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Best environmental management practice

Organisations of all sizes and kinds have a large scope for improving their environmental performance. With motivations ranging from eco-efficiency to reputation and concerns about the sustainability of their business, many organisations try to reduce their impact on the environment.

To help organisations reach such an objective, the JRC studies what frontrunner organisations in different sectors do and identifies the best environmental management practices (BEMPs), i.e. those techniques, measures or actions that allow organisations to minimise their impact on the environment in all aspects under their direct control or on which they have a considerable influence. The results of this work are Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) on best environmental management practice.

This activity is part of the European Commission's work to implement the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), a voluntary framework for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. Within this framework, the EU decided in 2009 to promote best environmental management practice, by developing Sectoral Reference Documents.

The European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme

The EMAS scheme has evolved through time. In its latest revision, it promotes best environmental management practice, thanks to the development of Sectoral Reference Documents which shall be taken into account by EMAS registered organisations when assessing their environmental performance.

The EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a management tool for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. The scheme has been available for participation by companies since 1995 and was originally restricted to companies in industrial sectors.

Since 2001 EMAS has been open to all economic sectors including public and private services.

In 2009 the EMAS Regulation was revised and modified for the second time. Regulation (EC) No 1221/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 on the voluntary participation by organisations in a Community eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) was published on 22 December 2009 and entered into force on 11 January 2010.

A major change is promoting best environmental management practice. For this purpose, Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) are elaborated (according to Article 46.1 of the regulation). The SRDs contain detailed technical information describing best environmental management practice to improve environmental performance, as well as sector-specific environmental indicators, and benchmarks of excellence.

EMAS registered organisations shall take into account the relevant sectoral reference documents when assessing their environmental performance. The same applies to the EMAS environmental verifiers when checking the requirements according to Article 18 of the EMAS regulation.

Priority sectors 

Sectoral Reference Documents on best environmental management practice will be elaborated for a list of priority sectors. The firsts of these sectors are: Retail trade, Tourism, Construction, Public Administration, Agriculture and Food and beverage manufacturing.

The European Commission established an indicative list of priority sectors for which Sectoral Reference Documents should have been elaborated. This was published in a European Commission Communication in 2011.

The main criteria taken into account in establishing the list were: the environmental impact of the sector within the EU; the level of EMAS uptake in the sector; and the potential for environmental improvements in the ‘value chain’ of the sector.

The priority sectors are:

  • Retail trade,
  • Tourism,
  • Construction,
  • Public Administration,
  • Agriculture — Crop production and Animal production,
  • Food and beverage manufacturing,
  • Car manufacturing,
  • Manufacture of electronical and electric equipment,
  • Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment,
  • Waste management,
  • Telecommunications.

So far, draft Sectoral Reference Documents were elaborated for the retail trade, tourism and construction sectors. Work is well underway for the public administration sector and is about to start for the two following sectors: agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing.

Sharing best environmental management practices

The documents on best environmental management practice are intended to support environmental improvement efforts of all actors within the sector they address. They are not only for EMAS registered organisations, but for all actors willing to improve their environmental performance, with or without an environmental management system.

Although the Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) and the work carried out to elaborate them is developed within the framework of the EMAS regulation, the documents on best environmental management practice are not only targeted at EMAS registered organisations but they are also for organisations with other environmental management systems or organisations without a formal environmental management system. The best environmental management practices identified and their description are in no way specific to EMAS and can be useful to any organisation of the sector covered by each document, which wishes to reduce its environmental impact in one or several environmental areas.

Development of Sectoral Reference Documents

Relevant stakeholders are involved in the development of Sectoral Reference Documents .

For the elaboration of each Sectoral Reference Document (SRD), the JRC sets up a technical working group (TWG) of sectoral experts to gather and review information on the BEMPs of the sector. The JRC organises the work of the TWG, fosters the exchange of information, makes a scientific and technical analysis of the vast amount of information exchanged and elaborates the SRD. Two meetings of the TWG are usually organised and their members are asked to review the draft SRD at several stages.

The other main sources of information for the identification of BEMPs and for the elaboration of the SRDs are: the preparation of a background report by an external contractor to be used as a starting point, literature review, direct contacts with organisations within the sector, and site visits.

More information on the dedicated website   

Best environmental management practices

BEMPs for each sector are collected in a Sectoral Reference Document and described in detail in a technical report; both are publicly available.

The JRC produces two documents describing the BEMPs for each sector: a concise Sectoral Reference Document (SRD), and a detailed technical report.

The first one is the document mentioned in article 46.1 of the EMAS regulation. It needs to be approved by representatives of EU countries at the EMAS Committee and then officially adopted by the European Commission as a communication. This document describes briefly all the BEMPs identified for a certain sector and what are the conditions under which they can be applied. For each BEMP, it also lists what environmental indicators can be used to monitor its implementation and what are the benchmarks of excellence. The SRDs will be officially published by the European Commission.

This concise SRD is based on a much more comprehensive and detail technical report which is the direct result of all the research work carried out by the JRC for that SRD. The technical report follows the same general structure but provides a much more detailed description of the different BEMPs according to the following common structure:

  • Description

A description of the measure including some background and details on how it is implemented.

  • Achieved environmental benefits

What benefits in environmental terms are achieved by implementing such an action.

  • Appropriate environmental indicators

Which environmental indicators are used to monitor the implementation of the action and/or its environmental benefits.

  • Benchmarks of excellence

Which values of the environmental indicators can be considered "excellence". These are not targets but what has really been achieved in the best implementations of such an action.

  • Cross-media effects

What are the impacts that the measure has on other environmental aspects.

  • Operational data

Operational data that can help understand the implementation of a measure.

  • Applicability

What are the conditions under which such a measure is applicable.

  • Economics

The cost and benefits of the implementation of a certain action in economical terms.

  • Driving force for implementation

What was the driving force or rationale for the implementation of such an action.

  • Reference organisations

Examples of organisation which have successfully implemented the action.

  • Reference literature

Reports, scientific articles, publications, …

Organisations interested in implementing the BEMPs are highly recommended to refer to the full technical report.

The technical reports (when finalised) as well as the main draft versions are publicly available on this website. Other working documents are published in the pages dedicated to each sector (see Related content).

Contact information

If you have any question on the work carried out in this area or if you would like to contribute to the identification of BEMPs in one of the sectors under study, please feel free to contact JRC-IPTS EMAS team.

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