SWITCH-Asia is a €150 million programme in which the EU is encouraging Asian SMEs to become more sustainable through policy support, information exchange and on-the-ground projects.
Asia has become the world’s manufacturing centre, but the estimated 30 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up 80% of its industry are too often using out-of-date, polluting technologies that ruin the environment. With European demand a powerful driver of activity, in 2008 the EU launched SWITCH-Asia to promote sustainable consumption and production (SCP) in the Far East.
There are three components:
The EU is already funding 30 projects in 15 Asian countries. Grants of €0.5 to €2 million are available for projects lasting from two to four years, with applicants required to supply no more than a fifth of total costs – or just a tenth for least developed countries. Applicants can be anyone from chambers of commerce to non-governmental organisations, though SMEs are preferred.
One Chinese project promotes use of bamboo instead of timber, steel or concrete in housing reconstructions in the earthquake-prone province of Sichuan. Bamboo is strong, abundantly available and more earthquake- resilient than the alternatives, says project manager Lou Yiping from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan.
In China’s Tianjin Binhai New Area, a 2 270 km2 industrial development zone, SWITCH-Asia is implementing an industrial symbiosis project to help SMEs reuse millions of tonnes of solid waste they produce each year.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the EU is reaching out to 500 SMEs in key sectors such as food processing, textiles and furniture to teach them how to innovate to make products of higher environmental and social value. It is working with 30 government organisations to improve policy support.
Projects are supported by a SWITCH-Asia networking platform which puts them in contact with similar initiatives and brings results to the attention of host governments. The idea is to replicate successful projects.
As part of SWITCH-Asia, the EU is also in talks with the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand about how it can help them formulate national SCP plans. In other countries, such as China and India, it is working with the United Nations Environment Programme at regional level to engage stakeholders and build capacity to enable a shift to SCP.
The SWITCH-Asia programme is a sign of the times: it brings together previous programmes such as Asia-ProEco and Asia-Invest, which separately promoted sustainability and commerce. The new mantra is green, clean growth and by promoting this abroad as well as at home, Europe is further shrinking its own environmental footprint.