EU to help small businesses go ‘green’

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The Commission has announced new measures aimed at helping small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with increasingly burdensome environmental legislation and take advantage of the potential economic benefits offered by improved environmental management.

The ‘Environmental Compliance Assistance Programme’ (ECAP), announced by the EU executive on 4 October, aims to wise up Europe’s 23 million SMEs to the negative impact that their daily business can have on the environment. 

“A majority [of companies] actually think that their activities have little or no impact [on the environment],” explained the Commission in a statement, adding: “SMEs also tend to believe that they are complying with legislation unless told otherwise.” 

However, with SMEs representing 99% of all EU enterprises, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas stressed: “To successfully tackle the environmental challenges we face and to achieve our targets on greenhouse emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency, all European companies must be on board.”

The seven year, €5 million programme will thus concentrate on disseminating information to SMEs about the environmental threat their activities can pose, as well as about the economic benefits they can reap from better resource management and eco-innovation. It will also provide financial assistance for training activities and support programmes aimed at reducing the burden of compliance. 

SMEs welcomed the ECAP as a sign of the Commission’s “good understanding of the challenges facing SMEs wishing to limit their environmental footprint and striving to comply with the existing and often complex environmental rules”. However, they regretted that the support programme fails to specifically target micro-businesses, as these have the most difficulty in dealing with current rules and standards. 

The European craft and SME employers’ organisation UEAPME also stressed that improved regulation at EU level is also essential for improving business compliance. “The Commission missed one key point by not committing itself to ensuring that environmental legislation is also understandable and takes into account SMEs’ specificities,” said Environmental Policy Director Guido Lena. 

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