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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Coping with the environmental challenge

© Fotolia.comReducing their environmental impact is a challenge to small and medium sized companies (SMEs) all over Europe. The pressure on SMEs to move to products and processes with a lower environmental impact will continue to increase over the coming years, both from the market place as well as via environmental legislation. Within the framework of the Small Business Act (SBA), the Commission is taking action to raise SMEs' awareness of environmental and energy-related issues and is providing support to assist them implementing legislation, assessing their environmental and energy performance and upgrading their skills and qualifications.

Eurobarometer Survey (2012) on SMEs, resource efficiency and green markets

SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and their contribution is essential for pursuing the EU goals towards sustainable growth. Representatives of companies, both SMEs and large companies as reference group, were interviewed across the EU, a number of other European countries and the US. This report addresses three core themes: resource efficiency, green markets and green jobs.

Study on SMEs and the environment in the EU (October 2010)

This report estimates the environmental impact of SMEs in Europe. The results are collected in a database that allows the user to compare the environmental impact of certain indicators among Member States and within a specific industrial sector per type of company. The study also analyses both the administrative burdens from EU environmental legislation and the business opportunities in these areas for SMEs, with concrete examples from 13 European countries. The report is accompanied by a web based toolkit to assist policy-makers and SMEs in developing environmental improvements.

Environmental impact from SMEs

  • SMEs contribute roughly 64% to the industrial pollution in Europe
  • Up to 24% of SMEs actively engage in actions to reduce their environmental impact (mainly reduction of energy consumption); 0.4% of SMEs use a certified Environmental Management System (EMAS, ISO 14001 or other systems)
  • Actions targeting SMEs need to take into account the industrial sector in which they are active

The impact of EU environmental measures on SMEs

  • SMEs find it more difficult to comply with environmental legislation than large companies
  • "A simpler administration is better for the environment": SMEs need easier environmental permitting procedures and authorizations, simple environmental reporting, one-stop-shops to save time and avoid the duplication of work and free or subsidised advisory services to help SMEs comply with the legislation in force such as the Environmental Compliance Assistance Programme (ECAP)
  • Financial support can alleviate the costs of complying with environmental legislation

Transforming environmental challenges into business opportunities

1. Reducing costs and environmental impact, increasing energy efficiency

  • Investment in environmental solutions is a priority for SMEs with a high environmental impact (around 40-45% of SMEs). SMEs prefer low-cost solutions: simple clean technologies, Best Available Techniques, closed systems (recycling of water or waste), or simple solutions such as energy-efficient light bulbs and waste segregation, reorganisation of invoicing…
  • Certified environmental management systems (EMS) are more attractive solutions for medium-sized and large enterprises as well as companies with a high impact on the environment. EMS are too complicated for micro or small companies. Systems should be tailor-made for different types of SMEs.
  • Training for green skills is essential.

2. Emerging business opportunities in the eco-market/eco-industry

  • Lack of expertise, lengthy approval procedures for new products and lack of consumer demand are the main obstacles that prevent SMEs from entering the eco-industry.
  • SMEs need support for marketing campaigns for eco-products, easier certification of environmentally friendly products and sector-specific events highlighting eco-industry opportunities.

You can consult the full findings of the study on: Study on SMEs and the environment in the EU.

Support for SMEs to become more environmentally friendly

The European Small Business Portal helps SMEs to access relevant EU-level information to help them make the most of the markets and to find out about funding opportunities. The EU provides a range of financial instruments to exploit fully the opportunities of increased energy efficiency and respect for the environment through technological eco-innovation, new business models and management systems.

The Work of the Enterprise Europe Network

With the objective of providing pro-active services to help SMEs turning environmental challenges into economic opportunities, the Commission has created a network of environment and energy efficiency experts embedded in the Enterprise Europe Network. The network will offer on-site environmental services to SMEs and build local cooperation with Environmental Service Providers. The 7 proposals selected in 2009 started their activities at the beginning of 2010, involving 55 network partners from various regions and 8 sectors of activity.

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