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The conference took place on 15 June under the theme “SMEs setting the standard for sustainable products - Drivers and challenges”.
“If the disruptions in the supply chains due to the COVID crisis and the war in Ukraine have shown us anything, it is precisely the need to better use and re-use resources to ensure a resilient and sustainable future”, SBS President Gunilla Almgren said as she opened the conference.
Information flow between the different actors in the value chain is one of the most significant challenges when moving to a circular economy. The Commission’s proposals aim at introducing a Digital Product Passport which is as a valuable tool for enabling quick and convenient access to and sharing of product-related information. In a panel dedicated to the practical implementation of the Passport, the importance of standardisation and the need to build on already existing standards were highlighted. Speakers also agreed it will be necessary to find a balance between sharing information and protecting sensitive data to ensure this information is accessible in a user-friendly format and that data disclosure and reporting will not put unnecessary burdens on SMEs. If implemented the right way, the Digital Product Passport would support innovation and the creation of new markets for SMEs in areas such as repair, refurbishment, upgrading and recycling.
Through the examples of construction and textiles, two product groups that have a significant impact on the environment, panellists highlighted some barriers arising from the Commission’s proposals that can hamper SMEs’ growth in these sectors. Speakers stressed the need for harmonisation and a coherent set of regulations and standards covering safety, environmental and other requirements that are easy to implement for SMEs. Over the last few years, there has indeed been a proliferation of private standards and environmental claims through different labels and certifications. This is not beneficial to SMEs nor consumers.
Although many SMEs are operating at the local level, another key fact emerging from the discussions that should be considered is the involvement of many SMEs in international supply chains. One way to address this issue is to strengthen the collaboration between different actors at the international and European levels and between experts from different backgrounds.
The need for up-skilling and to provide incentives for SMEs were two additional measures mentioned in the different panels. The Commission proposals already foresee incentives for SMEs. It was stressed though that these measures should also include resources for the involvement of SMEs in the development of standards in support of the Sustainable Products Initiative.
Closing the half-day conference, SBS Secretary-General Maitane Olabarria summarised: “Today’s discussions have shown that the Sustainable Product Initiative will heavily rely on SMEs and standards for its implementation. SMEs are ready to innovate and adapt to make sustainable products the norm but we need to keep them at the centre of the implementation of the Commission proposals and to provide them with the adequate resources.”
>>> Watch the event’s recording