The unsustainable path of our current economic system demands a paradigm shift. What is required is a ‘green economy’ that promotes the development and use of technologies, tools and services that can help society transition to low-carbon, sustainable and resilient economic development. To facilitate this change towards a green economy, the EU-funded GREENECONET project is empowering Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). ‘The contribution of private enterprises and business communities towards the move to a green economy has often been underestimated’, says GREENECONET project coordinator Corrado Topi. ‘Yet SMEs and corporate actors are key players and have the power to change the socio-economic and physical landscape.’ Although many businesses have greatly contributed to this transition, a large part of the business community – and SMEs in particular – lag behind the ‘best in class’ benchmark for green business practices. To close this gap, GREENECONET developed a community where SMEs can learn from each other by exchanging information on best practices in the green solutions they have adopted or developed. The reference point for all things green The end result of this effort is the GREENECONET web platform, which has established itself as the reference point for all things relating to an SME’s shift to a green economy model. The GREENECONET platform helps SMEs by providing access to best in class products and services, financial and planning tools and market opportunities. It also features a space to have direct dialogue with policy makers and researchers, and the option to ask for tailored solutions to support questions. ‘The website provides a user-friendly navigation system to search for green solutions, products and services using very specific themes and locations, and a powerful search engine that allows you to hone in on the solutions and tools most relevant for you’, says Topi. A particularly popular feature is the platform’s Green Economy Toolbox, a database of practical tools and online guidance for greening your small business. There are currently over 16 specific tools available, including the BalticClimate Toolkit and the Carbon Footprint Tool. The BalticClimate Toolkit provides local and regional policy makers, spatial planners and the business community with climate mitigation and adaptation support. ‘This BalticClimatic Toolkit supports the development of a company and assists in increasing its competitiveness’, says Topi. ‘The toolkit assesses how climate change will affect transport, housing, energy and agriculture in a specific region – and what opportunities these new conditions and situations will provide.’ The Carbon Footprint Tool, on the other hand, allows SMEs to identify where the key carbon hotspots are along a product’s lifecycle. Based on this information, the tool helps users develop low-carbon products and services and to choose the best green business options. ‘In this way, SMEs are able to differentiate their products based on measured environmental characteristics’, says Topi. Going global The GREENECONET project has demonstrated a large learning potential for SMEs when they become familiar with green business success stories. However, project coordinators also found that the platform, by itself, was insufficient to fully tap into this potential. ‘SMEs often operate in their own local or national networks, which tend to be offline and mainly facilitated by local and/or national networking organisations or multipliers’, says Topi. To ensure SMEs can learn from a broader set of best practices, GREENECONET has developed a combined approach based on online-offline interactions where the online platform populated by SMEs and multipliers supports and connects to a series of offline networking events, workshops and conferences. To extend the learning potential for SMEs outside the EU, both in developed and developing countries, the platform management group has decided to broaden the geographical scope of its online-offline interactive model and make it global. For this, a hub-system is being developed that is centred around the online GREENECONET platform and that will soon connect international, national and subnational networks to a global database of best practice information on greening SMEs around the world.
GREENECONET, SMEs, online platform, sustainability, green economy, best practices, green business, Carbon Footprint Tool, BalticClimate Toolkit