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The environmental performance of European industry has improved over the past decades. Changes have occurred for a number of reasons: stricter environmental regulation, improvements in energy efficiency, a general tendency for European industry to move away from certain heavy and more polluting types of manufacture, and companies' participation in voluntary schemes aiming to reduce their environmental impact. Despite these improvements, industry today is still responsible for a significant burden on our environment in terms of pollution and waste generated by the sector.

Europe’s industrial sectors provide many important economic and social benefits: they produce goods and products, and generate employment and tax revenues. However, Europe’s largest industrial installations account for a significant share of total emissions of key air pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG), as well as other important environmental impacts, including the release of pollutants to water and soil, generation of waste and the use of energy.


EU policies

Within the European Union (EU), industry has been subject to regulation for many years. Several EU policies limit the adverse impacts of industrial activities on human health and the environment, and encourage the uptake of sustainable practices. In 2010, the EU agreed on the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). This defines the obligations of large industrial facilities to avoid or minimise polluting emissions in the atmosphere, water and soil, as well as waste from industrial and agricultural installations. To this purpose, the operators of around 52 000 industrial installations are required to obtain an integrated permit from  authorities in EU Member States.

The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) is the most comprehensive register at European level regarding pollution from major industrial activities. It contains annual information on about 29 000 industrial facilities across Europe concerning the amounts of pollutant releases to air, water and land as well as off-site transfers of waste and of pollutants in waste water.

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is a cornerstone of the EU's policy to combat climate change and the key tool for reducing industrial GHG emissions cost effectively. It covers some 11 000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries.


Industry initiatives

Sustainability criteria to help reduce the impacts of industry on the environment have also been introduced. Examples of such industry initiatives are the widespread adoption of environmental management practices through the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and ISO14001, and voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives like the chemical industry’s Responsible Care initiative, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), and the International Council on Mining and Metals' Materials Stewardship policy.


EEA activities

The EEA's overall work on industry includes a range of data- and assessment-related activities covering industrial data: Large Combustion Plants (LCPs), the E-PRTR and EU ETS. During 2012, EEA work will extend to include coordinating data reporting by countries for ozone depleting substances and fluorinated gases.



Under the Europe 2020 strategy, two of the seven flagship initiatives are of special importance to industry: ‘A resource efficient Europe’ and ‘An industrial policy for the globalisation era’. The first involves decoupling economic growth from the use of resources, the shift towards a low-carbon economy, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The second focuses on improving the business environment - notably for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), while supporting the development of a strong and sustainable industrial base. In this context, in October 2011 the Commission published a new policy on corporate social responsibility.

The Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy (SCP/SIP) Action Plan of 2008 also includes a series of proposals to improve the environmental impacts of products and to encourage the demand for more sustainable goods and production technologies. It also seeks to encourage EU industry to take advantage of opportunities to innovate, for example through sustainable product policy and eco-innovation.

In the coming years, the European Commission will focus on the better implementation of legislation, and particularly the IED. This will include the Commission’s adoption of Best Available Technique (BAT) conclusions containing the emission limit values (ELVs) associated with BATs, the set-up of environmental inspection plans for related installations, and implementation of the ELVs in the directive, particularly those for Large Combustion Plants (LCPs), which are more stringent than those in the LCP Directive (2001/80/EC). 

In 2012, the Commission will review the SCP/SIP Action Plan and consider possible extensions to the related Ecodesign Directive. The launch of an Eco-innovation Action Plan to ensure the commercialisation and deployment of key environmental technologies is foreseen in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy.


Related links

Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe – Flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy

An industrial policy for the globalisation era – Flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy

European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR)

EU Emissions Trading System (ETS)

Industrial Emissions Directive (IED)

Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy (SCP/SIP) Action Plan

Ecodesign Directive

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