The Covid-19 crisis has affected all sectors of society. Many companies and organisations have experienced economic losses and shortfalls in their operations over the past months. Also, environmental management itself has been affected, as internal operations and external auditing activities have been severely restricted.
Despite these constraints and the continuing restrictions, EMAS registration figures have continued to rise in recent months. 13 new organisations and 105 new sites joined the EMAS community between September 2020 and June 2021, representing growth rates of 0,3% and 0,8% accordingly. As of June 2021, the EMAS Network counted 3,851 organisations and 12,856 sites. All sectors are represented.
This increase is partly due to the rapid response and adaptability in the EMAS institutional setting. For example, Competent Bodies arranged for environmental verification and validation processes to be mixed (a remote audit and a face-to-face audit) so that companies would not have to leave EMAS during the pandemic and under contact restriction conditions. In fact, various long- and short-term policy support measures and incentives can contribute to make EMAS more attractive to organisations and facilitate their access to environmental management.
In order to join EMAS, organisations must first be aware of the scheme and its many advantages. Here the Member States play a crucial role, providing promotion of and information on EMAS to various stakeholder groups. These promotion activities include but are not limited to:
A 2015 compendium (“EMAS promotion and policy support in the member state”, downloadable here) provides an overview of the manifold support and promotion activities that Member State policy makers, EMAS representatives and Competent Bodies can provide. Against the background of the special challenges of the past one and a half years, we would like to give a small update and turn the spotlight on a few examples of support mechanisms that were successful also during times of crisis.
Over the past 25 years, a number of Member States have passed laws and created regulations that grant advantages to EMAS registered organisations. Multiple studies and research projects have demonstrated that this type of policy support is crucial for the success of the scheme. Member States have used laws and regulations to provide support for EMAS registered organisations in a number of different ways: For example, Poland (among other countries) exempts EMAS registered organisations with over 250 employees under the European Industrial Emissions Directive (Directive 2010/75 EU) from energy audits provided they have demonstrated EMAS implementation as one of the energy efficiency improvement measure. The Walloon region has defined NACE sectors where EMAS registration is mandatory. For example, the operation of a landfill site as well as a composting plant is subject to an environmental permit. The sectoral conditions make an EMAS registration mandatory. Licensed sanitation organisations are also required to have EMAS registration for their wastewater treatment plants based on their service contract with the Public Society for Water Management. In Poland, EMAS has been linked to waste management policy through the accreditation of EMAS environmental verifiers to audit organisations for the recovery and treatment of electrical and electronic equipment and facilities for the packaging and disposal of packaging.
Researchers have also mentioned the necessity of providing regulatory relief for EMAS registered organisations based at least in part on requirements and advantages offered only by EMAS and not other environmental management standards. The ENHANCE project “EMAS as a Nest to Help And Nurture the Circular Economy”, that was implemented from 2017 until 2020 by a consortium of partners from Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia and Italy, aimed at improving the implementation of regional policy instruments oriented toward increasing resource efficiency through the exchange of experiences and practices supporting EMAS registration. The project successfully supported public authorities in identifying and implementing incentives for those organisations that decide to adopt EMAS as a tool for resource efficiency.
Regulations and laws supporting green public procurement (GPP) and sustainability in public administrations present further opportunities for public bodies to support the EMAS scheme. European public procurement legislation (Directive 2014/24/EC) allows authorities to refer to EMAS or other relevant European or international environmental management standards from accredited bodies as a means of proof that a bidder possesses the technical environmental management capability to execute a specific contract. However, the Directive does not allow regulators to insist on an EMAS certification only. Instruments supporting EMAS in GPP must thus be carefully worded to take into account the many specifications of relevant European and Member State legislation. Slovakia, for example, experienced good results with the approach of including an EMAS registration as a selection criterion in many tenders for government contracts. The impact of this measure on the development of EMAS registrations is particularly visible in the area of tenders for the implementation of construction projects, where the public sector is a key contracting authority and thus has great economic influence. GPP in Spain is also promoted by the public administration and successfully linked to environmental management issues - in order to contract with the administration, companies must prove an EMAS or ISO 14.001 certification.
In addition to an increased presence of and support for EMAS in EU and Member State law, Member States can employ financial incentives to EMAS organisations, including tax abatements, fee reductions, subsidies and awards.
Amongst other things, EMAS registered organisations report a desire for financial and economic incentives to mitigate costs linked to an EMAS registration. This assistance is particularly important for the initial EMAS implementation and in the first years of the registration when significant cost savings through more efficient resource and energy use have not yet materialised. In the context of the additional financial challenges that have arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic for many companies, it is all the more important. Various Competent Bodies therefore offer smaller financial incentives to organisations. The most common such initiative is the waiving or reduction of EMAS registration fees. Among other countries, Greece, Belgium and Romania all waive fees for EMAS registration. Slovakia exempts small local organisations and public administrations. While such measures do not usually offset the costs of EMAS implementation, they present a low-budget opportunity to remove at least one financial barrier to registration.
Member States have also observed positive effects of subsidies on EMAS registration figures, especially in times of external financial pressure on companies. For example, companies registered in the regions of Catalonia and the Spanish Basque Country region received direct subsidies, which has helped to keep registration numbers high over the last year and a half.
Member States can also adopt measures to inform, educate and train EMAS registered organisations, public bodies and other stakeholders on EMAS. Other measures can help to raise awareness and encourage the implementation of EMAS, not only among EMAS users, but also other groups of stakeholders such as industrial and business associations, Chambers of Commerce, NGOs, and the general public.
Active communication on EMAS via social media, EMAS websites, via workshops and conferences or building platforms for exchange between EMAS registered organisations, as well as celebrating the successes of EMAS registered organisations can contribute to an increase in national/regional registration numbers. Occasionally, the EMAS Helpdesk provides materials and opportunities for stakeholders to share and publicly celebrate their EMAS commitment. The most recent occasion was the social media campaign #WeforEMAS, in which Competent Bodies and EMAS registered organisations from different Member States participated and presented their EMAS commitment on social media platforms.
The EMAS Clubs and their dedication to promote EMAS, represent registered organisations and their interests and provide a space for networking and shared experiences should also be mentioned here.
Overall, support for EMAS registered organisations appears most successful when the policy and promotional elements are combined. This does not only apply to exceptional situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but is generally applicable to support measures for EMAS.
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