Challenge of SMEs and environment reviewed

Study for European Commission highlights EU's slow political progress since 1997 initiative

The EU still needs to do more to understand how much pollution is caused by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and to assist these companies in better managing their environmental impacts, according to a consultancy report released by the European Commission's environment directorate.

Prepared by environmental consultancy Ecotec, the study was commissioned after the spring 1997 Dutch presidency of the EU, which prioritised debate on SMEs and the environment (ENDS Daily 21 April 1997). Though the presidency had hoped to stimulate concerted EU action in this area, rather little has happened. In particular, a requested European Commission green paper on SMEs and the environment has still to emerge.

According to Ecotec, the EU should prioritise consistent collection of data, test future environmental legislation for ease of use by smaller firms, and offer them specific assistance to improve their performance. The report stresses that most member states have not collected data on SME pollution, though both Eurostat and the European Environment Agency are trying to improve the situation.

Based on an overview of national successes and failures in facilitating SME environmental improvements, the report concludes that targeted programmes which emphasise how businesses can save money through pollution reduction work best. SMEs' awareness of environmental issues is low, "even in the more 'advanced' member states," it finds. Some governments have had success with pollution reduction programmes focused on specific sectors and that have offered 'hands-on' support rather than more passive, 'self-help' information.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; SMEs report.

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