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What is EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme)?
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Blog...What is EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme)?

What is EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme)?

Business
Legislation & Standards
European flag blowing in the wind
In this article, we will explore what EMAS is, its objectives, benefits, and how businesses can successfully register and implement this impactful scheme.
Business
2024-05-30T00:00:00.000Z
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European flag blowing in the wind

The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is an invaluable tool that helps businesses work to reduce their environmental impact and embrace sustainability. EMAS, developed by the European Commission, provides a structured framework for organisations to evaluate, report, and continuously improve their environmental performance. By adopting EMAS, companies can enhance resource efficiency, ensure legal compliance, and gain a competitive edge.

👉 In this article, we will explore what EMAS is, its objectives, benefits, and how businesses can successfully register and implement this impactful scheme.

What is EMAS environmental certification?

The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a voluntary environmental management tool developed by the European Commission to help businesses and other organisations improve their environmental performance. Established under Regulation No. 1221/2009 and amended by EU Regulations 2017/1505 and 2018/2026, EMAS integrates the requirements of the international environmental management standard ISO 14001. However, EMAS goes beyond ISO 14001 by incorporating measurable improvements, transparency, and legal compliance.

EMAS aims to address both direct and indirect environmental aspects of an organisation’s activities. Direct aspects include tangible factors such as emissions, waste production, and resource consumption. Indirect aspects cover broader issues like supply chain impacts and the behaviour of subcontractors. By focusing on these areas, EMAS encourages organisations to adopt a more holistic approach to environmental management.

💡 The scheme has gained significant traction since its inception. As of November 2023, 4,053 organisations are registered with EMAS worldwide, incorporating 12,745 different sites. 

EMAS's structured approach involves organisations conducting a thorough environmental review to identify significant environmental impacts. Based on this review, they established an Environmental Management System (EMS) aligned with their environmental policy and objectives. Regular audits and performance evaluations ensure that organisations continuously improve and adapt their practices to meet evolving environmental standards and regulations.

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Key features of EMAS

EMAS is designed with clear objectives aimed at driving organisations towards more sustainable practices and reducing their overall environmental impact. These objectives are central to the scheme's framework, ensuring that participating organisations continuously improve their environmental performance in a systematic and transparent manner.

Objectives of EMAS

  • Driving circularity - One of the primary goals of EMAS is to promote a circular economy. This involves maximising resource efficiency, minimising waste, and encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials. By adopting circular practices, organisations can reduce their environmental footprint.
  • Reducing environmental impact - EMAS aims to help organisations identify and mitigate their direct and indirect environmental impacts. This includes reducing emissions, conserving water and energy, and minimising waste. Organisations set voluntary objectives and targets to achieve these reductions, creating a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Ensuring legal compliance - EMAS ensures that organisations comply with relevant environmental legislation. This reduces the risk of legal breaches and penalties. Regular audits and reviews help organisations stay up-to-date with evolving regulations.
  • Enhancing transparency - Transparency is a cornerstone of EMAS. Organisations are required to publish an annual environmental statement that details their environmental performance, objectives, and improvements. This open communication helps to build trust and accountability among stakeholders, including customers, employees, and regulatory bodies.
  • Fostering stakeholder engagement - EMAS encourages organisations to engage in open dialogues with the public and other stakeholders about their environmental performance. This engagement helps build strong relationships and promotes a positive public image.

Core elements of EMAS

Performance: EMAS focuses on measurable improvements in environmental performance. Organisations implement actions that align with key policy targets such as the EU Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. This is intended to reduce the organisation's negative environmental impact.

Transparency: Achievements and ongoing efforts are documented and made public through the annual environmental statement. This transparency ensures that stakeholders have access to credible and up-to-date information about the organisation's environmental impact and progress.

Credibility: The environmental statements produced by organisations are validated by independent, accredited environmental verifiers. This third-party verification guarantees the accuracy and reliability of the information disclosed, enhancing the credibility of the organisation's environmental claims.

EMAS vs. ISO 14001

Both EMAS and ISO 14001 are internationally recognised environmental management standards with overlapping elements, however, there are crucial differences between the two. Understanding these differences can help organisations decide which framework best suits their needs or how they can effectively integrate both for enhanced environmental performance.

Scope and framework

  • ISO 14001 - Provides a broad framework for organisations to manage their environmental responsibilities. It focuses on establishing an Environmental Management System (EMS) to identify and control environmental impacts, improve performance, and ensure regulatory compliance.
  • EMAS - Incorporates all the requirements of ISO 14001 but goes further by emphasising continual improvement, transparency, and external validation. EMAS includes additional elements such as the requirement for an initial environmental review, enhanced legal compliance checks, and the publication of an annual environmental statement.

Transparency and reporting

  • ISO 14001 - Doesn’t require public reporting. Organisations must document their EMS internally, but there is no obligation to disclose performance or improvement plans to the public.
  • EMAS - Requires organisations to publish an annual environmental statement that is validated by an independent verifier. This statement provides detailed information on environmental performance, objectives, and achievements, ensuring transparency and building stakeholder trust.

Legal compliance

  • ISO 14001 - Requires organisations to commit to compliance with applicable legal requirements, but does not mandate specific audits to verify compliance.
  • EMAS - Mandates rigorous legal compliance audits as part of the registration process. Organisations must demonstrate that they meet all relevant environmental regulations, and this compliance is verified by an external auditor.

External validation

  • ISO 14001 - Certification is based on an external audit of the EMS, but there is no requirement for ongoing validation of performance reports.
  • EMAS - Includes an annual external verification of the environmental statement by accredited environmental verifiers. This ensures that the information disclosed is accurate, credible, and up-to-date.

Continuous improvement

  • ISO 14001 - Focuses on the continual improvement of the EMS itself, encouraging organisations to enhance their processes and procedures to better manage environmental impacts.
  • EMAS - Emphasises continual improvement in actual environmental performance, requiring organisations to set and achieve measurable environmental targets and objectives.

Benefits of combining EMAS with ISO 14001

Many organisations choose to integrate EMAS with ISO 14001 to leverage the strengths of both frameworks. This combined approach can offer several advantages:

  • Enhanced credibility - By incorporating the transparency and external validation requirements of EMAS, organisations can enhance the credibility of their environmental claims and reports.
  • Improved legal compliance - The rigorous compliance checks required by EMAS ensure that organisations meet relevant environmental regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues and penalties.
  • Greater market advantage - Organisations that adopt both standards can differentiate themselves in the marketplace by demonstrating a strong commitment to environmental excellence and sustainability.
  • Comprehensive environmental management - The integration of ISO 14001’s systematic approach to managing environmental responsibilities with EMAS’s focus on performance improvement and transparency provides a more comprehensive environmental management framework.
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What are the advantages of EMAS certification?

The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) offers many benefits for organisations looking to improve their environmental performance and gain a competitive edge. These benefits extend beyond compliance, providing businesses with advantages that positively impact aspects such as operations, reputation, and the bottom line.

  • Improved environmental performance - Organisations see significant improvements in key environmental indicators. This includes reductions in energy and water consumption, waste generation, and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Enhanced resource efficiency - By focusing on circular economy principles, EMAS helps organisations optimise resource use, reducing material costs and minimising waste. This not only benefits the environment but also improves operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
  • Legal compliance - EMAS requires organisations to undergo thorough legal compliance audits, ensuring they meet all relevant environmental regulations. This reduces the risk of legal breaches and associated penalties. Additionally, EMAS encourages organisations to stay ahead of regulatory changes, adapting their practices to maintain compliance and avoid costly non-compliance issues.
  • Operational savings - Many EMAS-registered organisations experience cost savings through improved resource efficiency and waste reduction. These savings can be reinvested into further environmental initiatives or other areas of the business.
  • Increased trust and credibility - The transparency required by EMAS - particularly through the publication of the annual environmental statement - enhances stakeholder trust. 
  • Improved employee engagement - EMAS encourages active involvement from employees in environmental management. This not only boosts engagement but also helps build a culture of sustainability within the organisation.
  • Market differentiation - EMAS registration can serve as a differentiator in the marketplace. Organisations can leverage their commitment to environmental excellence to attract environmentally conscious customers and partners.
  • Tender opportunities - Many public and private tenders now include environmental performance criteria. Being EMAS-registered can give organisations a competitive edge in winning contracts and tenders that prioritise sustainability.
  • Reduced inspections and reporting requirements - In some Member States, EMAS-registered organisations benefit from reduced environmental inspections and simplified reporting requirements. This can save time and resources while maintaining high standards of environmental performance.
  • Incentives and support - Various governments and local authorities offer incentives such as tax breaks, grants, and funding opportunities to support EMAS-registered organisations in their sustainability efforts.
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Who can get EMAS environmental certification?

EMAS is designed for a broad range of organisations, making it an ideal choice for those dedicated to improving their environmental performance. Organisations of all sizes, from small enterprises to large multinational corporations, can benefit from EMAS. Its flexible framework is adaptable to various capacities and needs, ensuring that both small and large entities can effectively implement its principles.

EMAS is also applicable across all economic sectors, from manufacturing to public administration to healthcare and education. This inclusivity allows diverse types of organisations to participate, whether they are private companies looking to enhance their ESG performance, public sector bodies aiming to become more environmentally sustainable, or NGOs aligning their operations with environmental goals.

Although EMAS was developed by the European Commission, it is available to organisations worldwide. Additionally, organisations with multiple locations can register each site, allowing for a cohesive approach to environmental management across different regions.

What is the EMAS registration process?

The process of registering with the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) helps organisations establish a solid foundation for continuous environmental improvement. Here’s a step-by-step guide to achieving EMAS certification:

  • Contact the competent authority - Begin by contacting the body responsible for EMAS in your country. This authority can provide technical support, information on funding opportunities, and a list of qualified EMAS consultants. In the EU, each Member State has a designated ‘competent body’ that oversees the implementation of EMAS.
  • Initial environmental review - Conduct a thorough review to identify direct and indirect environmental impacts, current environmental performance, and legal requirements. This assessment sets the benchmark for future improvements you make.
  • Establish an environmental policy and program -Top management should agree on an environmental policy and program that aligns with the organisation’s strategy. This involves setting clear objectives and targets for environmental performance.
  • Implement the Environmental Management System (EMS) - Adapt organisational structures and processes to achieve the set environmental objectives. This includes developing procedures, training employees, and allocating resources to support the EMS.
  • Internal audit and effectiveness check - Regularly monitor and evaluate the EMS through internal audits. This step ensures that the system is effective and identifies areas for improvement.
  • Management review and continuous improvement - Management should review the EMS to ensure it meets targets and decide on the next steps for further improvement. This ongoing process helps in maintaining high standards of environmental performance.
  • Prepare the environmental statement - Put together a detailed report on the organisation’s environmental performance, including data on key indicators and achievements. This statement provides transparency and informs stakeholders about the organisation’s environmental impact.
  • External verification - An independent, accredited environmental verifier assesses the environmental statement and verifies the EMS. This third-party validation ensures credibility and accuracy.
  • Submit for registration - Submit the verified environmental statement and application to the competent body. Upon approval, the organisation is officially registered and can use the EMAS logo to showcase its commitment to environmental excellence.
  • Promote EMAS credentials - Use the EMAS logo in communications and designs to highlight the organisation’s certification. Promoting EMAS credentials helps in building a positive public image and gaining stakeholder trust.

👉 By following these steps, organisations can achieve EMAS certification.

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Round up

The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) provides a comprehensive framework for organisations committed to enhancing their environmental performance. By adopting EMAS, businesses can achieve significant improvements in resource efficiency, legal compliance, and stakeholder trust. The scheme's emphasis on transparency, credibility, and continuous improvement sets it apart from other environmental management standards.

Through a structured certification process, rigorous performance assessment, and the publication of an annual environmental statement, EMAS supports organisations in their journey toward sustainability. Whether you are a small enterprise or a large multinational corporation, EMAS offers valuable tools and recognition to help you meet and exceed environmental goals.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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