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Best Environmental Management Practice

Many organisations and companies have a large scope for improving their environmental performance. With motivations ranging from eco-efficiency to reputation and concerns about the sustainability of their business, many of them intend to reduce their impact on the environment.

To help organisations to reach such objective, the JRC identifies, evaluates and documents best environmental management practices (BEMPs) for different sectors in close co-operation with the stakeholders concerned. To do so, the JRC follows the so-called frontrunner approach, i.e. it studies those techniques, measures or actions that are implemented by the organisations within the sector that are most advanced in terms of environmental performance in each of many areas, such as energy efficiency, resource efficiency, emissions, but also supply chain management. The results of this work are Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) on best environmental management practice.

This activity is part of the European Commission's work to implement the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), a voluntary framework for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. Within this framework, the EU decided in 2009 to promote best environmental management practice, by developing Sectoral Reference Documents.

EMAS and the promotion of best environmental management practice

The EMAS scheme has evolved through time. In its latest revision, it promotes best environmental management practice, thanks to the development of Sectoral Reference Documents which EMAS registered organisations must take into account when assessing their environmental performance.
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The EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a management tool for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. The scheme has been available for participation by companies since 1995 and was originally restricted to companies in industrial sectors.

Since 2001 EMAS has been open to all economic sectors including public and private services.

In 2009 the EMAS Regulation was revised and modified for the second time. Regulation (EC) No 1221/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 on the voluntary participation by organisations in a Community eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) was published on 22 December 2009 and entered into force on 11 January 2010.

A major change is promoting best environmental management practice. For this purpose, Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) are elaborated (according to Article 46.1 of the regulation). The SRDs contain detailed technical information describing best environmental management practice to improve environmental performance, as well as sector-specific environmental indicators, and benchmarks of excellence.

EMAS registered organisations must take into account the relevant sectoral reference documents when assessing their environmental performance. The same applies to the EMAS environmental verifiers when checking the requirements according to Article 18 of the EMAS regulation.

Priority sectors

Sectoral Reference Documents on best environmental management practice are elaborated for a list of eleven priority sectors. The first sectors are: Retail trade, Tourism, Construction, Public Administration, Agriculture and Food and Drink Manufacturing.
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The European Commission established an indicative list of priority sectors for which Sectoral Reference Documents should have been elaborated. This was published in a European Commission Communication in 2011.

The main criteria taken into account in establishing the list were: the environmental impact of the sector within the EU; the level of EMAS uptake in the sector; and the potential for environmental improvements in the 'value chain' of the sector.

The priority sectors are:

  • Retail trade,
  • Tourism,
  • Construction,
  • Public Administration,
  • Agriculture - Crop production and Animal production,
  • Food and beverage manufacturing,
  • Car manufacturing,
  • Manufacture of electronic and electrical equipment,
  • Waste management,
  • Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment,
  • Telecommunications.

The state of play of the development of these eleven documents is detailed in the eleven dedicated web pages, whose links are given below.

Supporting all actors within the sectors

The documents on best environmental management practice are aimed at supporting environmental improvement efforts of all actors within the sector they address. They are not only for EMAS registered organisations, but for all those who intend to improve their environmental performance, with or without an environmental management system.
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The elaboration of the Sectoral Reference Documents (SRDs) stems from the implementation of the EMAS regulation. However, these documents on best environmental management practice are not only targeted at EMAS registered organisations but they are also for organisations with other environmental management systems (e.g. based on ISO 14001 or a non-certified individual environmental management system) or organisations without a formal environmental management system. The best environmental management practices identified and their description are not specific to EMAS and can be useful to any organisation of the sector covered by each document, which intends to reduce its environmental impact in one or several environmental areas.

Stakeholders involvement

Sectoral Reference Documents are developed involving relevant stakeholders.
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For the elaboration of each Sectoral Reference Document (SRD), the JRC sets up a technical working group (TWG) of sectoral experts to gather and review information on the BEMPs of the sector. The TWG comprises a range of experts with in-depth knowledge of the sector from different perspectives (industry, member states, research institutes, technology providers, environmental NGOs...) and should be representative for the whole sector and balanced. The JRC organises the work of the TWG, fosters the exchange of information, makes a scientific and technical analysis of the vast amount of information exchanged and elaborates the different documents. Two meetings of the TWG, at the beginning and at the end of the elaboration process, are usually organised and their members are asked to review the draft documents at several stages.

The other main sources of information for the identification of BEMPs and for the elaboration of the SRDs are: the preparation of a background report by an external contractor, literature review, direct contacts with organisations within the sector, and site visits.

Sectoral Reference Documents and JRC Reports

BEMPs for each sector are collected in a Sectoral Reference Document and described in detail in a "best practice" report; both are publicly available.
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The JRC is producing two documents describing the BEMPs for each sector: a concise Sectoral Reference Document (SRD), and a detailed "best practice" report.

The first one is the document mentioned in Article 46.1 of the EMAS regulation. It needs to be approved by representatives of EU countries at the EMAS Committee and then officially adopted by the European Commission. This document describes briefly all the BEMPs identified for a certain sector and what are the conditions under which they can be applied. For each BEMP, it also lists what environmental indicators can be used to monitor its implementation and what are the benchmarks of excellence. Once adopted the SRDs are published on the EU Official Journal and also made available on this web-site.

The concise SRD is based on a much more comprehensive and detailed "best practice" report, which is the direct result of all the research work carried out by the JRC for that SRD. That document is published by the JRC as a JRC Scientific and Policy Report. The technical report follows the same general structure but provides a much more detailed description of the different BEMPs according to the following common structure:

  1. Description
    A description of the BEMP including some background and details on how it is implemented.

  2. Achieved environmental benefits
    What benefits in environmental terms are achieved by implementing such a BEMP.

  3. Appropriate environmental indicators
    Which environmental indicators are used to monitor the implementation of the BEMP and/or its environmental benefits.

  4. Cross-media effects
    What negative impacts the BEMP has on other environmental aspects.

  5. Operational data
    Operational data that can help understand the implementation of a BEMP.

  6. Applicability
    The conditions under which such a BEMP is applicable.

  7. Economics
    The cost and benefits of the implementation of a certain BEMP in economic terms.

  8. Driving force for implementation
    What the driving force or rationale for the implementation of such a BEMP was.

  9. Reference organisations
    Examples of organisation which have successfully implemented the BEMP.

  10. Reference literature
    Reports, scientific articles, publications...

Organisations interested in implementing the BEMPs are highly recommended to refer to the extensive guidance available in the 'best practice' report.

The technical reports (when finalised) as well as their main draft versions are publicly available on this website. Other working documents are published in the pages dedicated to each sector (see Related content below).


For any question or potential contribution, feel free to contact the JRC EMAS SRD team.
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If you have any question on the work carried out in this area or if you would like to contribute to the identification of BEMPs in one of the sectors under study, please feel free to contact us.

The best way to contact the JRC EMAS SRD team is sending an e-mail to

The following people are part of the JRC EMAS SRD team:

  • Paolo Canfora
  • Marco Dri
  • Ioannis Antonopoulos
  • Pierre Gaudillat

The sectors covered

Retail trade sector Tourism Construction Public Administration
Agriculture - Crop and Animal Production Food and Beverage Manufacturing Electrical and Electronic Equipment Manufacturing Car Manufacturing
Waste Management
Fabricated Metal Products Telecommunications

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This work is carried out by the Circular Economy and Industrial Leadership Unit of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission in-house science and knowledge service. The Circular Economy and Industrial Leadership unit is based in Seville, Spain.

Related content

To find out more about the work carried out for specific sectors, visit the relevant pages:

Relevant EU policy

- Sustainable Consumption and Production policies:

- The EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS):

- The EMAS regulations:

Download our main publications

Development of EMAS Sectoral Reference Documents on Best Environmental Management Practice (April 2014) Best Environmental Management Practice in the retail trade sector (January 2013) Best Environmental Management Practice in the tourism sector (September 2013) Draft technical report on Best Environmental Management Practice in the construction sector (September 2012)
As the science and knowledge service of the European Commission, the Joint Research Centre's mission is to support EU policies with independent evidence throughout the whole policy cycle.