Environmental rules - Spain
Environment and business
The term environment refers to all those factors enabling the birth and development of life: atmosphere, air, noise, planning, natural areas, water, plants, animals, biodiversity, and so on.
Our very existence as human beings depends on the environment. It is for that reason that we need environmentally friendly sustainable economic development, which respects the lives and economies of future generations. Natural resources need to be used sustainably in order to achieve this objective.
Everyone needs to work together to ensure sustainable economic development: public authorities, businesses, society and individuals.
The environment is present in all economic sectors. It affects all businesses to a greater or lesser extent. All business activities consume natural resources or impact on the environment: agriculture, fisheries, mining, energy, industry, construction or services.
The minimum requirement for businesses in this respect is to comply with the rules laid down by law: respect the pollution limit values imposed on noise or gas emissions, or carry out the associated administrative procedures.
The environmental rules and requirements with which businesses must comply differ depending on their business activity: a farmer or livestock breeder must apply for a licence to extract water; an industry that emits greenhouse gases must have an emission allowance; an entertainment venue must comply with the legislation on noise, and so on.
Businesses can go further than the law requires in terms of their environmental responsibility. They can, on a voluntary basis, take other steps to protect the environment, such as: operate more sustainably; manufacture products that are more environmentally friendly, etc.
Those businesses that are environmentally responsible can profit from this. Their goods and services may be higher quality and better meet the needs of consumers. Such initiatives can generate consumer confidence, prestige and recognition for the business.
In order for businesses to profit from their environmental responsibility, they need to communicate and publicise their actions. One way of doing this is to undergo an environmental audit and obtain an environmental quality certificate.
Public actions connected with the environment affect businesses.
This section indicates the various levels of public administration with responsibilities for the environment, and the main areas involved.
Public actions with regard to the environment are carried out at the international, national, regional and local levels.
There are international treaties on the environment, which have been signed by a large number of countries. These include the climate change treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Cancun Agreements.
The European Union has powers to adopt legislation and take action when it believes that it is better to act at the European level on water, air, climate change, noise, biodiversity and so on.
In Spain central government represents Spain in the European Union and transposes European legislation into Spanish law. It is responsible for adopting national legislation on the basic and common aspects of the environment.
It can also exceptionally take specific action, where justified by the general interest due to several Autonomous Communities being affected. This is the case, for example, with environmental impact assessments for national public infrastructure projects or the management of certain water authorities which cover several Autonomous Communities.
The Autonomous Communities (regions) comply with the common legislative framework established by the State. They also adopt supplementary legislation and hold most of the powers in terms of managing the environment. Most environmental procedures are carried out by businesses with the Autonomous Communities, and in many cases these can be completed online.
Local authorities have more limited environmental powers, within the scope determined by the State and Autonomous Community legislation. These include, for example, powers in relation to town planning, refuse collection and recycling, sewerage and noise.
The environmental legislation and public actions cover a wide variety of areas, but particularly the following: water and coasts, air, climate change, planning, biodiversity, environmental impact assessment, waste and packaging. All these rules and actions affect businesses according to their activities.
Businesses are responsible for the environmental damage that their activities cause. Where applicable, they may be required to restore the environment to its prior state.
Water and Coasts
For certain activities, such as using water for agriculture or industry, dumping waste, constructing physical installations on beaches, or other activities impacting on public waters, coasts or the marine environment, businesses must have the appropriate administrative authorisations and licences.
Air and Climate Change
As an example, businesses must comply with limits on gas emissions. Where applicable, they must have greenhouse gas emission allowances. Products made by a business which emit gaseous pollutants, for example cars, must also comply with the set gaseous pollutant emission limits.
Planning, including town planning, imposes conditions on where businesses and their activities can be located. It particularly applies to those businesses involved in the construction of infrastructure or housing.
All individuals and businesses must comply with the measures adopted to protect biodiversity and natural areas.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Most assessments are carried out by the Autonomous Communities. The State is responsible for those assessments required for national projects, such as the construction of a road or port of general interest.
Businesses must comply with the applicable limits and requirements and carry out the necessary administrative procedures and activities in terms of noise, waste, waste packaging, dumping, transport of hazardous substances and so on.
Businesses are free to go beyond the minimum environmental legal requirements at their own initiative.
With regard to the environment, businesses are required to complete various procedures with the authorities, some with central government, but many with the Autonomous Communities and local authorities.
Any environmental procedures with the Spanish Government can be easily and simply carried out online by accessing the website of the Ministry of the Environment. This website covers procedures in relation to water, environmental impact assessment and quality, climate change, coasts and meteorology. It can be accessed through the following link:
Businesses can also access online various electronic services of the Autonomous Communities (regions), allowing various administrative procedures to be easily and simply carried out.
Businesses can also carry out online various administrative procedures with the local authorities.
Check also the legislation on this topic in: