Companies develop environmental and social strategies that go beyond legal requirements.
Corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a process whereby companies integrate social, environmental and ethical issues into their business operations and strategy. They can for example do so by:
- caring about their social and environmental impact on their staff, business partners and society as a whole;
- motivating their employees with training and development opportunities;
- employing disabled workers;
- paying attention to natural resources that are used in their operations;
- applying certain criteria to their investment decisions and their supply chain;
- ensuring transparency about their activities for their stakeholders.
Products life cycle
Life cycle thinking is about minimising the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle, considering the extraction of resources, production, use, re-use, transport, recycling, and ultimate waste disposal.
The European integrated product policy (IPP) encourages businesses to design products with environmental impact in mind, focusing on the entire product life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal.
By complying with strict ecological and performance criteria, EU companies can earn the right to stamp their products with the ecolabel. This will help their greener products be more easily identified by consumers.
The revised Ecolabel Regulation proposal was adopted on 25 November 2009. Special emphasis is given to the accessibility of the scheme to small businesses, in particular through the reduction of fees and administrative procedures.
Eco-management and audit scheme
The eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) helps companies assess and expand their green capabilities through an environment management system.
EMAS provides advice and spreads good practice by establishing networks of professionals in different sectors. As the scheme offers certification to all businesses that comply with EMAS rules, members benefit from more visible green credentials.
The revised EMAS regulation was adopted on 25 November 2009. It will answer more specifically to the needs of small businesses, including verifications, cluster registration, fairer fees and more guidance.
Eco-Innovation Action Plan
The Eco-Innovation Action Plan is aimed at supporting eco-innovation development, uptake and diffusion in the economy, which suffer from particular market barriers.
Lead Market Initiative
The Lead Market Initiative represents the European policy for six important lead markets:
- Protective textiles;
- Sustainable construction;
- Bio-based products;
- Renewable energies.
These are supported by actions to lower barriers to bring new products or services to market. Actions can consist of:
- improving legislation to foster innovation;
- encouraging public procurement, standardisation, labelling and certification.
Action Plan for sustainable consumption and production and sustainable industrial policy
In 2008, the EU established an action plan to make the way EU citizens consume and produce in Europe more sustainable. It aims to reinforce EU leadership in environmental performance and presents a list of actions to be undertaken without additional costs for European companies and consumers. This action plan will be revised in 2012.
Small Business Act
The Small Business Act states that the EU and its member countries should enable small businesses to turn environmental challenges into opportunities. The European Commission translates this into practice by:
- making it easier for small businesses to access EMAS;
- funding a network of environmental and energy efficiency experts in the Enterprise Europe Network;
- providing additional help for innovative start-ups and small businesses in eco-innovation.
European Business Awards for the Environment
Since 1987 the European Business Awards for the Environment aim to recognise, reward and promote the most eco-innovative, environmentally-friendly and socially responsible companies from EU countries and candidate countries.
Training and up-skilling
People's skills must be constantly renewed to enable them to meet present and future societal challenges such as ever-evolving technologies, increasing internationalisation and demographic changes.
Therefore, continuing training is an essential part of a company's voluntary action for the development of its staff and the company's competitiveness as a whole, no matter whether this includes generic or specific skills, training on very technical aspects of working life or management and language skills.
It is equally important that more enterprises learn actively to manage change and restructure their activities successfully.
An EU website provides assessment tools, services and data to help businesses minimise the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle.
The EU's Environmental Compliance Assistance Programme provides expertise, information and tools to help small businesses "green up" their operations.
LIFE+ provides specific support for environmental and nature conservation projects. With a budget of €2.1 billion for 2007-13, the programme co-finances environmental projects under three headings: nature & biodiversity, environment policy & governance, information & communication.
The Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) gives businesses - via financial intermediaries - assistance and access to finance for activities such as eco-innovation. In 2007-13, more than €1 billion will be made available to some 500 000 companies.
The Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), the EU's main research funding programme, also funds research into eco-technology. Some €50 billion are available in 2007-13 - around 15% of it for small businesses.
With a budget of nearly €7 billion for 2007-13, the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme stimulates learning opportunities across the EU. It is open to individuals and businesses - educational and training organisations, research centres.
The four subprogrammes for schools (Comenius), higher education (Erasmus), vocational training (Leonardo da Vinci) and adult education (Grundtvig) focus on different stages of education and training.
The European Social Fund (ESF) provides learning and training opportunities, for employees and employers alike. Funding is also available for businesses undergoing change (restructuring).
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