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All eyes on EREK launch at Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference!

Posted on: 28.02.2018
by The EREK team

The European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre (EREK) launch at the Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (CESP) Conference in Brussels on 20 February attracted wide attention from the small business, resource efficiency and circular economy communities. The session dedicated to the launch brought together a wide range of actors: representatives from the European Commission (EC), business support organisations – including members of the EREK Network – representatives from industry and business associations, and experts in resource efficiency and the circular economy. At the launch, the EREK team presented the centre’s work and its tools – including the new website, resourceefficient.eu – and invited European business-support organisations providing services related to resource efficiency and the circular economy to join the EREK network.

Opening statements: Europe in need of a paradigm shift for growth!

The European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre was launched during a session on SMEs in the circular economy chaired by Ulla Engelmann, the Head of Unit for Clusters, Social Economy and Entrepreneurship at the EC’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW). At the start of the session, Ms Engelmann introduced the discussion topic, i.e. how to best support SMEs in their transition to more circular business models, and invited other speakers to debate the issue. Antti Peltomäki, Deputy Director-General at DG GROW, and Joanna Drake, Deputy Director-General at the Directorate-General for the Environment, opened the discussion by sharing the Commission’s vision for resource efficiency – as a way to find value within value chains and create new business models, and an indispensable way to reconcile growth and the environment. European companies and governments “need to go beyond the low-hanging fruit of cost saving and use resource efficiency to drive a more basic paradigm shift in business models and how companies think,” said Ms Drake. In order to achieve the above, Mr Peltomäki reminded the audience of the importance of “pooling resources to collectively provide the best advice”, the core endeavour of the EREK centre.

Presenting EREK

After these opening statements, the audience was able to learn about the centre and its activities, tools and network of resource-efficiency experts. Agis Evrigenis (Director, Technopolis Group; and project director of the EREK) invited Dr Martin Vogt (Managing director, VDI ZRE) and Nathan Kably (Environmental policy consultant, Technopolis Group) to present the EREK centre: a European network of experts in resource efficiency and the circular economy, and a platform for the provision of support to European businesses on these topics.

Dr Vogt emphasised the long history of the centre. Indeed, back in 2012 several European business support organisations informally met in Berlin and discussed the idea of a European-wide network to share knowledge and practices on how to help SMEs in their transition towards resource efficiency. In 2018, and after a year of work, this network counts more than 20 members and has a public platform (resourceefficient.eu), which gathers state-of-the-art knowledge on resource efficiency. Mr Kably presented the platform’s main features – i.e. a collection of best practices for resource efficient measures, along with real cases of companies who have implemented them, a self-assessment tool to help companies identify their resource efficiency potential, and a listing of contacts and programmes that can support SMEs in their efforts to become more resource efficient and/or circular. Notably, Mr Kably presented how the platform can be used by both SMEs and business support organisations, inviting all European business support providers in resource efficiency to join the network and contribute to the platform, showcasing their support programmes and advertising their supported businesses and achievements to the forefront.

Pooling resources to collectively provide the best advice

Prof. Dr. Krzysztof Maruszewski, Director at the EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), then introduced the work of the JRC Knowledge and Competence centres, which particularly resonated with the presentation of the EREK centre. Prof. Maruszewski explained how such centres help individuals and organisations deal with the ever-increasing amount of available data and knowledge, and how platforms that collect and share information and related best practices are very efficient tools – just as EREK enables business support organisations to obtain and use existing information on resource efficiency to better support SMEs.

Panel discussion: How to better support SMEs in transitioning to a resource efficient and circular economy?

The session was an opportunity for the audience to actively debate the topics with the panel and members of the network. The panel discussed how to better support SMEs in resource efficiency, and how to tackle the obstacles they face, sharing their experience with businesses.

Montse Guerrero, from the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), explained how business support organisations can act as an intermediary between policy-makers and SMEs, transmitting information on upcoming legislation and available tools. There was indeed an audience wide agreement that support to SMEs is indeed particularly needed, and most efficient when provided throughout a company’s resource-efficiency project. In that, Ms Guerrero emphasised the importance of training intermediaries such as business support organisations and welcomed the capacity-building workshops provided by the EREK centre. Without capacity building, business support organisations cannot obtain the necessary knowledge to efficiently advice SMEs on resource efficiency and circularity.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, emphasised that the successful support his organisation provides results from its capacity to provide SMEs with small loans and grants to cover their resource efficiency and circular economy projects. Zero Waste Scotland has noticed that it is no longer just about advertising the ecological transition to SMEs, but much more about supporting companies who have an idea of how to transition but do not know how to make it viable or profitable. As such, their programmes completely integrate at their core the idea of money and time constrained SME owners. This means teaming up with trusted local organisations in outreach campaigns, providing tools for identifying potential, and consultancy time for realising this potential and helping in implementation. Beyond the drive for competitiveness, Mr Gulland also emphasised the importance of trust, sharing and peer-to-peer learning as being necessary to build companies’ confidence to take the first step towards resource efficiency.

From his own experience working with entrepreneurs, Arnaldo Abruzzini, Secretary General of EUROCHAMBRES, pointed out that despite companies often having a positive opinion of the circular economy, they lack the capacity to move forward. Capacity is a matter of time and money; two items that any support should focus on providing. Mr Abruzzini emphasised the power of behaviour, and how business support organisations should focus on incentivising companies to change behaviour. As explained by Véronique Willems, Secretary General of UEAPME, the vast majority of European companies are made up of less than 10 employees: such small companies often lack the time and knowledge to engage with resource efficiency. On top of that, SMEs also need to convince their customers and suppliers to go circular – something that business support organisations should make a priority. Arthur ten Wolde, from Ecopreneur, said that the whole supply chain needs to be involved, and for this, companies need the right incentives (such as raw material taxation, public procurement that accepts reused products, price incentives, etc.) and demonstrations that it is possible. “Somebody has to ask a circular question”, said Mr ten Wolde, only then will companies start questioning what kind of profits they could make from transitioning to a circular economy (e.g. “Who is profiting from the waste of your product?”). Then, to attract SMEs, strong advertising of cost saving is always the start.

“Businesses need to see what everybody is doing”, said Mr Gulland, emphasising the importance of collecting and disseminating good practices – something that the EREK database is set up to do. The transition is not only about the early adopters, but also about the majority followers.

Signing ceremony of the EREK Network Charter!

The session was followed by the official signing of the EREK Network Charter by the members of the network, invited by the European Commission’s representatives from DG GROW and DG Environment.

The launch of EREK is an invitation to all European business-support organisations active in resource efficiency and the circular economy to join the network and actively participate in the next steps of the project. As members, they will be invited to join capacity-building workshops and workshops on state-of-the-art practices in resource efficiency, the circular economy and service provision to SMEs, the first of which will take place in Cardiff on 20 March. More information will soon be available on the website, so stay tuned and do not hesitate to contact us!