Indicator Assessment

Emission intensity of manufacturing industries in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-359-en
  Also known as: WREI 003
Published 24 Feb 2014 Last modified 11 May 2021
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Absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries ´nutrient emissions from the GVA is observed in 9 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Hungary,  Netherland, Spain and Portugal). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in United Kingdom, France, Italy and Sweden. However in all cases the rate of emission decrease was greater than the one of GVA.  Increase of nutrient emission despite drop in gross value added was observed in Belgium. 

The developments arise from different absolute levels of emission intensities and depend on no major changes in the data coverage during the period within the countries, such as including more facilities in the latest year reporting despite already existing in earliest year. It should be noted that as some industrial emissions may vary considerable from year to year, the comparison of two selected years, only, may be subject to variations not being representative for a consistent trend.

Absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries ´heavy metals emissions from the GVA is observed again in 10 countries (Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Netherland, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Portugal). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden. In all cases the rate of emission decrease was greater than the one of GVA.  Increase of  emission despite drop in GVA was observed in Finland. 

Given the multiple factors that affect both sectoral GVA and the pollution pressure originating from manufacturing, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors which could aid in explaining the behaviour of these are the structure of the sector (e.g., facility size distribution, production technology, relative proportion reported as E-PRTR releases) , the socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. salary levels) of the area and the policy measures in place (e.g., treatment requirements). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the mentioned factors and their aggregate effects.

Decoupling of nutrients emission in water from gross value added in manufacturing industries


Decoupling of heavy metals emission in water from gross value added in manufacturing industries


Nutrients emission intensity of manufacturing industries


Heavy metals emission intensity of manufacturing industries


Range of the values of emission intensity of heavy metals and nutrients vary considerably across Europe. This can reflect different profiles to which degree the reported releases to water in E-PRTR dominate the GVA in the country from same industries, either due to company size (specific macroeconomic factors) or to transfers via urban wastewater treatment plants (not included). Therefore, it is not advisable to draw strong conclusions from the EU wide comparison of the absolute emission intensity values, but rather focus on the assessment of national trends in emission intensity.

The lowest value (2010) of nutrient emission intensity is 0,1 kg nutrients equivalent /million EURO GVA, while the highest value is 66 kg nutrients eq./mio € GVA. (Average 2010nutrient emission intensity being about  10 kg nutrients equivalent/million EURO GVA). Belgium, Bulgaria and Norway appear with values > 20 kg nutrients eq./mio € GVA, whereas very low values < 5 kg nutrients eq./mio € GVAappear for Austria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland and Italy.

Similarly 2010-values of emission intensity of heavy metals range between 0,4 and 782 kg heavy metals eq./million EURO GVA. (Average 2010-heavy metals emission intensity being 135 kg heavy metals eq./mio € GVA). The highest values ( > 100 kg heavy metals eq./mio € GVA) were recorded for Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Slovakia whereas Denmark Greece, Germany and Switzerland appear with values lower than 20 kg heavy metals eq./mio € GVA.  Decrease in emission intensity of nutrients occurred in 16 out of 22 countries assessed over the period 2004-2010. Heavy metals emission intensity decreased in 16 out of 24 countries assessed over the same period. Wide variety of the emission intensity across Europe could be explained by different levels of implementation and enforcement of the EU policy regarding emissions to water (reflected in the number of facilities reported over the period 2004-2009/2010)  and also by country differences as for the main manufacturing sectors contributing to the country´s economy. 

Decoupling of total organic carbon (TOC) emission in water from gross value added in chemical industry


Total organic carbon (TOC) emission intensity of chemical industry


Values of the total organic carbon emission intensity of chemical industries in Europe range from 15 to 4000 kg of TOC /mio € GVA. The average 2009 value is 435 kg of TOC /mio € GVA. Rather high emission intensity of Slovakia is probably caused by much lower value of GVA  generated by chemical industry in 2009, as compared to other European states. Absolute decoupling of TOC emissions from the GVA was observed in 7 countries (Czech republic, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Finland, France, Norway).  

Decoupling of heavy metals emission in water from gross value added in metal industry


Heavy metals emission intensity of metal industry


Values of the heavy metals emission intensity of metal processing industries in Europe range from 70 to 5650 kg of heavy metals eq. /mio € GVA. The average 2009 value is 766 kg of heavy metals eq. /mio € GVA.  Absolute decoupling of heavy metals equivalents emissions from the GVA was observed in Netherland, Greece, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Relatively high value of emission intensity of Belgium (5652 kg eq. /mio € GVA) needs to be reviewed in terms of quality of data reported under EPRTR.

Decoupling of nutrients emission in water from gross value added in food industry


Nutrients emission intensity of food industry


Values of the total nutrient emission intensity of food industries in Europe range from 1,3 to 12,8 kg of nutrient  eq. /mio € GVA.. The average 2009 value is 4,68 kg of nutrient eq. /mio € GVA.  Absolute decoupling of nutrients emissions from the GVA was observed in Italy and  Netherlands. 

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The indicator is used to illustrate emission intensity of manufacturing industries expressed as amount of pollutant discharged in water per unit of production of manufacturing industries (expressed as one million Euro gross value added). Furthermore, indicator shows decoupling of economic growth (GVA) from the environmental impact (emission of pollutants).Decoupling indicator displays the percentage of change in emission of pollutants from manufacturing plotted together with the change in the gross value added (GVA) of the manufacturing industry over the same period of time (between 2004-2010). Absolute decoupling occurs when the environmentally relevant variable is stable or decreasing while the economic driving force is growing. Relative decoupling occurs when the growth rate of the emission is positive, but less than the growth rate of the GVA.

In line with Statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community NACE Rev. 2 Section C  (divisions 10-33) the following industries : are considered in the „manufacturing“:”

Division 10: Manufacture of food products

Division 11: Manufacture of beverages

Division 12: Manufacture of tobacco products

Division 13: Manufacture of textiles

Division 14: Manufacture of wearing apparel

Division 15: Manufacture of leather and related products

Division 16: Manufacture of wood and of products of wood and cork, except furniture; manu-

facture of articles of straw and plaiting materials

Division 17: Manufacture of paper and paper products

Division 18: Printing and reproduction of recorded media

Division 19: Manufacture of coke, refined petroleum products

Division 20: Manufacture of chemicals, chemical products

Division 21: Manufacture of basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations

Division 22: Manufacture of rubber and plastic products

Division 23: Manufacture of other non-metallic mineral products

Division 24: Manufacture of basic metals

Division 25: Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment

Division 26: Manufacture of computer, electronic and optical products

Division 27: Manufacture of electrical equipment

Division 28: Manufacture of machineryand equipment n.e.c.

Division 29: Manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers

Division 30: Manufacture of other transport equipment

Division 31: Manufacture of furniture

Division 32: Other manufacturing

Division 33: Repair and installation of machinery and equipment


The following divisions from NACE Rev. 2 Section C were considered for:

  • Food industry: division 10, 11
  • Chemical industry: division 20, groups 20.1-20.6
  • Metal industry:division 24, 25




Emission intensity is expressed in kilograms of pollutant per one million EURO of GVA. Changes in pollutant emissions from manufacturing between 2004-2010 (separately for nutrients and heavy metals) are expressed in %, where the values recorded in 2004 represent 100%. Changes in GVA generated by manufacturing between 2004-2010 are expressed in %, where the values recorded in 2004 represent 100%.


Policy context and targets

Context description

In March 2010, the European Commission issued the European Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth ‘Europe 2020 strategy’ . It highlights – among others - the need of a more resource efficient economy. The“ Flagship initiative” under the Europe 2020 strategy, called “A resource efficient Europe” , establishes resource efficiency as the guiding principle for EU policies on energy, transport, climate change, industry, commodities, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe defines medium and long term objectives to achieve efficient resource use in the region. Decoupling, in the sense of breaking the linkage between economic growth and resource use, is a central concept of the strategy for making Europe resource efficient.

The 2050 vision and objectives by 2020 are to be addressed in the sector initiatives that shall contribute to the resource-efficient Europe Flagship Initiative (among others e.g. the 7th EU Environmental Action Programme ).


EU wide targets related to emission intensity of manufacturing with regard to pollutants released to water, or decoupling of pollutant emission from economic growth have not yet been set.

More innovative and low-emissions economy is one the main goal set in the Commission's strategy and action plan "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe".  

Related policy documents

  • A resource-efficient Europe
    A resource-efficient Europe – Flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy The flagship initiative for a resource-efficient Europe under the Europe 2020 strategy supports the shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth. Natural resources underpin our economy and our quality of life. Continuing our current patterns of resource use is not an option. Increasing resource efficiency is key to securing growth and jobs for Europe. It will bring major economic opportunities, improve productivity, drive down costs and boost competitiveness.  The flagship initiative for a resource-efficient Europe provides a long-term framework for actions in many policy areas, supporting policy agendas for climate change, energy, transport, industry, raw materials, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development. This is to increase certainty for investment and innovation and to ensure that all relevant policies factor in resource efficiency in a balanced manner.
  • COM(2010) 2020 final, Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth
    European Commission, 2010. Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM(2010) 2020 final. 
  • Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth
    A Report of the UNEP Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel
  • European Waters – Assessment of Status and Presures
    This report's results present good and robust European overviews of the data reported by the first RBMPs, and of the ecological status and pressures affecting Europe's waters. Europe's waters are affected by several pressures, including water pollution, water scarcity and floods. Major modifications to water bodies also affect morphology and water flow. To maintain and improve the essential functions of our water ecosystems, we need to manage them well.
  • Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe, EC, 2012
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.  COM(2011) 571  
  • Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC
    Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC: Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.


Methodology for indicator calculation



Where E is emission of aggregate heavy metals /nutrients into water and Y gross value added in basic prices

Aggregation of nutrient is based on LCA methodology  , where for the conversion of Ntot to Ptot equivalent,
the following equation has been used. Nutrient equivalent (P): N/7.23 + P kg nutrient equivalent (P).

Where N=Ntot emission load and P=Ptot emission load

Aggregation heavy metals is based on absolute sums of kg of pollutants released weighted by factors corresponding to the values of 1/EQS for each pollutant. This weighting was proposed in order to reflect the differences in the environmental impact of particular pollutants.


total metal release (per country, per year)=LCd*1/0,000091+ LNi*1/0,004 + LPb*1/0,0012+ LHg*1/0,00005

EQS used: Cd(0,09 μg/l), Ni (4 μg/l), Pb1,2 μg/l, Hg (0,05 μg/l), (in accordance with the EQS Directive  2013/39/EU (annual average,AA); for Cd within the ranges and for Hg (no AA) as proposed value)  

Total nutrient release (per country, per year)=LN*/7,23+ LP



Methodology for gap filling

Methodology references

  • Environmental Assessment of Products: Volume 2: Scientific background. Hauschild M, Wenzel H (eds) (1998) , Chapman & Hall, London
  • NACE Rev. 2, Statistical classification of economic activit i es in the European Community NACE is the “statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community” and is the subject of legislation at the European Union level, which imposes the use of the classification uniformly within all the Member States. It is a basic element of the international integrated system of economic classifications, which is based on classifications of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSTAT), Eurostat as well as national classifications; all of them strongly related each to the others, allowing the comparability of economic statistics produced worldwide by different institutions.


Methodology uncertainty

Limitations of current approach:

  • Emission data used for indicator development includes only data from E-PRTR facilities
  • Only releases from E-PRTR facilities are considered (not transfers into collecting systems)
  • Data on value added is considered for whole manufacturing industry (ie. including also other than E-PRTR facilities).

The concept of decoupling is attractive for its simplicity. Charts illustrating increasing GVA together with decreasing emission load may lead to simplified conclusions. Synthetic decoupling indicators often convey mixed or double messages. In growing economy, relative decoupling will imply that environmental pressures are still rising. If economic activity is falling, relative or even absolute decoupling may not imply a positive development for society as whole. Relationship between economic driving forces and environmental pressures is complex. Most driving forces have multiple environmental effects, and most pressures are generated by multiple driving forces, that are why there is a need to use decoupling indicators within a more complex analytical framework.

Data sets uncertainty

The E-PRTR database  combines data reported under the EPER (between 2001-2004) under the E- PRTR that  builds on the same principles as EPER but goes beyond it, by including reporting on more pollutants from more activities, and includes releases to land, releases from diffuse sources and off-site transfers of wastes and effluents. This may explain differences, between the numbers of facilities, and emission intensities- between 2004 and 2007.

WISE SoE Emissions database data could not be used for the development of the indicators due to the following reasons:

  • differences in data temporal coverage making international comparison impossible 
  • missing attribute specifying the type of industry  of the source of emission


Data on aggregated emissions from industries (all facilities, including the E-PRTR facilities)  as reported under the WISE SoE Emission data flow was used to determine the proportion of emissions  from E-PRTR facilities in total emissions from industries (in terms of metal equivalents). Calculated values of metal equivalents (aggregated value for Ni, Pb, Cd and Hg) were compared.   In Finland, France, Portugal, Spain, Norway and Sweden the total emissions load  reported under WISE SoE Emissions correspond (for 2010) to the load reported under the E-PRTR. The E-PRTR load in  Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Romania ranged from 8%-80% of the total load of industrial emissions.

Furthermore, the EPRTR derived emission loads in Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia, were much higher than values reported under the WISE SoE Emissions.

The comparison of E-PRTR loads and loads reported under the WISE SoE Emissions reflects wide diversity of the data on industrial emissions, but also raises the issue of the comparability of data on emissions reported under different data flows.

Specific examples of data uncertainties:


In-depth data analysis of emission from Belgian industrial facilities reported in E-PRTR database indicates that significant increase in nutrients emission intensity in the period analysed is most likely caused by an increase  in the industrial activity 8. “Animal and vegetable products from the food and beverage sector” between 2009-2010.   Aggregated discharged load increased from 142 (2) to 2373 (4) t total N and from 24 (2) to 603 (5)t total P . The increase for N is consistent also for 2011 – for P it drops back to 337 (4)  in 2011. Numbers in brackets are corresponding no. of facilities.

Increase in  heavy metals emission from metal industry in 2009 as compared to previous years was checked and confirmed in in-depth data analysis. Furthermore it was found out that the emission of heavy metals from metal industry reported for subsequent year, 2010 dropped (e.g. for lead) by 65%.


Norway:Data from food industry were not included in emissions from manufactuing industries  due to discrepancy between coverage for economic data (GVA) and emission data for facilities where main activity is intensive aquaculture. For similar reasons Norway was not assessed in the specific assessment of emission intensity of food industry. 

Rationale uncertainty

Indicators to measure decoupling of environmental pressure from economic growth, OECD, 2002

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • WREI 003
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage