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Interview of Janez Potočnik:
Biodiversity and SMEs helping shape future of the EBAE


Yanez Potocnik
Janez Potočnik
Commissioner for the

Since 1987 the European Business Awards for the Environment (EBAE) have rewarded companies that make an outstanding contribution to sustainable development. Although the initiative is now well-established, the EBAE is constantly looking for ways to improve its success. European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik explains how a new biodiversity award and small and medium-sized enterprises will help shaping the future of the award scheme.

Commissioner Potočnik, 2010 witnessed the highest number of applications for the Business Awards for the Environment, confirming the importance and prestige of these awards. Could you tell us about the development of this initiative over the past years?

The EBAE initiative has been highly successful for over 20 years, attracting an ever growing number of applicants and increasing interest from the media. I am indeed particularly pleased with the record number of entries for the EBAE in 2010:: 141 finalists from the national competitions in 24 EU and candidate countries applied for the awards – despite the economic downturn. This is a clear indication that there is an economic sense in applying eco-innovative technologies and processes. The companies involved in the EBAE demonstrate that taking a green approach has had a positive effect on their profitability, while contributing to the common good. And quality is high – the entries show a great deal of ingenuity and innovative ability.

These awards have a very important role to play, building a bridge between industry and environmental policy. If we want a smooth transition towards a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy – which is the paramount goal of the European Commission – then we need business on board.

How do you see the future of the award scheme?

There is always room for improvement. One new feature for the next European-level competition in 2012 is the introduction of a new Business and Biodiversity Award. This will be presented to a European company with outstanding achievements in halting biodiversity loss and supporting natural ecosystems. The winner will be selected from companies applying for one of the existing categories: management, product, process and international business cooperation.
This development stems from the need to recognize that businesses have a crucial role to play in halting biodiversity loss. Without robust, healthy and properly functioning ecosystems, we cannot rely on the continued flow of goods and services upon which our society is so dependent. If ecosystems are degraded by habitat destruction, over-abstraction of water, and overloaded with pollutants, they won't have the resilience to face the additional major stress of climate change. That's why I am fully committed to improving biodiversity protection, which is a top priority in EU environmental policy.
In the future we will also be looking at ways to encourage more small and medium-sized enterprises to apply for the Awards. SMEs have significant potential to turn eco-innovative ideas into economically viable solutions and create green jobs. So we are looking to reward the ones that act as pioneers in developing innovative and sustainable products and processes and show the lead for other companies in the EU.

Why are you encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to participate in the EBAE?

Although we are very happy with the record number of entries in 2010, the level of participation of SMEs in the EBAE does not reflect their presence in the EU's economy. More than 99% of all European businesses are SMEs – the real DNA of the economy. They provide two out of three private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU. With an average participation of only 37% in recent years, SMEs are missing out on an opportunity to promote their product or service and attract financing. Opinion polls show that consumers are increasingly making conscious choices towards eco-friendly products. A positive image gained from the EABAE most certainly translates into positive economic results.
SMEs do stand a good chance of winning against large companies. Despite the low participation rate, SMEs have done very well in the competition itself, winning as many awards from 2004 to 2010 as large enterprises – nine each – even though there were only 186 SME entries to 235 from large enterprises. This proves that as long as you have creative ideas you stand a chance of winning an award.
Let's not forget the central role SMEs play in achieving sustainable growth. One of the main EU goals is to turn Europe into a resource-efficient, low carbon economy that makes better use of natural resources, and small firms can make a huge contribution.

How do the EBAE fit into EU policy, particularly the Europe 2020 Strategy and Resource Efficiency Plans?

The EU 2020 Strategy recognises that a better environment matters not only for our quality of life but also for the economy. Resource efficiency is one of the priorities of the EU 2020 Strategy, and the idea will become even more significant in the coming years as natural resources become more scarce, and efficiency becomes an even more powerful economic imperative. The EBAE follow that line, rewarding companies that make the best possible use of resources throughout their life cycle to create as much economic value and as little environmental impacts as possible – basically it's about doing more with less. There is little doubt that efficient use of resources will become the cornerstone of competitiveness in Europe and all over the world. The EBAE have an important role to play in making the achievements of companies that concretise these strategies known to the public.

New 'Business and Biodiversity' award pays tribute to best practices in biodiversity protection

European companies with outstanding achievements in halting biodiversity loss and supporting natural ecosystems will be awarded a special prize in the context of EBAE from 2012. The winner will be selected from companies applying for one of the existing award categories: management, product, process and international business cooperation. The selection criteria will be:

  • Is the protected ecosystem/habitat/ species important? • How extensive is the impact of the action?
  • Does it contribute to the protection of biodiversity in a broader context?
  • How sustainable is the protection of biodiversity?

This new award was created in partnership with the EU Business @ Biodiversity Platform initiative, where businesses can get together to share their experiences, learn from their peers and express their desires and concerns to the European Commission.