Are the good times returning for Emas?
The EU’s environmental management standard has returned to growth in the run-up to a critical official review of the scheme. However, beneath the surface, all is still not well reports François Le Goff
Since it was launched in the early 1990s the EU’s environmental management standard Emas has epitomised Europe’s commitment to the highest environmental standards. The rest of the world could adopt the less demanding ISO 14001 standard. Emas should be a “label of excellence” that European companies would aspire to have because of the added value it would provide in terms of better image and higher assurance of legal compliance.
Things did not go entirely to plan. While Emas quickly took hold in a few countries, overall the scheme’s growth lagged far behind ISO 14001. More damaging still, the total number of Emas registrations declined sharply from 2002 to 2004.
However, the scheme has been steadily recovering ever since the 2004 trough. Registrations rose by 7.5 per cent in 2005 and by 13.4 per cent in 2006. By this summer they reached 3,789, returning close to the 2001 peak (see figure 1).
Last year, the European commission celebrated reaching over 5,000 Emas registered sites.
Could the scheme be back on a sustainable basis this time?
Renewed growth seems to be linked to several factors. First, some experts believe marketing campaigns run by the commission’s environment department in recent years are starting to bear fruit.
In particular, it has convinced some member states of the benefits of Emas. This is the case for Spain and Italy where numbers have more than doubled and trebled respectively since 2004.
Second, the scheme was widened to include non-industrial sectors following a revision in 2001. Public sector bodies such as government departments and city municipalities have since begun to join Emas in increasing numbers – rising by virtually half since 2004.
According to Alexander Moutchnik of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, one reason for this increase is that some member states are actively encouraging public administrations and local authorities to seek registration.
The data seem to support Mr Moutchnik’s point: the highest numbers of registrations among public bodies are in Germany, Italy and Spain, which run large promotional campaigns.
Local government networks such as ICLEI-Europe that promote urban sustainability through green public procurement, for example, also play a role. A growing number of cities are now proclaiming their commitment to good environmental management.
For example, Copenhagen in Denmark has a goal of becoming “Europe’s environmental capital”. All public departments and institutions will have Emas by 2009, it says.
Despite the increase in public sector representation, business still accounts for 95 per cent of all registrations. Importantly, it is also contributing to the overall growth trend.
Sectors including construction and hotels are growing fastest, while others such as energy, agriculture and fisheries are experiencing more modest growth.
However, Emas’s growth must be put into context. Overall the scheme’s market share in Europe still represents a fraction of that of ISO 14001, which claims more than 40,000 certificates across the bloc.
Emas registrations also remained concentrated in a few European countries – chiefly Austria, Germany and Denmark in a first wave, followed by Spain and Italy in a second. Meanwhile, Emas is still failing to gain even more than a toe hold in other countries, such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
Also in this group is the UK. There, according to Martin Baxter of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), registrations have remained flat over the past six months while ISO 14001 certificates have grown by 15 per cent. “The market clearly prefers ISO 14001,” he says.
Mr Baxter argues that British companies do not see any added value in Emas and the commission has failed to prove them wrong despite spending millions of euros promoting the EU scheme. He says that if Emas is popular in the public sector it is because it “does not react to the market, it is more driven by political considerations”.
Moreover, despite the scheme’s overall growth, its industrial base, which represents more than half of all business registrations, has been in decline, although numbers increased in 2006-07 (see figure 2).
It is in this sector in particular that the scheme is losing market share to competitors. “The prejudice is that Emas is too complicated and costly,” says Reinhard Peglau of the federal environment agency in Germany.
Among member states, a similar trend can be observed in several of Emas’s historical supporters where registrations are among the highest: Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden.
Others including France have low numbers. However, France’s government seems keen on improving the situation. It is likely it will have to negotiate a proposal to revise Emas during its presidency of the EU in the second half of 2008, a commission official points out.
Reinhard Peglau says Emas’s decline in these “strategic” areas is partly due to the emergence of competitors other than ISO 14001 known as environmental management approaches (EMAs).
These simplified schemes are “taking bits out of Emas”. And the commission is to blame for not having acted sooner to prevent them from flourishing, Peglau says. Initiatives such as Emas Easy have come too late, he adds.
EMAs success lies in their ease of implementation and fewer or less demanding requirements. “Some EMAs tell companies that they don’t need an environmental policy, or a declaration or an audit,” Peglau says. Firms are then free to “fill the gaps” if they want to upgrade their system and progress towards Emas registration.
Most of these simplified systems have emerged in recent years and are particularly popular among small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs), an area where both Emas and ISO 14001 have had limited success.
Peglau says in Norway the Eco-lighthouse scheme poses a particular threat to ISO 14001. Nearly 9,000 firms have signed up to the EMA, already more than to the ISO standard.
A recent paper published by the German environment ministry and the federal environment agency shows that firms can currently choose from among 16 EMAs in Germany. These include Ecoprofit, Ecostep, Ecomapping and Pius. More than 2,000 firms had adopted them in 2005, compared with about 1,490 for Emas. In general EMAs tend to be adopted mainly by large SMEs, the report says.
But although the competition between EMAs and environmental management systems such as Emas is real it should not be overestimated, the report says. EMAs are not just barriers to Emas development but also an opportunity as most of them are closely geared towards it.
A survey of EMA participants cited in the report shows that several firms were keen to progress towards a full environmental management system. Although they are not in the majority they nevertheless represent a significant number, the report stresses. “It would therefore appear incorrect to surmise that Emas or ISO 14001 are being replaced by EM approaches”, it concludes.
The commission’s environment department is taking action to strengthen Emas and tackle competition. A proposal to revise the scheme is currently going through inter-service consultation and is expected to be formally tabled within months.
An official says the department wants to keep the scheme voluntary. Among the series of measures it will propose are stronger links between Emas and other areas of EU environmental policy. One idea is to encourage companies to join the scheme by creating a link with the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) directive.
This option could lead to a strong uptake in the industrial sector, according to Martin Baxter. IPPC sites registered with Emas would be subjected to fewer controls and could renew their authorisation more easily. But Mr Baxter believes the commission’s industry department might oppose it. The result is also likely to depend on a separate ongoing review of the IPPC regime.
The forthcoming plan will propose to cut registration costs, especially for SMEs. And the environment department is planning to significantly improve the text of the Emas regulation underpinning the scheme by making it more readable and understandable, and to improve the way it is communicated to the public.
The revision will also include developing synergies between Emas and EMAs. “Rather than say that these systems are not satisfactory, we will try to integrate them into Emas,” the official says.
The department does not yet know how this would work in practice but it seems likely that it would evaluate EMAs expressing a desire to be linked to Emas and identify the extra steps needed to gain the EU certificate.
Experts such as Mr Baxter believe the revision will not be enough to bring registration numbers to tens of thousands rather than a few thousands. Ideas such as integrating competitor schemes into Emas are not new. The 2001 revision already achieved this with ISO 14001 but it failed to boost numbers in the business sector, Mr Baxter points out. Instead the commission should focus its efforts on doubling ISO 14001 numbers. This would be much more cost-effective, he says.
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