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MEMO/12/218

Brussels, 27 March 2012

Eurobarometer survey: SMEs are important for a smooth transition to a greener economy

The European Commission has published an extensive survey – the first of its kind - to understand the views and attitudes of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) towards resource efficiency and green markets. The report addresses three core themes: resource efficiency, green markets and green jobs.

Greener economy – The contribution of SMEs is essential

SMEs contribute roughly 64% of the industrial pollution in Europe and they find it more difficult to comply with environmental legislation than large companies. Up to 24% of SMEs actively engage in actions to reduce their environmental impact (mainly by reducing their energy consumption). Lack of expertise, lengthy approval procedures for new products and lack of consumer demand are the main obstacles that prevent SMEs from entering green markets.

There are 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the European Union, representing 99% of all businesses and providing around 90 million jobs in the single market. SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and their contribution is essential for pursuing the goals of ‘Europe 2020’, the EU's strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Green products and services

Green products and services are those with a predominant function of reducing environmental risk and minimising pollution and resources. For this survey, products with environmental features (eco-designed, eco-labelled, organically produced, and with an important recycled content) were also included.

According to the definition used in this Eurobarometer, green jobs are either:

  • jobs related to the production of goods or to the provision of services that benefit the environment or optimise the use of natural resources; or

  • jobs whose characteristics involve use of practices and processes which either more environmental friendly or use fewer natural resources than today.

As a result, the total amount of green jobs measured by this Eurobarometer is linked both to resource-efficiency processes and to the production of green products and services. Examples include a chemical technician testing air samples for pollution emissions levels of the production process, a worker contributing to the production of systems that reduce water pollution emissions, an operator of renewable energy equipment to produce electricity for use within the company.

1. For SMEs, being resource-efficient is important

93% of SMES are taking at least one action to be more resource efficient. SMEs are currently most likely to save energy (64%), minimise their waste (62%) and recycle (61%) in order to be more resource efficient. Half or more of all SMEs also opt for saving materials (57%) and water (50%).

In comparison to SMEs, large companies with more than 250 employees are considerably more likely to take the actions above with the exception of saving water: saving energy (82% vs. 64%), minimising waste (72% vs. 62%), recycling (76% vs. 61%), saving materials (74% vs. 57%), and selling their scrap material to another company (44% vs. 24%).

For a third of SMEs, resource efficiency is a priority

A third of EU SMEs (33%) are making efforts to improve resource efficiency because it is one of their top priorities. Around a fifth mention financial and fiscal incentives or other forms of public support (23%), creation of a competitive advantage/business opportunity (23%) and demand from customers or providers (22%) as the reasons why they take actions to improve their resource efficiency. Anticipating future requirements in terms of legislation (12%) or professional/product standards (12%) are less likely reasons for improving resource efficiency.

Base: SMEs answered ‘at least one action to be more resource efficient’ in Q3

Large companies (250+ employees) are considerably more likely than SMEs to mention the creation of a competitive advantage/ business opportunity (36% vs. 23% for SMEs), the anticipation of future professional /product standards (22% vs. 12%) and the anticipation of future changes in legislation (20% vs. 12%) as reasons for improving resource efficiency.

25% of SMEs are using an environmental management system in comparison to 48% of large companies

Regarding more specific actions linked to resource efficiency, 25% of SMEs in the EU report they have an environmental management system in place in comparison to 48% of large companies.

Base: SMEs answered ‘at least one action to be more resource efficient’ in Q3

Environmental management systems are considerably more commonplace in SMEs in the EU (25%) than in the US (10%). This is particularly true for national and regional systems (14% vs. 3% in the US).

SMEs in manufacturing and industry (29% each) are more likely to have an environmental management system in place than companies whose primary activity is retail (24%) or services (22%).

2. Green Markets – A large untapped potential

26% of EU SMEs report that they offer green products or services as compared to 30% in the US. A further 8% intend to enter green business in the next two years.

There is, however, different untapped potential across countries.

The main green sectors where SMEs are active

52% of SMEs in the EU which offer green products or services do so in the area of products and services with environmental features. 29% offer green products or services in the area of recycled materials and 20% in renewable energy or in solid waste management

Base: SMEs who answered ‘offers green products or services’

Food and beverages are the most commonly sold green products and services followed by electronic and mechanical machinery

A quarter of SMEs in the EU that offer green services or products with environmental features sell food and beverages (25%). Electronic and mechanical machinery and equipment follow in second place (23%). Just below a fifth of green SMEs offer furniture, wood and paper products (19%) and construction materials or services (18%).

Base: SMEs who answered ‘offers green products or services’ in Q19

SMEs are good at home, but fail to be internationally successful

87% of SMEs in the EU that sell green products or services do so on their national market. In second place, just under a quarter of SMEs report that they operate in the European Union (23%). Very few SMEs in the EU offer their green catalogue of products or services in countries outside the EU.

Base: SMEs answered ‘offers green products or services’ in Q19

Customer demand is the main driver for offering green products and services

The main reason for SMEs in the EU to sell green products or services is customer demand (48%). In second place, SMEs values (32%) and image (30%) also play a role. A relatively high proportion of SMEs also mention the creation of a competitive advantage/business opportunity (27%) and compliance with legislation (22%).

Base: SMEs who answered ‘offers green products or services’ in Q19

National and European policy support could help to speed up making SMEs greener

Over half (51%) of SMEs in the EU name financial incentives as the most effective policy measure to promote energy efficiency, while around a quarter mention the ‘simplification of administrative procedures for obtaining permission to construct cogeneration capacity’ (25%) and ‘increasing information on energy service contracts and options to save energy’ (24%).

Half of SMEs see incentives as key to expand their current range of green products and services

Half (49%) of the SMEs that offer green products or services say that financial incentives for developing products, services or new production processes would help them the most to expand their range of green products or services. A quarter (26%) mention assistance with identifying potential markets or customers for these products or services, while 22% mention technical advice and consultancy services for products services development or production processes.

Base: Only those SMEs which answered ‘offers green products or services’ in Q19

What would SMEs help to launch green products and services?

Among SMEs that are not currently selling green product or services, 31% cite financial incentives as the main desirable support for developing products services or new production processes, 15% assistance with identifying potential markets or customers for these products or services and 14% technical advice and consultancy services for products, services development or production processes. However, 31% of SMEs not offering green products or services say that none of these types of support would be useful.

Base: Only those SMEs which answered ‘not offering green products or services’

Public procurement as a tool to promote the greening of SMEs

11% of SMEs in the EU have bid for a public procurement tender that included environmental requirements. 6% report that they have done so successfully while 3% were unsuccessful and 2% are still awaiting the outcome.

Large companies are somewhat more likely to participate in a public procurement tender than SMEs (16% vs. 11%). Among SMEs, medium-sized companies are the most likely to bid for a public tender (22%) while micro companies are the least likely to do so (9%). Most tenders are submitted by SMEs in the industry sector (20%).

However, there is still room for manoeuvre for Member States to involve SMEs in green public procurement.

A number of countries are showing the way in this respect and demonstrate the potential of this tool to further stimulate the greening of SMEs. A quarter of Swedish SMEs (24%) have participated in public tenders with specific environmental requirements, followed by 14% of SMEs in Finland. A high figure is also observed in Norway (21%). SMEs in Estonia are the least likely to bid for such tenders (3%).

3. Green jobs expected to expand dynamically with a rate 35% in the next two years

An increase can be seen in the number of SMEs offering green jobs1 in the next two years, as the expected proportion of SMEs having at least one employee who work in green jobs will be 39% in 2014 compared to 37% today.

Green jobs are largely created in SMEs as opposed to large firms: In 2012, 1 in 8 employees of small and medium-sized firms had a "green job or almost 13% of all SME jobs (in large firms it was only 1 in 33  equivalent to 3% of all large firm jobs).  Green jobs in SMEs are also estimated to expand dynamically with a rate of 35% in the next 2 years.

On average EU SMEs are expected to increase the number of staff with green jobs. They are expected to have on average 2.3 green jobs in two years from now which represents an increase of 0.6 points in comparison to the current average of 1.7. This increase is reflected in all enterprise size-class categories. The expected increase is:

  • 0.4 jobs for micro companies2

  • 1.5 for small companies

  • 1.8 for medium-sized companies and

  • 4,3 for large companies.

The different absolute increases are obviously reflecting the size differences of the different company categories. Currently large companies in the EU have on average 26.4 green jobs in comparison to 1.7 in SMEs. In a relative sense, as shown above, green jobs have a higher share in total employment in SMEs than in large firms. Furthermore, given that there are almost 500 times more SMEs than large firms in the EU (in 2010 there were close to 23 million SMEs as opposed to just over 43,000 large firms in EU-27) the bulk of green jobs in the EU is and will continue to in the future be created in SMEs.

Regionally speaking, there are no considerable differences between EU15 and new Member States (NMS). 37% of SMEs in the EU report that they have at least one employee who works, some or all of the time, in a green job. The figure is higher for SMEs located in the EU15 countries (40%) than for NMS12 (28%)

However, the average proportion of green jobs is higher in the United States than in the EU (2.2 vs. 1.7), but this also due to the – on average - larger company size in the United States as compared to EU SMEs.

Among SMEs, medium-size companies (50%) outnumber small (39%) and micro (36%) companies in terms of green jobs.

There are no differences between SMEs’ expectations in the EU15 countries and NMS12. However, a significant increase might occur in the US, where 43% of SMEs expect to have at least one employee working in a green job in two years’ time, up from 36% at present.

More information:

http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm

1 :

A green job is one that directly works with information, technologies, or materials that

preserves or restores environmental quality. This requires specialized skills, knowledge,

training, or experience. Green products and services are those with a predominant function of reducing environmental risk and minimise pollution and resources. For this survey, products with environmental features (eco-designed, eco-labelled, organically produced, with an important recycled content) were also included. SMEs in the green sector which are active in industry (31%) and retail (29%) sectors are more likely to offer green products and services than the average (26%). Half (52%) of the EU companies active in the green market offer products and services with environmental features such as eco dry-cleaning or organic food products. 29% operate in the area of recycled materials and 20% in renewable energy or solid waste management.

2 :

Micro-companies cover all firms with 0 to 9 persons employed, small companies those with 10 to 49, medium-sized companies those with 50 to 249 and large companies those with 250 or more persons employed.


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