Although the individual environmental impact of SMEs is small, their cumulative impact is significant.
Environmental awareness has been rising steadily in Europe, both within companies and among citizens. According to a poll, 94% of Europeans think that the protection of the environment is important to them personally, and of these more than half say it is very important. Citizens and companies are well aware of environmental threats, particularly plastics waste, climate change, pesticide use and other threats to biodiversity.
Yet for many businesses and citizens alike this environmental attitude is somehow disconnected from action, even if most people believe that they could and should be doing more. The European Union’s economy is almost entirely composed of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to the tune of 20 million of them. They are creating the most employment in Europe and a large part of the EU’s GDP. Although their individual environmental impact is small, their cumulative impact is significant. It is in their environmental (non-)action that true green consciousness can be measured, not in their recognition that a problem exists.
This needs to change. Luckily, businesses in Europe face abundant “environmental offers” that provide timps and solutions for reductions in energy use, material waste, water use and recycling efforts. Measures towards better environmental practices can be found online in only a few clicks. Small and large companies from different sectors also have access to myriad training opportunities, workshops, labels, services and products to make their production and consumption process truly “green.”
Whether for eco-innovation funds and capacity-building workshops offered by public bodies, public or private labels, or for services offered by associations, businesses can go shopping for green support in most EU Member States, and at a low entry cost. Small businesses can also extend their offers with environmentally friendly products and services, while larger firms can build new market with resource-efficient, eco-designed products and so on.
Why should a business go green?
If you are not convinced by the socio-environmental responsibility that your business should adopt, you may be more receptive to the benefits brought by having a green attitude with resource efficiency measures, green products and services, and a circular economy.
Resource efficiency, for instance, is a straightforward concept and certainly the first step towards entering a circular model. Resource efficiency means increasing your business revenue streams by lowering resource use, environmental impacts and operating costs. For the most motivated, or simply for businesses that understand that environmental protection means better financial performance, a reduced risk of fines related to environmental legislation, access to public contracts, cost savings, or enhanced employee commitment, environmental management schemes support and certify thousands of organizations each year.
The Eco Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is referencing all positive outcomes of each EMAS certified organisation, small and large, via audited environmental statements. The figures speak for themselves:
• Between 2012 and 2013 Lufthansa City Line’s fuel consumption decreased by 2.8%.
• Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech s.r.o. purifies the air with 97% efficiency after painting vehicles.
• Between 2013 and 2014 the Liceu Opera House saved more than 26% of its energy use for heating and domestic hot water – a saving of €190,000.
• The Palau de la Musica Catalana decreased its water consumption by more than 23% between 2010 and 2014.
• Between 2011 and 2016 Martin’s Hotels reduced the total energy use of its 11 hotels by 12.5%.
• Ricoh has revolutionized the printing business, becoming a circular economy champion. Ricoh loans its printing machines to its clients, allowing the company to maintain, collect, reuse and recycle the machine components.
As these examples illustrate, going green is becoming increasingly attractive as a business strategy. Many studies show that companies that commit to sustainability are financially outperforming their competitors.
Offering green products and services could be a next step for large and small businesses. Today, only 33% of all SMEs within the EU offer green products or services, while the market is in demand in all sectors (4% per year even during the 2008 economic recession).
At EU level, many labels certify that a product or service is green . Among them, the EU Ecolabel is promoting excellence within the “label industry.” With 40,000 products and services, from baby clothes to electronic equipment, this label helps companies and consumers navigate the green maze. It is a reliable label that identifies products and services with a reduced environmental impact.
Recognizing that businesses, governments and consumers are not going fast enough to protect the environment, a new economic model is emerging fast: a circular economy. In a circular economy, the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible in the system. Waste and resource use are minimized, and when a product reaches the end of its life, it is used again to create further value.
This means local jobs, local products and local benefit in a globalized economy. Will this new model affect your business? Well, look at the latest EU legislation, which plans to ban single-use plastics by 2021, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The food chain will come next, along with the construction sector, bio-based products, and of course critical raw materials.
If you are not convinced your business needs to go green, be aware: your competition will do just that.
For more information, the following websites can be useful:
www.emas.eu – a premium environmental management system
www.ecodyn.brussels – an example of a local eco-management certificate for businesses
www.resourceefficient.eu – plenty of tips, measures and a free assessment tool for your business
www.ecolabel.eu – EU Ecolabel for products and services
www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org – Ellen MacArthur Foundation
www.circulareconomy.brussels – a local action plan that mixes public and private actors working toward a circular economy transition in Brussels.