The new EU Green Deal is, in essence, a document that outlines the roadmap towards a more sustainable industrial system. The document lists all the main initiatives and policies for the upcoming 2 years, establishing the groundwork and transformations needed for a “greener” economy across different sectors and industries.
The deal aims at turning environmental challenges into opportunities. From transport to energy, agricultural practices to construction materials, textile and chemical industry, the goal is to improve the use of resources and to be more sustainable - moving towards a clean and circular economy that aims at stopping climate change, reverting loss in biodiversity and cutting pollution levels.
To ratify the political ambition of being the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050, the Commission will present within 100 days the first European Climate Law.
In the past week, meanwhile, two important documents have been released: The European Industrial Strategy and The Circular Economy Action Plan. These documents have the goal of changing the way small and medium enterprises function and innovate, as well as setting industry standards that meet circular economy principles.
Being Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) the backbone of the European Economy, it does not come as a surprise that the European Industrial Strategy mostly focuses on supporting their transition towards innovation and sustainability. Today, in fact, over a third of European SMEs struggle to take concrete actions in embracing digitalization and becoming more resource-efficient and circular.
Within the initiatives being included in the document there will be the upgrade of the Enterprise Europe Network, which will be offering dedicated technical support for all matters related to sustainability. Digital crash courses for SME’s employees will be introduced, helping them become proficient in areas such as AI and cybersecurity. Other measures will include the development of a “digital volunteers'' program to allow skilled professionals to share digital competences with traditional businesses.
To accelerate this transition and foster enterprises’ competitiveness, the EU commission will also allocate around €300 million to fund projects that are environmentally innovative. There will be, furthermore, a reduction of administrative fees and taxes for SME’s that embrace more sustainable practices. A higher accessibility to European financing and less regulatory fees will give an extra boost to their expansion towards overseas markets and motivate business owners to grow meeting the European environmental targets.
The Circular Economy Action Plan, meanwhile, sets out the industry standards that are needed to adopt a regenerative growth model that gives more back to the planet than it takes. The intention is to keep resource consumption within planetary boundaries and double the circular material use rate in the coming decade.
The document points out the urgent need to strengthen regulations, making companies obliged to deliver on these circular practices. On one hand, there will be a focus on Sustainable Design with the goal of extending the range of application of the Ecodesign criteria. On the other hand, further regulations will be addressing topics such as hazardous materials, minimum recyclable content in products, remanufacturing and high-quality recycling standards, controlled obsolescence and the introduction of innovative business models.
Several industries were pointed out as in need of drastic changes. The packaging industry, for example, has reached uncontrollable levels as it produces an astonishing 173 kg of packaging per capita! Packaging manufacturers should be held to tighter regulation on material reduction and the reusability of these materials. Not surprisingly, one of the main targets of the upcoming set of regulations will be the plastic industry. This industry is expected to double in size in the next 20 years, which is why stricter actions are needed to reduce the single-use products and limit the leakage of microplastics into the environment. This includes increasing the recyclability of plastics and finding, labelling, and categorizing bio-based alternatives.
The textile or fashion industry is the fifth-biggest user of GHG emissions and it puts a lot of pressure on water and primary raw materials. Solutions are needed to source sustainable materials as well as ways to fight the wasteful fast fashion culture with innovative business models.
One of the most polluting industries in terms of waste generation and GHG emissions is the construction and building industry. Most of the effort, in this sector, will be directed towards finding alternative materials and increasing the rate of recovery of demolished constructions. In the meantime, the energy performance of buildings will need a boost too.
Besides looking at manufacturing, the green deal also tackles the waste issue with four different solutions. The first is by trying to create a marketplace for secondary raw materials like scrap, old equipment, waste paper, metal parts, and rejected material. The second is trying to make currently used materials more circular, or better said, ready for reintroduction into the manufacturing cycle. In the meantime, they will also implement stricter regulations on using hazardous chemical materials and products. Thirdly the green deal states that the EU will have to implement a stronger waste management system able to cope with the waste generated by our continued economic growth.
So these are the green deal plans for the EU industries and businesses. But what does this mean for us as citizens? The deal mentions as a fourth solution that citizens should play their role in waste reduction. As an average, EU citizens produce half a ton of municipal waste a year and unfortunately, this amount only seems to be growing. Besides, the economy of a country involves everyone’s input and exchanges. So, even if you do not own a small or medium enterprise or are part of the industries mentioned above, you can still contribute by being aware of these changes and having an active role in changing patterns of consumption.
There are many different ways to take action - even if it is in small daily things in your life.
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