The European Hub and Network for a compelling vision. Let’s get to know EREK!
Who, or rather, what is EREK? It is the European Commission’s brand new European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre. What is EREK’s purpose, then?
For that, you need to go back to 2015 when the European Commission issued a call for tenders to “provide information and support to European SMEs, business intermediaries, resource efficiency practitioners and other interested parties such as regional authorities”. It is one of the flagship actions of the Green Action Plan for SMEs, which helps smaller businesses benefit from the green economy and “turn environmental challenges into business opportunities”.
Many months of preparation culminated in EREK’s official launch during a dedicated SME session at the annual Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (CESP) conference in Brussels, on 20 February 2018. Speaking at the launch, Antti Peltomäki, Deputy Director-General for the European Commission’s DG Growth, summed up how resource efficiency benefits SMEs by enabling them to find opportunities within value chains and create new business models to reconcile growth and environment imperatives.
Price volatility, cost competition and keeping up with environmental regulations are just some of the challenges SMEs face as they wrestle to stay competitive in a global economy. Some of these difficulties, he explained, can be directly linked to outmoded linear economic thinking – continuous extraction of raw materials that mostly end up as waste, leading to higher raw material prices.
Path to investing in the green economy
It makes economic but also environmental sense for SMEs to invest in the green economy. But how can they do this? This is where the circular economy comes in, and the chief rationale behind EREK is to help them along the way.
Joanna Drake, DG Environment’s Deputy Director-General, explained that circular economic business models, which encourage repair, reuse and collaborative services and ventures that share products, offer a clear path for SMEs in the global economy. Resource efficiency can significantly reduce operating costs, she noted, while circular processes can create new opportunities within the value chain and boost SME competitiveness.
The circular economy is not only good for jobs and growth, she stressed, it is also better for the environment than what Business Insider referred to as the “take, make, use and throw” culture that has reached “peak stuff”. This is why the European Commission put its weight – policies, programmes and funded actions – into concrete actions that help SMEs and their intermediaries make the transition to a low-carbon, circular economy.
The first barrier many smaller companies come up against is dispelling the myth that the green economy and resource efficiency is a luxury for large players only, causes disruption and costs too much to contemplate.
A recent Eurobarometer Flash survey confirmed that SMEs are struggling with resource efficiency and green market uptake. Just under two-thirds EU-wide are minimising waste (65 %) and saving energy (63 %) in their efforts to become more resource efficient. “Regarding circular economy actions, 42 % recycle by reusing material or waste within their company, 25 % design products that are easier to maintain, repair or reuse and 21 % sell their scrap material to another company,” according to the report. This needs to change.
Granted, smaller players often lack the internal financial and technical expertise to carry out major resource efficiency measures. But this is where business support organisations play a central role, in reaching out to SMEs and helping them on their green journey.
Enter the experts
The experts can help SMEs by providing information on resource efficiency, demonstrating the positive impact of new technologies and processes, and advising on funding and financial planning. They can also put companies in contact to explore ways of sharing and reusing materials between them, for example through cluster initiatives. Cluster support is a strong element of the Commission’s industrial policy, and SMEs’ capacity to collaborate will be central to the success of the circular economy.
All of these services require skills and information, which is currently scattered across Europe and across organisations. “Nobody has absolute knowledge,” said DG Growth’s Eva Revilla who coordinates EREK developments for the European Commission. Its mission, she confirms, is therefore to become the European hub for resource efficiency information, and the main network for business support organisations from all regions of Europe.
SMEs should be able to find the help they need regardless of their location, or how advanced they are in resource efficiency. Through the EREK network, she continued, organisations can not only deepen their capacity to help SMEs, but also exchange good practices and share ideas with the European Commission, leading to better European policies.
Hundreds of good practices, measures, technical tips as well as contacts for support organisations are available to SMEs wishing to boost their resources efficiency today. Explore www.resourceefficient.eu to learn more!