EMAS II revisions to increase coverage and compatibility, but German industry calls for regulatory relief

Revision of the EMAS Regulation will incorporate ISO14001, make the scheme applicable to all sectors and cover a wider range of environmental impacts, said EU Environment Commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, at a conference organised by the Germany Presidency this week. However, German industry, which accounts for 75% of EMAS registrants, is calling for EMAS to provide greater regulatory relief.

The 1993 EMAS Regulation is due for its first revision this year. Following consultation exercises, the Commission has put forward a revision proposal including the following main improvements:

  • Compatibility with international standards. Both EMAS and ISO 14001 have the common objective of providing for good environmental management yet they have often been seen as competitors By incorporating ISO 14001 as the management system for EMAS the Commission Proposal plans to remove the competitive element between the two schemes and ensure a smooth transition for companies wishing to progress from ISO 14001 to EMAS. Though EMAS will continue to go further than the ISO standard in its requirements for performance improvement, employee involvement, legal compliance and communication with stakeholders, including performance reporting
  • Increasing the coverage of environmental impacts. By allowing EMAS to be applicable to any sector, the range of environmental impacts covered will be increased. Also, by increasing the prominence given to indirect environmental impacts, such as supply chain management or product management, the extent to which good environmental management applies is extended, both upstream and downstream, from the participating company
  • Greater understanding of the meaning of an EMAS registration. The consultation with stakeholders also highlighted areas of the Regulation which could be improved during the revision. For example, better and more flexible environmental reporting on all aspects of a company’s environmental impacts should enable participating organisations to identify and address stakeholder needs. The introduction of a logo for the use of participating organisations aims to give better visibility to EMAS.

From an initial five registrations in August 1995 the scheme has now grown to over 2000 registrations covering thirteen member states and Norway. The first 1000 registrations took two years while the second 1000 took only 12 months, said Bjerregaard.

The geographic distribution of registrations is uneven, with some 75% of the registrations in Germany. There are many reasons for this: the time taken by Member States to implement the scheme, the excellent promotional exercise carried out in Germany, and the fact that Germany is the most populous and industrialised Member State.

In relation to population, five countries lead the way in EMAS registrations: Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The companies registered to EMAS range from Hipp, a large German manufacturer of baby food – to Dalmose Trævare, a five man company in Denmark manufacturing coffins – perhaps the best example yet of environmental management from cradle to grave, quipped the Commissioner.

Although there are cost implications for organisations to participate in EMAS, studies have shown an average payback time, in waste and raw material reduction, of 18 months.

Bjerregaard told the conference, “the extensive consultation exercise was important for the revision of EMAS, since it is imperative to its success, that all stakeholders feel ownership of the scheme. It must be seen to meet the concerns of the public and NGOs. It must be credible for regulators and it must be stretching but achievable for industry, at the same time providing added value and being compatible with the market. If business doesn’t like the Regulation it doesn’t have to participate and it won’t! If the Regulation is not seen as credible or adding value for regulators or the public there will be no benefit to participating organisations.

“This means that whilst all stakeholders may not get everything they desire the resulting Regulation must be one that they can all accept. This is a delicate balance which we believe has been achieved in the Commission Proposal.”

German industry calls for more regulatory relief

On the whole, German companies (who account for 75% of registrants) have reacted positively to the proposed revisions and consider the new text better structured and more readable, according to a survey by the German industry federation, BDI. However, Dr Becker of the BDI told edie there are a three main issues where they consider the text should be altered:

  • Frequency of validation of the environmental report. The Commission is proposing to increase the frequency with which companies are required to produce a validated environmental report from every three years to every one year. Whereas Becker says that this frequency should be dependent on the size of the company and the complexity of its environmental impact – so that smaller companies with a stable environmental impact could report only every three years.
  • Indirect environmental impacts Becker suggests there is confusion over the indirect environmental impacts, and that EMAS is not the best instrument to address the environmental impacts of the use of a product by customers, for example, LCA would be more appropriate. The BDI maintains that EMAS should remain focused on on-site environmental management.
  • Regulatory / bureaucratic relief The text contains some reference to this point, but according to BDI, in order to push EMAS forward and avoid it becoming a niche scheme, stronger wording is needed to encourage Member States to afford privileges to EMAS registrants in respect of their supervision and reporting requirements.

In the long term, says Becker, most companies will adopt the ISO14001 standard. In order to justify the additional cost of EMAS, they will need to accrue additional benefits. EMAS is a legal scheme, says Becker, and regulators should show confidence in their own regulations, by recognising where EMAS registration demonstrates compliance with existing supervision and compliance requirements.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie