This study analyses the introduction and implementation processes of the European environmental management standard EMAS in modern local public administrations in the UK and Germany. Based on the different political and institutional settings, a qualitative analysis reveals the effects of the policy instrument. The study comes to the conclusion that the organizational processes are mostly dependent on the dominant actors within each organization. The orientation towards New Public Management can be beneficial for organizations working with EMAS while others can use it to start a modernization process. On a national level, EMAS is a classical case of an innovative, voluntary and flexible policy instrument with an imperfect national implementation that has dramatic effects on its use.