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Page Last modified 05 May 2022
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The environmental performance of European industry has improved over recent 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 generation of waste.

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

Industry is a key component of Europe's economy, but it is also a source of pollution. For many years, environmental regulation has limited the adverse impacts of this pollution on human health and the environment. The EU policies currently used to limit industrial pollution include the following:

  • The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) defines the obligations for some 50 000 large industrial installations to avoid or minimise polluting emissions to the atmosphere, water, and soil. The IED also requires these installations to reduce waste. For certain activities, i.e. Large Combustion Plants (LCP), waste incineration and co-incineration plants, solvent using activities and titanium dioxide production, the IED sets EU wide emission limit values for selected pollutants.
  • The Medium Combustion Plants (MCP) Directive regulates emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and dust from the combustion of fuels in plants with a rated thermal input equal to or greater than 1 megawatt (MWth) and less than 50 MWth.
  • The Ecodesign Framework Directive  provides EU-wide rules for improving the energy efficiency of products, such as household appliances, information and communication technologies or engineering.
  • The European Union's Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from more than 12 000 power generation and manufacturing installations in 31 countries as well as from aviation. The ETS covers around 45 % of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Water Framework Directive requires Member States to progressively reduce water pollution from a family of pollutants defined as 'priority substances'. It also requires Member States to cease or phase out emissions, discharges, and losses of a more dangerous family of pollutants defined as 'priority hazardous substances'.
  • The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive protects the environment from the harmful effects of discharges from urban wastewater and certain other industrial sectors.

Public access to information on industrial pollution has significantly improved in recent decades. In particular, the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) provides a comprehensive register of pollutant emissions and transfers from major industrial activities. It contains annual information on more than 30 000 industrial facilities across 33 European countries 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.

Sustainability 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.

Voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives were also introduced to achieve social and environmental objectives beyond the legal requirements. Examples are the chemical industry's Responsible Care initiative, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the International Council on Mining and Metals' Materials Stewardship policy and the business network CSR Europe.

At the EU policy level, the Commission adopted a strategy on Corporate Social Responsibility and at international level the ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility provides guidance on how businesses and organisations can operate in a socially responsible way.

EEA activities

The European Environment Agency (EEA) supports the implementation and evaluation of EU industrial pollution policies. We also support the development of long-term strategies to limit environmental and health impacts from the sector.

Industrial emissions data

The EEA supports the EU in developing long-term strategies to reduce environmental pressures from industry by providing assessment and information to policy-makers. Our key activities and products include making available data reported by European countries as part of their reporting obligations under European legislation:

The EEA supports the EU in the development of initiatives to increase the streamlining of reporting on industrial emissions. This includes initiatives to harmonise and simplify the reporting of industrial information for EU Member States and companies across different legislation.

Assessments and reports

The EEA publishes a variety of assessment reports addressing the environmental impacts from Europe's industrial sector. This includes contributions to EEA's five-yearly 'European environment - state and outlook' (SOER) reports, as well as specific reports.  

The EEA is developing a series of indicators on the industrial pollution aspect. We also develop country profiles to depict the situation in the countries within our membership.

Using the available data sources, namely the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, the EEA highlights specific issues every year with a series of briefings on industrial pollution.


A future transition to a greener European industrial sector requires an integrated approach, which strengthens control of pollution at source, and provides incentives to change operating practices and to implement new innovative technologies.

Policymakers consider it a priority to improve Europe's knowledge base on industrial pollution. Consistent with the Aarhus Convention, the 8th Environment Action Programme includes an objective of making information more widely and effectively available on the implementation of pollution control legislation. The IED requires that Member States provide improved consolidated information on industrial installations.

The full implementation of strengthened legislation will help to better control emissions from industry.

  • the IED will deliver more stringent controls on how industry can operate than the former Industrial Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive. These controls will be based on the Best Available Technique (BAT) principle covering a broader range of industrial activities than the IPPC Directive and on the implementation of the Emission Limit Values (ELV) in the IED directive, particularly those for Large Combustion Plants (LCPs), which are more stringent than those in the LCP Directive (2001/80/EC).
  • The Medium Sized Combustion plants (MCPs) Directive, will deliver significant annual emission reductions of the key air pollutants SO2, NOX and PM.

For GHG emissions, the EU ETS was designed as a key tool to drive the introduction of low-carbon technology in the industrial sector. In 2020, emissions from sectors covered by the EU ETS will be 21% lower than in 2005. By 2030 they would be 43 % lower in line with the Conclusions of the European Council of October 2014.

In the longer term, the Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe outlines how Europe's economy might become sustainable by 2050. It proposes ways to increase resource productivity and decouple growth from resource use, while avoiding 'lock-in' to any particular technology, providing a pathway to cut GHG emissions to 80 % below 1990 levels by 2050.  The Circular Economy Package established a programme of action with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.  The measures include the inclusion of guidance on circular economy and best practices of water reuse in relevant IED Best Available Technique reference documents (BREFs'). More can be learned in the resource efficiency and waste topic.


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