DGXI draws up revised EMAS regulation

Eco-audit scheme opened up to all, complementarity with ISO 14001 improved

The European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) has drawn up a proposal to revise the regulation establishing the EU's eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS). Responding to requests from governments and non-governmental organisations, DGXI's proposal would extend participation in the scheme from industrial sites to "any organisation dedicated to improving its overall environmental performance".

Member states' experts are due to discuss the proposal at a four-day meeting which began yesterday with the presentation of consultancy reports on lessons learned during the first five years of the scheme. Many of these are reflected in the changes proposed by DGXI.

A key issue at yesterday's meeting was the relationship between EMAS and the international environmental management system standard, ISO 14001. Consultants warned that in several countries ISO 14001 was more widely recognised and that companies did not understand the differences in the requirements of the two schemes.

DGXI wants to promote EMAS as a scheme for companies who may already have ISO 14001 and want to move onto a more advanced level of environmental commitment. The scheme already goes beyond ISO 14001 in requiring companies to publish an environmental statement and have this externally verified.

To emphasise the finer differences and to improve the complementarity of the two schemes, DGXI proposes adopting the text of ISO 14001's specification for an environmental management system in place of the existing EMAS regulation text. This would make it simpler for companies to apply both schemes.

It then specifies four additional issues which companies' management systems must address in order to achieve EMAS registration: commitment to continual improvement in environmental performance, compliance with all relevant environmental legislation, engaging in an open dialogue with interested parties, local communities and customers, and addressing the environmental impacts of their purchasing practices.

DGXI also plans to introduce a logo - yet to be drawn up - that companies may use to promote their participation in the scheme. Companies would be able to use the logo on brochures, letterheads and information accompanying products but not on products and packaging themselves. Any information carrying the logo must be based on the environmental statement and must be externally validated.

Other key changes proposed by DGXI include a greater onus on member states to iron out inconsistencies in the way they approve companies for EMAS registration and on accreditation bodies to do the same in their approval of verifiers. Twice-yearly meetings of competent bodies and a new forum of accreditation bodies are proposed to enable peer review.

Requirements concerning the environmental statement companies have to publish, the frequency of external verification, and the frequency of checks on the verifiers themselves have also been substantially changed.

Follow Up:
EMAS helpdesk, tel: +32 2 511 2589.

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