On Thursday 21st May 2009, over 45 representatives of business, academia, government and delivery bodies and agencies, attended the SDRN workshop ‘Business resource efficiency: luxury or necessity?’. Organised by AEA Technology as part of SDRN’s research into practice workstream, the workshop sought to explore the extent to which businesses could be encouraged to improve their research efficiency and procurement practices. The workshop featured a variety of speakers, and gave attendees a chance to learn more about ongoing efforts to simplify the support that is currently available to businesses.
Key points to emerge during the day’s discussions included:
- There was agreement among participants that several existing resource efficiency support programmes for businesses, including Envirowise and NISP, have worked very well, as have policy levers aimed at improving resource efficiency, particularly Landfill Tax. The workshop heard two inspiring examples from Ginsters and Manchester United, both of whom have developed exemplar sustainable procurement and resource efficiency programmes.
- However, it was also agreed that the number of programmes in the past has caused confusion and that a single interface for business support, in the form of BERR’s new Solutions for Business programme, will be very valuable. The need for more consistent messages to business and a single ‘language’ of resource efficiency was called for.
- While support programmes have been successful at reaching larger businesses, there remain several types of businesses – in particular, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses - that are not engaged with resource efficiency, often because they see themselves as being too small to benefit. SMEs account for 99.9% of all enterprises in the UK and it is therefore important for existing resource efficiency support programmes to explore what else can be done to ‘reach out’ to a greater number of SME’s.
- In addition, certain types of businesses find resource efficiency difficult for other reasons. Rural businesses, for example, are limited by infrastructure and a lack of access to waste and recycling services. Although technology lists have helped to some extent, important equipment – such as waste balers – remain missing from these list. Services that enable businesses to access this equipment more readily are needed.
- The prescriptive nature of product standards was also seen by many to limit innovation and improved resource efficiency. By stipulating specific materials rather than the qualities and specifications the material should meet, manufacturers have little scope to trial more innovative materials.
- Overall, workshop attendees agreed that the current economic situation provides a perfect opportunity for encouraging businesses to become more resource efficient; the high cost savings that come hand in hand with better resource use is a considerable incentive for businesses to act. Support programmes need to concentrate on communicating this message, and should identify the best means of reaching all businesses. This need not be direct communications; improved supply chain management and the use of intermediaries that have close relationships with small businesses (such as banks) were just two suggested communication routes.
A full workshop report will be available on this website very shortly, while an agenda and full attendee list can be downloaded here.
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