With job creation now at the top of the political agenda in Europe, much attention has focused on whether new 'green' industries can replace some of the manufacturing and construction employment which has dried up in the wake of the economic crisis.
The difficulty for policymakers in Brussels is that the term 'green business' means different things to different people. Indeed, some countries have been quicker to embrace the idea than others.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says working out how many jobs can be considered to be part of the green economy depends on how work is defined. The work of architects and plumbers has evolved to incorporate a greener view, but while these jobs could be called 'green', they are hardly new.
Scepticism remains as to whether low-carbon sectors – which tend to require considerable public sector investment – can swiftly deliver the kind of labour-intensive jobs needed to curb unemployment across Europe.
Can big business and SMEs both be winners?
The question of whether big corporations or nimble SMEs will be the real winners in the green economy remains open. A number of large firms have been using their scale to work with local authorities on major projects such as the 'greening' of government-owned offices and housing stock.
However, big business often looks to SMEs as a source of niche solutions to specific technological problems. As usual, this kind of innovation requires financing – a problem continues to plague small firms.
Governments' role in driving green innovation through public procurement is set to come to the fore when the EU executive publishes its Single Market Act next month and will also feature in the forthcoming innovation strategy.
The trouble for businesses hoping for public support is the contradiction between politicians' pledges to back green business with the concurrent need for fiscal austerity. Business groups fear that while China and South Korea are pumping billions into low-carbon industry, governments in Europe are being forced to freeze – or cut – spending across the public sector.