EMAS future "jeopardised" by revision plan

NGO warns that EU eco-management scheme needs to maintain superiority to succeed

The survival of the EU's eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) will be put in danger unless a forthcoming revision is used to reinforce its superiority over competing environmental management systems such as ISO 14001, a European NGO has warned.

Revisions to the voluntary scheme are due to be officially proposed soon, and drafts of the European Commission proposal have been circulating in Brussels for some time (ENDS Daily 3 September). Based on these, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) says that key aspects of the scheme risk being weakened.

One of the main aims of the revision is to widen the range of organisations that can participate in EMAS and make the scheme more attractive in the face of competition from ISO 14001. The EEB claims that the best way to do this would be to strengthen EMAS' green credentials. EMAS' only "chance for survival" is if it is "ecologically more demanding and a more credible instrument" than ISO 14001, the group claims.

The EEB accepts that important elements of EMAS will remain more demanding than ISO 14001 after the revision. Organisations will still be required to publish an environmental statement and commit to continuous improvements in environmental performance, neither of which is explicitly required under ISO 14001. But the EEB doubts whether the difference between the two systems will be sufficiently clear to persuade companies to persuade them to sign up to EMAS rather than ISO 14001.

The way the scheme is being expanded from manufacturing industry to the service sector is also a wasted opportunity, the EEB says. The Commission should have put forward specific requirements for service companies - such as environmental risk analysis and a greening strategy for the banking sector - the group argues. Instead, it has made the requirements for all participants "more general".

As a result, the EEB claims, differences in environmental standards of EMAS registered companies will increase, with the danger that "black sheep" - companies with relatively low environmental standards - will bring down the whole system's credibility. The group is equally concerned that EMAS could actually work against higher environmental standards if EU governments offer reduced regulatory scrutiny to EMAS registered organisations, as is looking likely under some jurisdictions.

Another route to strengthening the rules of EMAS favoured by the EEB is to require benchmarking of environmental performance of participating organisations.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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