Efficient SMEs hold key to EU's economic potential

Improving resource efficiency in Europe's SMEs can unlock growth, writes Jeppe Kofod.

By Jeppe Kofod

04 Nov 2015

Improving resource efficiency in Europe's SMEs holds enormous potential for both the environment and the economy. In fact, better use of resources is calculated to be worth upwards of €630bn per year for European industry. 

Some SMEs are already aware of the great opportunities for cost savings. But too few are in a position to truly benefit from the enormous potential.

As many as 93 per cent of European SMEs are already taking some kind of action on resource efficiency, but only 42 per cent of these have seen a reduction in production costs.


There are no doubt many explanations for this discrepancy between willingness to act and savings realised. 

A key issue is that financing resource efficiency initiatives is considered a high-risk investment, discouraging SMEs from implementing large scale plans that could make a real difference.

To counter this perception, we need to encourage SMEs to seek appropriate advice. 

To this end, a European resource efficiency excellence centre will go a long way towards informing SMEs of the possibilities without the fear of financial loss. Enterprise Europe network will also be encouraged to organise campaigns and events about resource efficiency.

This is all very good, but I think we need something bit more hands-on if we are to truly help European SMEs on their way to resource efficiency.

I would suggest an EU corps of resource efficiency ambassadors that would contact SMEs directly in order to help improve their resource efficiency while helping establish local and regional symbiotic economies.

Industrial symbioses have to be encouraged across Europe. An industrial symbiosis is a cooperation between different companies - often from entirely different sectors - that aims at reducing overall resource use and transforming waste and unused by-products into valuable resources.

In the Danish city of Kalundborg, an industrial symbiosis has been operating since 1961. Each year it reduces CO2 emissions by the companies involved by 240,000 tonnes.

In the EU, 60 per cent of total waste is not recycled, composted or reused. But 44 per cent of large companies in the EU do sell their scrap material to other companies - proving that one man's garbage truly is another man's treasure.

Yet only 24 per cent of SMEs are currently selling their waste materials to other companies. This is why we need a new approach. We need experts to contact SMEs and pinpoint opportunities for industrial symbioses.

However, this skilled knowledge isn't typically available at smaller companies. By cooperating with academia and establishing a network of resource ambassadors, we can ensure that the needed specialist knowledge is made available to the SMEs, to the benefit of small business, the economy and the environment.