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Tools to support environmental performance in small and medium-sized enterprises
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-up companies have a significant role in economy and job creation. As a whole, they are also a remarkable source of environmental impacts. However, SMEs often lack skills, time and money to conduct a full life cycle analysis (LCA) or product environmental footprint analysis (PEF) for their products or services. The aim of this study was to promote environmental awareness and life cycle thinking in Finnish SMEs and to facilitate their actions to reduce emissions in practice. This was done by developing two concepts, namely streamlined LCA-clinics and environmental handprints, and testing those in Finnish SMEs. The usefulness of existing free spreadsheet-based carbon footprint calculators to facilitate SMEs’ environmental impacts was also analysed. The LCA-clinic was developed and tested with around 45 SMEs, mainly within the manufacturing industry in Finland. The idea was to conduct a streamlined LCA time and resource efficiently, but still accurately enough to identify the main climate change impacts. Primary data for the streamlined LCA was provided by the SMEs through data sheets developed for this purpose. Secondary data was sourced from the Ecoinvent database. Analyses were performed in the OpenLCA software. The inventory data were complemented with specific emission factors of Finnish electricity and heat production. For better understanding of the level of impacts, results were normalized related to a distance driven by a passenger car, as well as to annual footprint of an average Finnish consumer. A short report including results of the assessment together with recommendations on how to decrease the climate change impacts were provided to the companies. Companies’ feedback indicated that LCA clinics were useful and increased their lifecycle thinking and environmental awareness. However, the increased awareness typically did not lead to immediate actions. Whereas life cycle analysis focuses on identifying most important environmental issues, environmental handprint attempts to quantify the positive environmental aspects of business activities. It describes the relative greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to a business-as-usual reference from a point of the user of a product or a service. In a broader definition, also the emission reductions performed by an enterprise may be accepted in environmental handprint, especially with sub-contracting supply chains. A three-stage environmental handprint concept for SMEs is under development and piloting in North Karelia, Finland. The aim is to promote enterprises to decrease their environmental impacts and to identify the positive climate actions, so called small environmental handprints, of their actions. First, enterprises will map their own environmental impacts and already achieved positive actions. Second, improvement targets for the near future are set. Third stage includes commitment to continuous emission reductions. Communication with customers and stakeholders is bolstered with logos used in each stage of the concept. In addition, participating enterprises with their development targets and annual environmental achievements are announced in the internet. On the grounds of these concepts enterprises can continue their climate work, for example through environmental management systems or by conducting a full LCA or PEF to verify their environmental impacts and a whole handprint.