The European agro-food sector accounts for 800bn€ yearly and 4 million jobs. Despite the size of the sector, it is highly fragmented and it is estimated that 99% of the companies are SMEs. The size of these companies often limits their capacity to adopt innovative approaches to improve the sustainability of their activities.
Eco-designing can be defined as "activities aimed at environmental improvement in product design stage, through improved function, less impressive selection of materials, implementation of alternative processes, improving transport and use , and minimization of impacts on the final stage of treatment". In this regard, the authorities are developing new instruments that include the concepts of "cycle" and global environmental prevention strategies of products. The project's objective is to facilitate and transfer business methodologies needed to achieve the process of sustainability of their products. For that purpose, data analysing is required to understand the needs of the target companies.
In the framework of ECOFOOD-SME, a diagnosis of the current needs and requirements was carried out in two agribusiness clusters, 27 companies from Spain and 12 from Germany. In Germany, the cluster includes breweries and bakeries are located in Bavaria. Spanish SMEs are located around the Ebro river basin and their activities are diverse: processed food (can food, ready-to-eat), fresh products, wineries, or the meat industry. The general profile of these SMEs shows that they usually are familiar companies, and they are suppliers of big food chain distribution companies.
Within the two clusters, the highest interest lies in energy topics, rather than in other environmental aspects or environmental management systems. Actually, the main goal of the participating SMEs is cost reduction, and energy costs which represent the most important environmental costs. Furthermore, it can be seen that, in both clusters, larger companies are more proactive towards environmental issues whereas small and micro enterprises are rather reactive. For instance, in Germany, all “big” SMEs with more than 50 employees have already implemented EMAS. Eco-labelling is other adopted environmental issue. Conversely, the micro SMEs want to observe market and consumer needs and activities. Thereafter, they react by adapting or developing new products and services. The knowledge on product- or-service-related environmental topics is quite low.
In both countries, there is little interest in further certification. In Germany, there is only one participant really interested in certification EN 16001. To this day, only big organisations with high power consumption receive a pay-back of consumption-related taxes and fees when this certification is achieved. So far, all participating SMEs have too low power consumption to get this subsidy; but regulations can change in the near future.
The diagnosis led to the design of an adapted strategy for the dissemination of information based on workshops with the participating enterprises, information materials such as leaflets, and press releases.
ECOFOOD-SME. D2.1-D3.1 “Report on companies’ diagnosis”