Based on the analysis of a large dataset on the environmental performance of European companies in five industrial sectors, this paper examines the question of whether the presence of an environmental management system (EMS) has a positive impact on the eco-efficiency of companies. It begins with a review of evidence about the link between EMS and environmental performance in business organisations, finding that, despite much research, there is still little quantitative evidence. The second part of the paper uses three independent statistical methods (simple correlations, Jaggi-Freedman indices and a 'trend differences' approach) to assess whether companies and production sites with EMS perform better than those without and whether performance improves after an EMS has been introduced. The paper shows that there is currently no evidence that EMS have a consistent and significant positive impact on environmental performance. Policy action based on the simple assumption that companies with an EMS perform better than those without therefore seems inappropriate.