Commission publishes proposals for EMAS revision

Proposals for a revision of the EC eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) were released by the European Commission in November. 1 The key changes include closer alignment of EMAS with the global environmental management standard ISO14001 and an extension of the scheme to non-industrial organisations. But business organisations are worried that the changes will make the scheme more onerous and discourage take-up, while environmental groups are concerned that they do not go far enough.

The EMAS Regulation came into force in July 1993. Some 2,000 sites have since been registered. About three-quarters of these are in Germany. The UK has 62 registered sites (see p 8 ), putting it behind Sweden, Austria and Denmark.

The Regulation requires the Commission to review the scheme within five years and propose amendments as appropriate. The new proposal is the result of this process.

A covering statement by the Commission identifies eight main objectives of the proposal:

  • Improve the complementarity of EMAS with ISO14001.

  • Open up the scheme to a wider range of organisations.

  • Increase participation by small and medium-sized enterprises.

  • Encourage Member States to take account of EMAS in implementing environmental legislation.

  • Develop a logo for use on companies' letterheads and with environmental information on their activities, products and services.

  • Improve promotion of the scheme by the Commission and Member States.

  • Follow up improvements in environmental performance by organisations through more regular verification.

  • Ensure consistency of implementation by Member States.

    The proposal is not very different from the draft circulated this summer (ENDS Report 281, pp 48-49 ). In particular, the sections on harmonisation of EMAS with ISO14001 and widening the scope of the scheme beyond the industrial sector remain largely unchanged. The proposal uses the ISO14001 definition of an environmental management system, and EMAS will be open to "any organisation dedicated to improving its overall environmental performance."

    However, some potentially important amendments have been proposed. Among these is a requirement that Member States "consider" how registration to EMAS "might be used in the implementation and control [sic] of environmental legislation in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts by both organisations and competent enforcement authorities."

    The idea that companies registered to EMAS or ISO14001 should benefit from regulatory relief has been pushed in some quarters, but has made little headway to date. However, it is beginning to filter into official thinking in the UK. Earlier this year, a consultation paper on implementation of the EC Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) suggested that sites registered to EMAS might be subject to less frequent permit reviews (ENDS 276, pp 36-38 ) - and the new Bill to implement the Directive contains powers which might be used to achieve this (see pp 28-29 ).

    However, direct evidence that registration to EMAS results in better environmental performance or improved regulatory compliance is thin on the ground. Indeed, a study carried out for the Commission by Imperial College on the implementation of EMAS across the EC suggested that participating companies rarely regard these as benefits.

    While a quarter or more said that registration had secured cost savings, a better image or improved employee morale, only 19% said their environmental performance had improved, and just 11% cited regulatory compliance as a benefit. These findings provide a thin basis for regulatory relief for registered firms.

    Another change to the Commission's proposal since the summer is in the environmental "aspects" to be considered by companies in identifying their significant environmental impacts which must in turn be addressed by their environmental management systems.

    As in the earlier draft, the proposal stipulates that as well as looking at "direct" environmental aspects such as emissions, use of raw materials and waste, organisations must also consider "indirect" aspects. But this time it is more specific, requiring consideration of procurement practices, product-related issues such as design, packaging and transportation, and investments, loans and insurance services - the latter being particularly important for the services sector.

    Some environmental groups have expressed concern that the proposal will weaken the scheme. The European Environment Bureau (EEB) was disappointed that the Commission had not taken the opportunity to reinforce the differences between EMAS and ISO14001 and make the EC scheme more demanding. It believes that companies will sign up to the scheme only if it offers greater environmental credibility.

    The EEB is also concerned that moves to reduce regulatory burdens for EMAS-registered firms may undermine environmental standards.

    However, the group welcomed restrictions on the use of the scheme in product claims and the requirement for organisations to consider the broader environmental impacts of their products and services.

    Similarly, business organisations are not hugely enthusiastic about some of the changes. UNICE, the European employers federation, welcomed the move towards harmonisation of EMAS with ISO14001. But it wants stronger duties on Member States to take account of firms' participation in the scheme when enforcing legislation.

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