Besides providing trusted information on our environment and climate, the European Environment Agency (EEA) is working to improve its own environmental performance as an organisation. We interviewed Melanie Sporer who coordinates these efforts at the EEA, using the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).
What is EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)?
The EU Eco-management and audit scheme, or EMAS for short, is a voluntary environmental management tool for companies and other organisations. EMAS is used for evaluating, reporting and improving the organisation’s environmental performance, for example, reducing energy consumption, paper consumption, waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions and so on. EMAS was established by the European Commission in 1993.
If an environmental management system of organisations follows the guidelines of the EMAS Regulation, they can be EMAS registered. Currently, more than 4600 organisations are EMAS registered.
How does the EEA use EMAS?
The EEA is mandated to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment and to support sustainable development. Given this, we recognise that we have a clear responsibility when it comes to managing our own environmental performance.
Like all organisations, we consume natural resources and impact the environment through our daily operations. We established an environmental management system to minimise these impacts and continually improve our environmental performance in a structured way. Our environmental management system follows the rules of the EMAS Regulation, and the EEA was EMAS registered in 2005.
We want to create an Agency that operates as sustainably as possible, and with EMAS we can ensure credibility and full transparency. Our environmental management system and the continuous improvement of our environmental performance are annually assessed by a third-party verifier and we annually publish our environmental performance indicators, targets and action plans in the EEA’s environmental statement report.
What has the EEA achieved most recently through EMAS?
The EEA’s environmental performance in 2020 was obviously heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in considerably lower electricity consumption, paper consumption and CO2 emissions from business travel and meetings.
We see the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for developments that otherwise might have taken several years to happen: the paperless office, for example, and the widespread use of videoconferencing instead of physical meetings. On the way out of the pandemic, it will be important to maintain useful practices and habits and to raise this awareness. We have to try to avoid potential rebound effects, for example if members of the staff return to previous printing practices in the office, or rebound effects associated with increased teleworking, such as greater electricity consumption in the home office.
What would you say to other organisations that consider using EMAS?
Organisations are more and more in the spotlight and under scrutiny by their stakeholders when it comes to their environmental performance, especially in relation to their carbon footprint. Being proactive in taking responsibility for their impacts on the environment and climate is increasingly important not only to underpin the organisation’s values, but also to manage risks and reputation. With EMAS, you can do this work in the right way and with credibility.
Other benefits for an organisation might be to reduce costs for resource and waste management, minimise risks, support regulatory compliance, and improve relations with internal and external stakeholders. A study by the European Commission has shown that EMAS can also help achieve a competitive advantage.
What are the next steps in improving EEA’s environmental performance?
Last year, we decided to raise the level of climate ambition in the EEA’s environmental policy. All sectors of the economy — as well as EU bodies and institutions — will need to contribute to Europe’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Therefore, the EEA is aiming to become a climate-neutral organisation by 2030 and to support other European agencies towards sustainability, especially during this year when the EEA chairs the EU Agencies Network.
The EEA’s electricity supply is already 100 % renewable, mainly powered by wind energy. CO2 emissions related to staff business travel and visitors’ travel are offset. The offsets are used to support Gold Standard-certified energy efficiency projects in Africa. We are now working to assess our carbon footprint with an increased scope and to develop a feasible roadmap to achieve climate neutrality by 2030. The EEA is fully committed to this action.
Climate change mitigation expert
and EMAS coordinator