EU Green Action Plan boosts SME resource efficiency

EU Green Action Plan boosts SME resource efficiency

During 2015, the European Commission took a number of initiatives to encourage small and medium-sized companies to see the business opportunities that can arise from greater resource efficiency and green entrepreneurship. The initiatives are grouped under the Commission's Green Action Plan for SMEs. More work to develop the plan's themes is promised in 2016 and subsequent years.

Small business and sustainability

The Green Action Plan for SMEs was published in July 2014. It brings together a series of actions that were already underway or would be taken with the aim of encouraging small and medium-sized companies to contribute as fully as possible to the realisation of a number of top-level European Union goals. The overall objective is that SMEs should play a major part in the move to a more sustainable EU economy as envisaged in the Europe 2020 Strategy[1]. The Green Action Plan also contributes to the aims of the Eco-Innovation Action Plan, which is a strand of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The Green Action Plan for SMEs was crystallised under five headings:

  • Greening SMEs for more competitiveness and sustainability through major resource efficiency improvements
  • Green entrepreneurship – uncovering new business opportunities from environmental sustainability and the circular economy
  • Opportunities for SMEs in a greener value chain – how smaller companies can participate in an economy based around recycling, re-manufacturing, repair and eco-design
  • Access to markets for green SMEs – helping green SMEs trade internationally
  • Governance – networking to improve the business environment for green SMEs.

During 2015, a number of steps were taken in these areas. For example, initial steps have been taken to establish an online European Resource Efficiency Excellence Centre, which will advise SMEs (a call for tenders to set this up closed on 22 February 2016). Specific eco-innovation and circular economy actions included relevant calls for project proposals under the EU's Horizon 2020 research programme and development of the Commission's environmental technology verification scheme. For 2016-2017, preparation is underway for large-scale demonstration projects under Horizon 2020, including projects on systemic eco-innovation for the circular economy.

Survey: room for improvement

Of particular interest in 2015 was the publication of a Flash Eurobarometer survey on SMEs, resource efficiency and green markets. The aim of the survey was to improve the knowledge base about green SMEs and provide input to the future European Resource Efficiency Excellence Centre.

Among other findings, the survey showed that for SMEs, minimising waste and saving energy are still the most common resource efficiency actions, while water savings are expected to become more important. Most SMEs that made resource efficiency investments (80%) were satisfied with the outcome. However, most SMEs rely on their own resources to make such investments, and have with little outside help – only 19% of SMEs that took resource efficiency steps sought financial and non-financial external support. Only about a quarter of SMEs claim to offer green products or services, suggesting significant scope for improvement if the right incentives can be designed.

Further information:

Green Action Plan for SMEs: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/business-friendly-environment/green-action-plan/index_en.htm

Flash Eurobarometer on SMEs, resource efficiency and green markets: http://ec.europa.eu/COMMFrontOffice/PublicOpinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/FLASH/surveyKy/2088