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Brussels, 11 November 2008

The eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) at the Commission: frequently asked questions

What is EMAS?

In a nutshell, EMAS (eco-management and audit scheme) is a system for environmental management in the workplace. It incorporates tools for evaluating, reporting and improving environmental performance. The scheme, implemented by Regulation No 761/2001, includes the international environmental management standard ISO 14001, but is stricter. It requires a demonstration, through external verification of regular environmental statements, of the following: legal compliance (local, national and EU environmental rules and regulations), continuous improvement (i.e. actions taken to manage and reduce environmental impact), involvement of all staff, and public reporting, in the form of publication of the "environmental statement". Due to the legal compliance obligation, EMAS is site-specific and the certification bodies are in the Member States. It is important to note that EMAS is the strictest international environmental certification scheme available: the publication of regular statements verified by independent auditors ensures transparency and the scheme requires active communication both with staff and externally. Employees receive training in EMAS and their commitment and enthusiasm play an important role in the success of the scheme.

How long has EMAS been applied in the Commission?

Following the extension of the EMAS scheme to public and private organisations in 2001, the European Commission took a decision in September of that year to implement EMAS gradually to the whole institution. It was a natural progression from the "green housekeeping" scheme which was set up in 1997 by staff members. EMAS was first applied in 2002 through a pilot project in four Brussels departments (Secretariat-General, Personnel and Administration DG, Environment DG and the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels). The first EMAS certificate was awarded to these departments in December 2005 and initially covered 8 buildings. Today, the pilot project has come to a successful close after including five departments and a total of 15 buildings (or 30% of the Commission's office space in Brussels). Thanks to the pilot project there is now experience and best practice examples available for other deparments, as the scope of EMAS is extended.

How does EMAS work in practice?

Like other management schemes, EMAS is based on a "plan-do-check-act" cycle.

  • An initial environmental review establishes significant impacts and provides the basis for management to set an environmental policy for the organisation. The policy then gives rise to specific actions plans.
  • Implementation follows, supported by training and awareness-raising to all staff.
  • Continuous progress and improvements are evaluated by internal evaluations and reported in regular management reviews where adjustments are made as appropriate.
  • An environmental statement is drawn up which is verified by independent auditors. Upon approval, the organisation is registered for the first time with the competent authorities in the Member State and thereafter for each annual statement.

EMAS activities are included in the normal action plans and staff should go about their daily business as normal but are trained to include EMAS, particularly in their planning and reporting. Since EMAS is a Europe-wide scheme a great number of different organisations participate. For instance, the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen was EMAS registered in 2004 and the European Parliament in 2007 for its three sites in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. All organisations' environmental statements are available on the EMAS website: (under tools | environmental statement library)

What progress has been made since EMAS was launched within the Commission?

Since the European Commission already had an environmental management system in place since 1997, EMAS grew in fertile ground. The scheme has registered a number of successes in reducing the environmental impacts of the Commission's daily activities. These are divided into four aims: a) reduce CO2 emissions, b) promote efficient use of natural resources, c) waste prevention, reuse and recycling, and d) promote sustainable consumption and production.

What follows are some concrete examples of reductions.


(Note: due to moves and renovations, to calculate correct figures it was not possible to include all 15 buildings)

Savings per person since 2002 in 10 EMAS-registered office buildings:

  • 22% less CO2 emissions (= 637 kg/year/person)
  • 20% less electricity (= 1343 kWh/year/person)
  • 17% less gas and fuel (= 732 kWh/year/person)
  • 29% less water (= 7011 litres/year/person)

Total savings achieved in the Berlaymont since 2005

  • 19% less CO2 emissions (= 2698 tonnes/year)
  • 13% less combined use of gas and electricity (= 7321 MWh/year)

Best practice examples include the 99% of staff in the Environment DG who switch off lights when they go home at night, and the 88% in the Secretariat-General who shut down their computer.


Commission service bikes took more than 23 000 trips in 2007, an increase of 14% over the previous year. On average, each service bike was used 128 times in 2007.

Best practice examples include the 64% of staff in the Informatics DG who travel to work by public transport and the 23% of staff in the Environment DG who cycle to work.

Waste reduction

Fifteen different types of waste are collected in the European Commission. In total, this means a reduction from 331 to 284 kg/year per person since 2002. Even though there was a 29% increase of staff during this period, the total amount of waste has increased by 11% (= 6 756 tonnes in 2007 for the whole Commission).

50% of all waste collected is recycled. 95% of paper is recycled, as is 64% of toner cartridges. 40% of old furniture and 78% of decommissioned computer equipment is donated to charity for reuse or recycling.

Waste management in the Commission is based on 15 different waste streams, ranging from paper to used cooking oils from the kitchens. The amount of office paper used per person — eco-label recycled paper — has fallen by 33% since 2002, i.e. dropping from 88 sheets/person/day to 59 sheets/person/day. However, over 3 400 tonnes of paper was collected for recycling in 2007; the largest single waste stream. A simple idea with strong positive impact, for example, were the notices stuck on plastics bins asking staff to crush plastic bottles: this reduced the volume of this waste by 50%, thus reducing CO2 emissions from garbage trucks transporting empty bottles and saving money on waste collection charged by volume.


Offset paper used for printing has reduced by 64% since 2002 (= savings of 252 tonnes/year). Reduction in total consumption of office paper for the Commission from 88 sheets/day/person to 59 sheets; i.e. a 33% reduction since 2002.

Best practice is achieved by the Secretariat-General for its "Programme ordinaire des publications", using 44% less paper in the year 2007 compared to 2006.

Sustainable consumption

Information and communication technology is another area in which the implementation of the EMAS scheme has led to significant and recurrent energy savings. This is achieved through a "green procurement" policy, where environmental criteria are included in the technical and financial selection of hardware. A striking example is provided by the purchase of desktop PCs: when the Commission applied environmental criteria to it in 2007, the selected model of PC resulted to be cheaper and more powerful than the previous three lots, whilst consuming less energy than the PCs bought in 2003.

Steady progress has also been recorded in the area of office automation, where more environment-friendly devices have been selected and made available to the ICT users for their daily work. For instance, the installed base of paper-generating devices is gradually renewed with multifunctional networked photocopiers/printers/scanners which are set to automatic double-sided printing. Another example is set by the monitoring of the activity and the use of desktop PCs and printers, so as to optimise their energy consumption.

100% of hardware contracts prepared by the Informatics DG and 23% of contracts signed by the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels now include environmental criteria. 16% of all products in the office supplies catalogue are environment-friendly.

For further detailed examples, particularly of plans for future actions, please refer to the environmental 2007 statement:

What sort of difficulties has the Commission encountered in applying EMAS?

As indicated by the figures above, the management of over 60 buildings of varying ages, more than 25% rented, and with a multitude of technical installations means that technical services cannot take a "one size fits all" approach. To take one example, a mixed-use building like the Berlaymont is a special case, and not comparable to other buildings. How staff travel to/from work – including bringing children to school on the way — is obviously an action that the Commission cannot force employees to change, and being centrally located in a major European city entails dealing with the usual problems of a congested city centre.

In administrative terms, each department has autonomy as to how some practical matters are arranged and this again means that a large degree of flexibility and adaptation is required over the whole Commission. But this is also fertile ground for innovative thinking and ideas. Fortunately, EMAS is a scheme that can accommodate both, particularly through the tools of ongoing information and awareness-raising to staff that is a requirement.

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