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EMAS Case Studies

Municipality of Varese Ligure - Italy

EMAS helps municipality to overcome decline and to become one of Europe's most ecological villages

Since 1999 the Municipality of Varese Ligure has undertaken many initiatives strengthening sustainable development in its territory. First, the valley around the municipality has been transformed into a biological area, now known as the "Valle del biologico". On 60 farms (representing 90% of the total, with 1600 hectares of land and 1200 bovine animals and goats) organic farming methods are now used. Secondly, the municipality became an active member of “Associazione Qualitambiente” (association for the environmental quality) of which former Mayor Maurizio Caranza became President. This association groups all Italian municipalities having a certified System of Environmental Management (ISO 14001 or EMAS registration) and it promotes sustainable development of municipalities and local authorities. Thirdly, a cooperation protocol between the municipality, Region Liguria, the city of La Spezia, the national forest authority, the regional Agency for the Protection of the Environment in Liguria (ARP AL) and the Society responsible for the collection of the differentiated household waste (ACAM) has been signed in order to:

  • promote collaboration of these bodies and assure a better management of the environment
  • promote forms of local involvement to encourage the acquisition of shared decisions;
  • guarantee prompt mutual information to better protect the environment, avoid pollution, and safeguard the quality of life.

inally, the historical centre of Varese Ligure has been completely renewed and won the award of the World Wildlife Fund as good example of sustainable development.


The decision by the Municipality to achieve both EMAS registration and the ISO 14001 certificate was inspired by the necessity to counter the decline that hit the village in the early 1990s. In those years, indeed, the Municipality of Varese Ligure was not so different from other small municipalities in the mountainous area of the hinterland: little or no industries, scarce productivity, inadequate communication routes, agriculture and pastoral subsistence farming. Under these conditions and because of the move of a substantial part of the population to the nearby urban centres, the Municipality of Varese Ligure was destined to slowly disappear. The former Mayor, Maurizio Caranza decided to fight unemployment, infrastructural backwardness and depopulation by investing in the territory in such a way that protecting the environment would help the promotion and economic revival of the village. The challenge was to transform the above mentioned weaknesses into strengths by making the environment a primary resource of employment and income. This first step towards a growing commitment to implement environmentally friendly actions and methods was carried on by the following Mayor, Michela Marcone.

An overall appraisal
Benefits of the implementation of EMAS

By 2006 important changes in the organisational and managerial nature of the Municipality had been introduced:

  • A service provider (Sviluppo Varese Srl), whose capital is totally held by the Administration itself, has been set up and entrusted with the management of the integrated water cycle within the territory. This initiative not only improves the quality of the service, but has also created employment (5 workers on a permanent basis)
  • The dump of Santalò will be administered directly by the Municipality to better control this important aspect of environmental management

Nowadays tasks and responsibilities are clearly defined, which guarantees consistency also when organisational changes and innovations occur. Despite the fact that only limited economic resources are available for carrying out environmental actions and implementing plans, improvements continue to take place; the municipality's staff is aware of the benefits that EMAS can bring, both in terms of environmental improvement and in terms of better administrative management.

Challenges encountered in applying EMAS

The main difficulties encountered by the Municipality can be traced to:

  • Deficiency of economic and human resources to create an effective and efficient management system
  • Poor implementation among the members of the organisation of a working method based on objectives and evaluation of the own conduct
  • Limited knowledge of the environmental management system within the principal institutional interlocutors (Province, ARPA – Regional Agency for the protection of the environment, USL, (Local Sanitary Agency)
  • Difficulties in explaining to citizens the rewards they can gain from EMAS registration in terms of a better quality of life and diminishing future economic and resources expenditures
Main environmental improvements

An analysis of and comparison between aims and goals underlines important results in terms of:

  • Implementation of renewable energy sources (photovoltaic cells, 2 wind turbines that produce 4 million KW/year, hydroelectric facility)
  • Creation of 60 m² of solar panels
  • Use of alternative disinfection methods for the purification process of drinking water (ultraviolet instead of chlorine)
  • 6.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, according to the Kyoto Protocol requirements
  • Widespread implementation of organic agriculture and farming (applied on 90% of the farms)
  • Doubling of differentiated household waste collections (from 15% in 2005 to 28.5% in 2007)

Organisation’s name: Municipality of Varese Ligure

Country: Italy

Sector: Public Administration

NACE code: 75.11

Year of first registration under EMAS: 1999

Number of employees: -


The Municipality of Varese Ligure is a small medieval village of 2,215 inhabitants belonging to the city of La Spezia in the province of La Spezia in the north-west of Italy. It was the first European Municipality to obtain the ISO 14001 certificate and the EMAS registration in 1999. In 2004 in Berlin, it was also granted the award of ''The best 100% Communities Renewable Energy Partnership in Rural Communities'', organised by the EU, as the best rural community of the EU in realising the most complete and original project of sustainable development. Nowadays, it is considered as one of the most ecological villages in Europe.