EU launches Green Action Plan for SMEs

On the same day as revealing a new Circular Economy Package, the European Commission has published its new Green Action Plan for SMEs in a bid to improve resource efficiency among smaller firms.

‘Green Action Plan for SMEs: Enabling SMEs to turn environmental challenges into business opportunities’ presents a series of SME-oriented actions to help exploit the business opportunities that the transition to a green economy offers, as well as highlighting the drivers and obstacles and financial instruments available to help implement green initiatives.

The announcement comes after a public consultation on the Green Action Plan for SMEs which took place at the end of 2013. Small and medium-sized enterprises have often spoken out about feeling marginalised in the areas of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Five Green Actions

The Green Action Plan sets out a series of objectives and corresponding actions for SME’s which are grouped into five sections:

1. Greening SMEs for more competitiveness and sustainability

A better use of resources is calculated to represent an overall savings potential of €630bn per year for European industry.

2. Green entrepreneurship for the companies of the future

Preventing environmental damage and moving towards a low-carbon economy is a societal challenge which also offers new business opportunities for enterprises that bring green products and services to the market. SMEs need a favourable business environment in which green ideas can be easily developed, financed and brought to the market.

3. Opportunities for SMEs in a greener value chain

Re-manufacturing, repair, maintenance, recycling and eco-design have a great potential to become drivers of economic growth and job creation while making a significant contribution to addressing environmental challenges. SMEs and entrepreneurs need a supportive environment to move towards a circular economy.

4. Access to the markets for green SMEs

The EU’s international commitments in areas such as climate change cooperation or neighbourhood policies offer concrete scope for European SMEs with green expertise to gain access to new markets. However, 87% of European SMEs sell their green technologies, products or services only in national markets. A more supportive framework and more international cooperation are required in order to help SMEs successfully integrate into global value chains.

5. Governance 

The Green Action Plan for SMEs has been widely supported by EU Member State administrations and SME stakeholders in consultations on the future of SME policy and in meetings with the Network of SME Envoys and business organisations. It is therefore important to implement the GAP thoroughly, so as to ensure an impact across Europe for the benefit of SMEs. 

Industry reaction

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) has welcomed this list of actions per se, but believes there is still a risk that it won’t filter through to the majority of SMEs unless SME associations are directly involved.

UEAPME’s secretary general Peter Faross said: “The Green Action Plan presents a long list of positive actions to help SMEs to be more efficient in the use of resources, which is very much in line with our proposals and demands. Nonetheless, for the Plan to be successful, UEAPME firmly calls on the European Commission to fully associate the real SME intermediary bodies, Crafts and SMEs organisations, in the implementation of the proposed actions.”

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) hopes that the Green Action Plan will lead to the adoption of concrete SME-specific measures and approaches within sustainability. 

ACCA’s senior economist Emmanouil Schizas said: “Developing an SME approach to sustainability in business practice, business support or public policy will rely on understanding the dynamics of such a diverse sector. SMEs are indeed not scaled-down versions of large organisations and their needs are extremely varied, even within the sector itself.

“Any initiatives that would focus on engaging the SME sector should not only take into account the differences between large companies and SMEs, but also the differences between micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in this respect.”

VIDEO: How SMEs can become circular economy front-runners

Yesterday (2 July), the European Commission also unveiled a revamped package of waste and recycling targets to accelerate Europe’s transition to a circular economy. Read more here.

Luke Nicholls

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