How to deal with the specific complexities of projects, which aim at the substitution of hazardous substances? This question confronts policy makers and social actors who try to stimulate a better approach to environmental and occupational health protection. The aim of the SPHERE+ project was to identify best practice and common procedures to assist companies (particularly SMEs) to achieve the substitution of hazardous substances with more benign ones. The project was co-ordinated by a German consultancy company and there were three universities taking the role of contractors, from Germany, Spain and Denmark. In addition there were two associate partners (one a Dutch University and the other a German public ROR), which had first hand experience of projects in a similar area.
The project began with the identification of 32 promising substitution case studies which were then reduced to 7 by the partners; printing agents, mineral oils, alkyd paints, textile additives, pesticides, refrigerators and VDUs. Examples of these of each of these case studies were looked into in depth in 11 countries, giving 19 combinations. A report was produced for each of these 19 studies and these formed the basis of a series of workshops.
The project was expected to generate several helpful results by collecting substitution experiences and results, and bring together experienced people to discuss the lessons which follow from these and their own experiences. A comprehensive report, a manual for substitution optimisation, and a booklet with good practice cases was made available, as well as audio-visual presentation material for dissemination purposes. A European conference was organised to kick off a broad and targeted dissemination process throughout Europe.
The definition of good practice could lead to a significant increase in the substitution of hazardous materials in SMEs throughout Europe and associated social and environmental benefits. The success of such a strategy will depend to a large extent on the production of user friendly guidelines which are effectively disseminated to the target audiences. It is difficult to see to what extent this has been achieved without a detailed reading of all the outputs, and even then the evaluators would need some level of technical knowledge to make informed judgements on its veracity. Given the intention of the project to stimulate action on the part of SMEs, more effort should have been extended on producing easily digestible informative outputs.