The 10th Anniversary of EMAS in Germany

Speech Published 15 Feb 2006 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Address by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Berlin, 15 December

The 10th Anniversary of EMAS in Germany

Address by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Distinguished guests,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce you to our environmental management system at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen.

The Agency, which I direct, was the first among the EU bodies and institutions to achieve EMAS registration. To date we remain the only one.

We are of course very proud to play the role of pacesetter. This means that we are also working hard to keep the registration.

(The Role of the EEA)

I was invited to speak to you about the progress of EMAS implementation in the European institutions.

But let me begin by taking a few moments to explain the core business of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and how this fits with current European policy developments.

Against that background we can see the role that EMAS plays in shaping perceptions about environmental protection.

We are an information provider in support of policy makers in the 31 member countries of the Agency -- the 25 EU Member States; the three EFTA countries; as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

We also provide support to the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Our primary objective is to report on the state of the environment in Europe. Two weeks ago -- on 29 November to be precise -- we launched the 2005 State and Outlook Report on the European Environment at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The role of environmental information in support of environmental policy objectives is increasing in importance. More and more questions are asked in Brussels -- and in other capital cities - about the benefits of existing and new environmental measures. This is taking place against the backdrop of the competitiveness debate and the so-called Lisbon agenda.

It would be fair to say that environmental policy is under pressure in Brussels just now, heightening the need to get the right information on the table and for those to be robust and unassailable.

Increasingly, we see our role at the Agency as providing the factual underpinning for environmental priorities, but also to respond to the need for integrated perspectives (present and future) so that the environment can put its best foot forward in the Lisbon and Sustainable Development discussions.

That is also why we have to practice what we preach!

Many businesses are complaining about the perceived burden of environmental protection. That is why organisations like the Agency must take the lead in showing that environmental improvements can be achieved hand-in-hand with gains in economic efficiency.

(Situation in the other EU institutions)

We were - as I said - the first EU body to become EMAS registered, but there are several others on the way. Four of the European Commission services in Brussels are in the process of seeking external verification that they are applying EMAS in the right way.

As Catherine Day, the Commission's new Secretary-General will say in the next issue of the EMAS newsletter:

EMAS shows these [four] services how to improve their environmental performance systematically and set their own priorities. More importantly, it is helping about 3,500 staff to adopt more environmentally responsible behaviour, which means that they now think more carefully about how they use natural resources in all aspects of their lives, at work and at home.

The European Parliament is also in the process of building an environmental management system and the European Investment Bank too is considering applying for EMAS.

(Building and implementing the EEA's system)

So how did we go about getting EMAS registration at the Agency?

Our starting assumption was that since we are an environmental organisation with a lot of well-informed and well-educated environmental experts, we must be performing very well in environmental terms. But the reality was far less flattering!

Let me give you three examples:

  • both our electricity and paper consumption were much higher than some other organisations that we compared ourselves with;
  • we did not have any system to integrate environmental considerations in our decision-making or our procurement procedures; and
  • it was evident that frequent air travel by EEA staff gave us a comparatively large footprint in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

On the positive side, we had some enthusiastic staff members who were willing to take the lead in building our environmental management system. And the baseline gave us a lot of scope for improvement!

Building and implementing our environmental management system took about a year and required around two hundred days of staff time. We also brought in help from an external contractor, which cost us around €46,000.

These proved to be resources well spent as - in March this year - we passed the external verification at the first attempt.

(EEA baseline)

In our baseline environmental review we had identified six areas where we needed to start improving our performance immediately:

  • energy consumption;
  • travel;
  • procurement;
  • paper consumption;
  • paper waste;
  • as well as improving our positive impact on the environment through our information work.

We therefore set about formulating improvement projects to address these issues.

Since our ambition is to build the environmental dimension into our existing management systems, the improvement projects were incorporated into the Agency's annual management plan. They are managed in the same way as all other projects. In other words, our environmental management is part of our core business, not a bolt-on.

(The environmental improvement projects)

This year we have been running environmental improvement projects in five areas and have set one or more targets in each of these areas.

The first project on energy consumption aims at reducing our electricity consumption by 3 % per full-time employee by the end of the year. Moreover, we set ourselves the target that over 1/3 of our electricity must come from renewable sources. Regrettably, such electricity is much more expensive -- another example of incorrect pricing of environmental goods.

Our second improvement project is related to travel and accommodation. This year the target is to find out the extent to which our travel by air can be replaced by other modes of transport. Being situated far from Brussels - and other capitals - does not allow us many possibilities to travel by train or boat. So we have started organising more video-conferences. We are also investigating how we as an organisation could pay for offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions we are responsible for.

As to the accommodation in connection with traveling, we urge our staff and meeting participants to use environmentally-oriented hotels and we keep of list of those we have identified as such.

The third improvement project involves greening our procurement so that we deal with contractors and suppliers, who integrate environmental considerations into their production and activities. Our target this year has been to ensure that 100 % of our tenders and contracts concluded this year contain environmental criteria. This can have an important multiplier effect in the market.

The fourth project aims at reducing our paper consumption and finding out how much of our paper and cardboard can be recycled. The target has been to reduce the paper consumption by 5 % per full-time employee.

The fifth project is about trying to find out how we could measure our positive effect on the environment. Since our work is to produce environmental information that could help others to make better environmental policy, it is important to find out whether our products and services actually achieve this.

So far we have done some polling surveys among the mass media, NGOs and decision-makers. One general finding is that not many people actually read entire reports, and particularly not long reports. Our clients' time is not a renewable commodity. We will increasingly use internet-based products and services in the future.

(Lessons learnt)

For environmental protection, one of the biggest challenges at the global level - as well as the local level - is the need to raise people's awareness and allow them to change their behaviour. If we are to encourage everyone to save electricity, water, paper and incorporate the environmental dimension in our consumption patterns, we need to start with practical information.

We at the EEA are using simple means, like yellow stickers next to light switches reminding people - "Switch me off, when leaving the room" -- or small posters on our elevator doors reminding us how fit we get if we take the stairs instead of the elevator. This is not rocket science but it makes a difference.

Of course senior management has also an important role to play in improving our environmental performance. We convene three times a year to focus on issues related to our environmental management system and most of the team members function as guardians of different improvement projects.

(Concluding remarks)

There is of course scope for improvement in the Agency's environmental performance and system. But I am convinced that we have the right procedures in place so that we can identify our improvement needs and gradually make the necessary improvements.

We will soon launch a public EEA EMAS web page where we present our system hoping to inspire other organisations to improve their environmental management by creating a systematic approach and going in for EMAS registration.

I know that there are discussions ongoing in Brussels about EMAS and how it interfaces with ISO standards. But EMAS has been a very useful tool for the European Environment Agency.

In the present cold climate for environmental policy that I already mentioned, we have no alternative but to practice what we preach.

Thank you for your attention.

I look forward to responding to any questions or comments that you may have.


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