According to a recent survey, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of the 27 EU Member States should focus on and develop more specific policies and strategies related to three core themes, such as “resource efficiency“, “green markets” and “environmental jobs” to meet the European Sustainability Targets up to 2020.
The survey, requested by the European Commission Directorate General Enterprise and Industry, and coordinated by the Directorate General for Communication, was carried out between the 24th of January and the 10th of February 2012, and covered businesses employing one or more persons in the manufacturing, retail, services and industry sectors within the European Union.
The results of the survey could be considered a test about the European SMEs’ attitudes towards the environment. But, why SMEs are so important for the economic, social and political future of the European Community? Let’s give few numbers: there are 20,8 million SMEs in the European Union, representing 99% of all businesses and providing around 90 million jobs in the internal market.
Therefore, SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and their contribution is essential for pursuing the goals of ‘Europe 2020’, the Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth. Moreover, the European Commission promotes the growth of SMEs also through the Small Business Act for Europe (SBA), a set of 10 principles which should guide the design and implementation of policies both at EU and national level.
This framework includes an initiative to raise SMEs’ awareness of environmental and energy-related issues, and assist them in implementing European legislation, assessing environmental and energy performance and upgrading skills and qualifications.
Having said that, let’s now analyze the main findings came out from the interviews.
1) RESOURCE EFFICIENCY
- 93% of EU SMEs are taking at least one action to be more resource efficient. SMEs would save energy (64%), minimize waste (62%), recycle (61%), save materials (57%) and water (50%) in order to save resources, while large companies with more than 250 employees would save more energy (82%), minimize waste (72%), recycle (76%), save materials (74%) and sell scrap material to companies (44% vs. 24%).
- 80% of SMEs plan to implement additional resource efficiency actions in the next two years.
- 33% of SMEs make efforts to improve resource efficiency, as it is one of their top priorities. A fifth of SMEs would take measures because of financial and fiscal incentives, or other forms of public support to create a competitive advantage/business opportunity (23%), or because of demand from customers or providers (22%). Large companies with over 250 employees compared to SMEs would take efficiency measures to create a competitive advantage/business opportunity (36% vs. 23% for SMEs), anticipate future professional/product standards (22% vs. 12%), as well as further changes in legislation (20% vs. 12%).
- Measures to improve resource efficiency have reduced the production costs for 35% of SMEs, while 27% of SMEs had production costs increased.
- 43% of SMEs receive external support in relation to environmental actions from the private sector (24%) and public support (9%), while 47% of large companies receive external support from private sector and from public sector (13%).
- 25% of SMEs have an Environmental Management System (EMS) in place in comparison to 48% of large companies.
- EU structural and cohesion funds supported 4% of SMEs.
- 11% of SMEs have bid for a public procurement tender that included environmental requirements, while 16% of large companies participate in a public procurement tender with environmental requirements.
2) GREEN MARKETS
- Just 26% of SMEs offer green products or services, and a further 8% plan to do so in the next two years. Nevertheless, 60% of SMEs does not currently offer green products or services, while 42% of large companies do.
- 52% of the SMEs, currently offering green products or services, offer products and services with environmental features. A 29% of SMEs offer green services or produce green products in the area of recycled materials, and 20% in renewable energy or solid waste management, while 31% of large companies offer environmentally-related professional services vs. 14% of SMEs.
- SMEs sell mainly food and beverages (25%) and electronic and mechanical machinery and equipment (23%) as green products and services.
- SMEs which offer green products and services say their green sales represent 1-5% of their annual turnover (30%). For 17% of SMEs, green products or services represent more than 75% of the annual turnover, while for 24% of large companies green products or services represent 6-10% of the annual turnover vs. 15% for SMEs.
- SMEs have been selling green products or services for more than three years than large companies (61% vs. 55%), while 42% of large companies have been selling green products and services for one to three years vs. 29% of SMEs.
- 87% of SMEs that sell green products or services do so on the national markets. Very few SMEs offer their catalogue of green products or services to countries outside the EU, while large companies sell green products or services in several geographical areas outside the EU.
- Customer demand plays a major role in the decision to sell green products or services. 48% of SMEs sell green products or services as a demand from customers, while other SMEs because of companies’ core values (32%), while large companies mention company’s image (51% vs. 30% of SMEs) and creation of a competitive advantage/business opportunity (43% vs. 27% of SMEs) as reasons for selling green products or services.
- Only 30% of SMEs receive external support for offering green products and services vs. 44% of large companies.
- Financial incentives are the best way to expand SMEs range of green products or services. 49% of the SMEs that already offer green products or services indicate that financial incentives for developing products, services or new production processes would be the best way to help the expansion of their range of green products or services, while 24% of large companies that already offer green services or products say that none of the types of support would help them to expand the range of green products or services.
- 31% of the SMEs that are not currently offering green products or services cite financial incentives as the best way to help launch a range of green products or services vs. 43% of large companies.
3) GREEN JOBS
- 37% of SMEs have employees, which may include the owner himself, working in green jobs some, or all the time. About the number of SMEs offering green jobs, estimates suggest that the proportion of companies with green jobs will increase in the next two years. 39% is the expected proportion of companies with at least one employee who work in green jobs.
These interesting data help establish the context of the green economy within the European Union up to 2020, and understand the reasons why “greening” the production, consumption and distribution of EU SMEs products and services is the best possible answer to recover the European economic system, while contributing to a responsible and sustainable growth, more respectful of the quality of life of people and natural resources.
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