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Help For SMEs In Assessing Environmental Impact

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can now assess the environmental impact of their products thanks to a pan-European project made possible by EU funding.

The project - Electronic Life Cycle Assessment (eLCA) - received grants totalling more than 2.1 million from the Information Society Technology (IST) Programme of the European Unions Framework Programme. Developed by the Environment Agency and partner organisations in Italy, Greece, Spain and Germany, the overall objective of the eLCA project was to provide the necessary tools and guidance through a website, http://www.ecoSMEs.net due to be launched later this year. This will help SMEs carry out assessments on their products to establish their environmental impacts and assist with eco-design. Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) help manufacturers identify the environmental pros and cons of different design options, improve efficiency and produce greener, more environmentally friendly products that comply with all relevant legislation. These measures are becoming more important with the increasing number of large companies moving towards green procurement and they will be soon be required under EU law under the Integrated Product Policy (IPP) initiative. LCAs can also help businesses save money by reducing material and energy inputs to their processes, which in turn save on associated energy and disposal costs. Whilst they are gaining in popularity among big business, the high financial and time costs associated with LCAs mean that they are generally beyond the means of most SMEs, says ecoSMEs Project Manager Phil White from the Environment Agency. The overall objective of our project was to provide a website delivering the tools and services necessary to enable IPP to be more easily adopted by SMEs. ,So, in order to allow them more opportunity to use this technique, ecoSMEs - a multi-lingual website for SMEs containing specialised databases, information, training and tools - is being developed by partners across Europe, with the Environment Agency acting as the UK project partner. Data collected from SMEs in the UK will be used to help generate a simplified LCA tool for businesses to use online. Peter Walters, UK National Contact Point for IST within the EUs 6th Framework Programme, is delighted that some EU funding is being used on this type of project, saying: With the growing requirement for business to minimise environmental impact, it is essential that SMEs are not left behind. They create over half of Europes prosperity and we must ensure that they have access to the best help possible to enable them to compete effectively within Europe and, at the same time, comply with new legislation as it becomes law. The Framework Programmes are the EUs main vehicle for support of leading edge, internationally collaborative R&D. The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the 17.5bn available should log on to http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080. The significance of the ecoSMEs website is summed up by Leigh Holloway, Managing Director of specialist ecodesign and product policy consultancy ProActus who says: "Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are becoming an increasingly important business tool to help reduce both the environmental impacts and costs of products. However LCAs can be both complex and expensive putting them out of the range of many smaller companies who do not have the time or necessary resources. I am certain that ecoSMEs will become an invaluable resource for smaller companies by developing simplified methodologies, tools and databases of life cycle environmental information that will help them to comply with forthcoming legislation." Some end users have already realised the benefits of ecoSMEs. Alan Duckinfield, sales director of Huddersfield based Saftronics 2S - a partner SME on the project - says: "When you look at the forthcoming legislation on both recycling and eco design of products you see how ecoSMEs will be of great benefit, especially for manufacturing and design companies. It will allow them to get a good overview of how existing or new products score environmentally. Then, as more and more customers look at their own Environmental Management Systems they will be able to purchase products with confidence, knowing the Environmental Impact has been reduced as much as possible." The ecoSMEs project forms part of a package of measures that the Environment Agency is developing to help SMEs cope with the increasing complexities of environmental legislation. A new online initiative, NetRegs http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/netregs - has been designed to help SMEs understand the environmental regulations governing their activities. So far guidelines have been launched in 21 business sectors, and eventually the launch will cover 100 business sectors. The EUs Framework Programmes are the worlds largest, publicly funded, research and technological development programmes. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) covers the period 2002-2006 and is the European Unions main instrument for the funding of collaborative research and innovation. It is open to public and private entities of all sizes in the EU and a number of non-EU countries. It has an overall budget of 17.5 billion. Most of the budget for FP6 is devoted to work in seven priority thematic areas:,? Life sciences, Genetics and Biotechnology for Health;,? Information Society Technologies;,? Nanotechnologies and Nanosciences, Knowledgebased Multifunctional Materials and New Production Processes and Devices;,? Aeronautics and Space;,? Food Quality and Safety;,? Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems; and,? Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge-based Society. There is also a focus on the research activities of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) across all seven thematic areas. The services of FP6UK are funded by the Office of Science & Technology (OST) / Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). More information can be found on http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk

Countries

Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom