Austria broadens scope of EMAS eligibility

Further non-industrial sectors allowed to join EU environmental management scheme

Austria has expanded the range of non-industrial organisations allowed to participate in the EMAS voluntary environmental management scheme for a second time. Under an ordinance passed last week by the environment and finance ministries, Austrian organisations in a further 19 non-industrial sectors will be able to join the EU scheme.

The expansion means that Austria has joined Germany and Denmark with the widest applicability of the EMAS scheme in the EU, according to the Austrian environment ministry. Apart from this, only Spain and the UK allow registrations from outside industrial sectors specified in the EMAS regulation, the ministry says.

Later this month, the European Commission is expected to call for a general extension of EMAS to non-industrial sectors when it proposes a revision of the scheme. Austria has decided to push ahead with its national expansion rather than wait for completion of the EU revision process, according to the Austrian environment ministry.

The ordinance is based on EU member states' right under the EMAS regulation to unilaterally expand the scope of its applicability within their borders. It opens up the scheme in Austria to firms in the road transport sector, construction companies, waste disposal sites, hospitals, schools and others. The ordinance also extends an existing funding programme to help small and medium sized companies gain EMAS registration to all non-industrial participating organisations.

While pushing ahead with the expansion, the government admits that take up by non-industrial firms so far has been slow. There have been just six registrations since Austrian banking, shipping, and air transport firms were allowed to join the scheme in 1996, according to the environment ministry. This compares with total Austrian EMAS registrations of about 130 companies.

One difficulty, the ministry says, is the scheme's emphasis on individual site registration. This makes registration complicated and costly for businesses with many subsidiary branches, such as banks and retailers. However, an official stressed that Austria was committed to extending EMAS to new sectors.

Among other countries extending the scope of EMAS, Germany recently reported the EU's first health clinic to become EMAS registered. Germany already has over 100 non-industrial registrations, half of them in the retail sector. EMAS was expanded in Denmark last year to include public administrative bodies, forestry and horticulture, car repair shops, laundries, building cleaners and the tourism and transport sectors.

Meanwhile, Spain allows public administration and tourism, while the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia also allows campsites and gas distributors. Experience in the UK has been almost entirely with local authorities, with over 20 registrations achieved so far.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 515 22; EMAS Helpdesk, tel: +32 2 511 2589.

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