The transition to economic, environmental and social sustainability has become a major priority for the new European Commission. At the same time, all main actors have agreed that this transition must be based on a strong and resilient economy which finds its backbone in Small and medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
We all know how the increasing world population and our daily consumption habits have caused an alarming exploitation of natural resources. Climate change is probably the most evident proof of this.
Being deeply woven into the fabric and prosperity of Europe, SMEs should become drivers for a more sustainable future. With the SMEs Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe, the European Commission aims to empower SMEs of all sizes and sectors.
From their side, it is paramount that SMEs take an active approach and act responsibly by implementing actions in their business models towards the UN Sustainable Goals (SDGs) and the Commission’s sustainable agenda.
Becoming drivers of a green change
How can this be done? On one hand, SMEs should start realising how attractive it can be to adopt more sustainable business models.
On the other hand, SMEs should question, both internally and externally, how they can become more sustainable in their value chain. For instance, they can promote the green agenda in their supply chain and provide more sustainable products or components to their clients. This might become a standard procedure that would make those suppliers question their own approach to sustainability.
By doing so, SMEs will have great opportunities to gain a competitive edge and be and the forefront of this changing paradigm.
How can the Network pave the way to sustainability?
We, as part of the Enterprise Europe Network and being key business advisers to SMEs, have the unique chance to facilitate this sustainable transition.
Our constant engagement with our clients puts us in a good position to raise the subject of sustainability with SMEs in a strategic manner. One way of doing it is to address sustainability in relation to innovation as well as general product development. By doing so, we will assist SMEs in shifting towards a greener profile and acquiring a competitive position in the market.
Our goal is to provide in-depth advisory services and individual sustainability support. This could be done via workshops where a sustainability checklist is considered and discussed with the client. Based on this, the recommendation is to provide a sustainability blueprint mapping for a clear visualisation and to keep the client on track.
The Network also has a great opportunity to address the sustainability agenda as a starting point for the new generation of start-ups and spin-outs.
This can be done by "introducing" the key subject as part of the start-up process and by having it implemented as a natural and mandatory part of their business plan. This would encourage new entrepreneurs to embrace the topics of sustainability and social impact in their company vision and mission. Which mark do they wish to leave their kids and the following generations? How can they keep this in focus in all parts of their innovation and daily operations?
Every cloud has a silver lining
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been forced to reconsider our daily work processes.
Events and travels – for both Network members and their client SMEs – have been cancelled or postponed. What at first glance appeared to be a challenge, has then turned into new opportunities. We moved most part of our activities to virtual platforms and adopted new working procedures. By doing so, the Network was able to experiment with new ways of supporting clients remotely.
We are now examining how we can best create a new, less travel-intensive model where we combine online preparation with physical meetings, physical events and business missions, which still remain an important part of the Network services.
After all, this is what the Enterprise Europe Network does: we bring our business support to your doorstep, even the virtual one.
Michael Rafn has been working as international business consultant at North Denmark Eu-office on the Enterprise Europe Network program since July 2018 and is the chair of the Network’s group of experts in maritime industries and services.
The article was co-authored by Matthia Simone Sorrentino, Communication Adviser at the European Commission for the Enterprise Europe Network.