In its “Europe 2020” strategy, the European Commission describes strategies for sustainable growth in Europe. Transformation in the use of energy and materials plays an important role. Due to scarcity of natural resources, increases in energy prices, and climate change, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have no choice but to develop and implement new strategies for managing resources. The Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) is supporting SMEs in the German federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in overcoming this challenge using resources from European funding programmes.
After having completed two successful environmental projects in 2012, the SEZ is now a partner in three additional projects. One of these is the EURESP+ (European Regional Environmental Services Platform Plus) project. Its offer is geared at SMEs from the Baden-Wuerttemberg region in the field of surface technology as well as related branches like metal processing and packaging technology.
Many SMEs lack their own environmental officers. Potential in terms of economic and ecological impact is often unknown or completely neglected. Through the EURESP+ project, SMEs learn about the options for becoming involved in energy and environmental management as well as green technologies, and about the range of funding programmes available. The offer includes thematic workshops and customized initial and follow-up consulting for businesses. For this, the SEZ is cooperating with regional energy and environmental consultants.
The environmental workshops are being offered in cooperation with clusters and environmental initiatives from Baden-Wuerttemberg, or as a part of visitor programmes at industry trade fairs – as was the case in 2012 with the SEZ’s “Costs and Resource Efficiency under Green Scrutiny” workshop at the O&S International Trade Fair for surface technology and coatings and the AMB, a trade fair for metal processing. Following the environmental workshop, participants can book an initial consulting session aimed at analyzing their company’s environmental impact. Here, consumption levels and costs are identified using an “environmental check”. A subsequent evaluation of the data via an environmental consultant then lays the foundation for a follow-up consulting session. Companies also receive consulting on European funding for green technologies and services. With the help of an innovation audit, the SEZ assesses project ideas and recommends a suitable European funding programme. Companies can get highly in-depth advice on the EU Eco-Innovation Programme, an initiative developed especially with the demands of SMEs in mind and which is accepting project applications through September 2013. During the follow-up session, participants work with environmental consultants to develop concrete improvement strategies for environmental management in their business. In addition to the cost-controlling effect of improved energy efficiency or an optimized waste management strategy, legal aspects also play an important role due to their contribution to site security ,as well as improved occupational safety. Companies are also given recommendations for systematically anchoring environmental protection in business processes, including a long-term timetable.
Within the framework of EURESP+, the SEZ awards SMEs with vouchers for a potential analysis. Mezger Verpackungen, a packaging company based in Ellwangen, took advantage of this offer in 2012. The company manufactures a variety of packaging for the foodstuffs industry, such as gourmet cups made from synthetics and the biodegradable raw material PLA (polyactic acid). It also produces foils of different thickness with the help of an extruder. After a consulting session, savings potential in the areas of lighting and compressed air were identified at Mezger Verpackungen. Improvements were also made in the area of waste management through better trash separation and selection of containers. The combined programme, which included a checklist and subsequent consulting through the IWU (Private Institute for Business and Environment), elicited time savings as well as concrete, practical improvement measures. As a result, environmental costs and damage were reduced. Furthermore, additional topics like REACH, environmental law, and hazardous substances are being investigated.
The SEZ will continue granting its environmental vouchers through the end of 2013. Its offering is perfectly tailoured to the needs of SMEs and, thanks to EU funding, completely free of charge. It provides an initial look at the possibilities of energy and environmental management systems. It follows that SMEs, in cooperation with environmental consultants, will be able to settle on long-term strategies for environmental protection in businesses.
Between 2008 and 2013, roughly €200 million will be made available to finance projects promoting eco-innovations in Europe. The aim is to strengthen Europe’s position in terms of environmental protection and competitiveness. In promoting solutions that protect the environment, the programme hopes to create a growing market for “green” technologies, management methods, products and services while breaking down market barriers. The following types of projects are being supported:
The initiative has five priorities: recycling, buildings and construction, food and drink, green business and green consumption, and water management. As a national contact point for SMEs, the SEZ offers free customized consulting for companies regarding the eco-innovation programme.