What are the obstacles and the barriers preventing SME’s from adopting sustainable solutions for renewable energy?
WUAS, one of the Dutch partners of the GREAT-project, recently explored this question by doing small-scale research among SME’s in Belgium and the Netherlands in conjunction with its Belgian counterparts, leading to interesting results. Senior Wittenborg lecturer, Dr Saskia Harkema, was involved in the research.
SME's indicated one of the main reasons why they would adopt and implement "green energy" is to improve their company's image. Tax advantages and attracting new customers was also cited as good reasons to invest.
On the downside, high costs associated with the implementation of such a policy was mentioned as one of the main barriers for shying away from sustainable solutions. Though, in the Netherlands this is seen as less important than in Belgium. However the biggest barriers for SME's not investing was listed as not finding appropriate personnel and the low impact of organizational activities on the environment.
Nonetheless, the majority of SME’s agreed that the investment in the long term is worth more than the initial costs in the short term. All of them indicated they wanted more information environmentally friendly plans that could have a positive impact on the performance of the their organizations.
Return on investment is the most important indicator to determine the level of possible investments that should be made. Most companies define that in terms of pay-out time, instead of effectiveness and efficacy. Companies want to see results within 5 years, sometimes even after 1 year.
When speaking to SMEs and intermediate organizations that work with SMEs, they indicated to researchers that investing in sustainability is not a priority and this may have to do with the fact that the relative advantage is not self-evident and it is additionally not seen as a key factor of success to invest in sustainability, for the overall functioning and performance of the organization. Also uncertainty of the outcome may be a reason to not be among the early adopters or early majority, but to wait and see how other companies deal with this.
The research report noted that environmental and context characteristics are important factors in creating the conditions at national and international levels to encourage usage and implementation of sustainable energy sources. It found that further research is needed to understand what the relation is between the environmental context and the behavior of SME's.
The research concluded that communication channels are a key factor of success in raising awareness, and persuading adopters to act on that awareness. The GREAT-project is investing heavily in this by organizing and speaking at a variety of conferences and attending events to gather information and gain a deeper understanding of obstacles hampering the adoption process.
At a recent workshop organized as part of the international Cleantech Tomorrow Event, held in the city of Apeldoorn, participating SME's indicated that if there was an accessible and user friendly tool that would help them in the decision making process to determine what a suitable solution would be, this would certainly be very helpful. They feel that they cannot make an informed decision at present, because of the complexity. Further research will be carried out to understand what constraints SME's face in adopting renewable energy technologies and solutions
by Anesca Smith