TQEM measures progress or continuous improvement rather than relying on absolute measures of quality (FitzGerald, 1993). Most companies are still developing and testing their environmental measurement systems. However, there have been several recent conferences on the subject, and companies are beginning to share their experiences.
The first step in developing an effective measurement system is to identify the information needed. By using TQM principles, this must be derived from the requirements of the customers, both internal and external. Wells et al. (1993) propose that effective environmental measurement systems collect information from three interrelated perspectives: process measures and improvements, environmental results, and customer satisfaction (Figure 1).