Successfully transitioning to a green, low-carbon and resource-efficient economy is essential to the EU's competitiveness and public health. The European Commission has prepared an action plan intended to help SMEs harness the business opportunities provided by the green economy.
Meanwhile, the green employment initiative aims to support job creation in new sectors. Local and regional authorities are the best placed to identify and grasp the opportunities that the green economy offers in their area.
The green economy is based on the principle of expanding business activity and productivity while consuming less resources.
Using recycled matter as raw materials not only serves environmental goals, but can also help industry reduce raw material consumption as well as storage, processing and waste management costs.
The closed circulation energy concept means that waste, lost energy, heat, nutrients and CO2 are used and recycled back into energy and food production.
A good example from my region in Finland is a plant combining bioenergy and food production: heat from the biogas power plant warms the water for a fish farm, while the nutrient-rich waste water irrigates the greenhouse. The organic waste from the greenhouse and the fish farm also serves as biofuel or raw material for biogas production.
The transition to a green economy bears significant potential to create local, new and innovative jobs which cannot be relocated. This also implies that some jobs may be replaced by new ones, and job profiles may have to be redefined. Therefore education, employment and environmental policies should be more closely integrated.
An environmentally and business-friendly mind-set should be encouraged at school. We need to review and update training and education curricula, as well as qualifications systems. All academic and vocational courses could include a module devoted to the green economy.
At local level, partnerships could be created with businesses and training institutions to improve the job/skills match.
Cities and regions should provide targeted information to SMEs in different sectors about training and funding opportunities and ways in that improving resource efficiency could bring them real economic benefits.
Local and regional authorities can also positively discriminate in public procurement, favouring companies adhering to green economy principles and concepts.
Local and regional authorities also have a crucial role to play in achieving the EU's emission targets. A good example is the Finnish project, 'Kohti hiilineutraalia kuntaa' ('Towards a carbon-neutral town'), the aim of which is to commit local players - the municipal council, residents and businesses - to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The project is meant to identify new and innovative approaches that create local jobs based on the sustainable use of local natural resources and greater energy efficiency.
In addition to this, green standards should be introduced more broadly at EU level, and consumers informed about these standards so that they can buy certified, environment-friendly products.
We are in the middle of a remarkable change - a green economic revolution. The green economy has already opened significant opportunities for European businesses.
It is clear that in future, raw material consumption must be reduced and businesses must develop products that use less energy or materials to be competitive.