The circular economy, a challenge for SMES

Jul 6, 2021 | Sostenibilidad, Sustainable MAPFRE

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We are talking about a production and consumption system that encourages reuse, repair and recycling. This translates into energy savings, the use of natural resources and reduced deforestation. MAPFRE and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce have recently analyzed the performance of small and medium-sized companies in all sectors in order to improve their competitiveness and increase their commitment to sustainability.
There is no doubt that waste is a threat. It pollutes the soil and water, it causes fires and generates greenhouse gases, like C02 and methane, which cause climate change. It is predicted that by 2030 a total of 2.59 billion tons of waste will be generated globally each year, an alarming figure, which highlights not only the importance of managing organic waste well, but also other materials such as paper, plastic, glass and oil.

The circular economy is a production and consumption system which, unlike the linear model based on use and disposal, encourages reuse, repair and recycling. This translates into considerable energy savings compared to the extractive industry (we avoid generating new materials), makes the best possible use of the scarce natural resources available, and reduces deforestation.

This is the opinion of Sara Fernández, MAPFRE’s Environment expert, who believes that the threat of climate change demonstrates that it is now more necessary than ever to move decisively towards this green and sustainable model, “With which companies not only improve their results, decrease costs and reduce their environmental impact, but which could also generate up to 160,000 jobs in Spain by 2030.” This is according to the report Economía Circular en Pymes en España [Circular Economy in SMEs in Spain], recently presented by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce and MAPFRE. This publication examines the situation in Spain in 2019, as well as in the European Union, and explains the performance of SMEs on the basis of a survey of 400 organizations from all sectors.

The carbon footprint is obtained by multiplying information on activities (quantity) by emission factors.
2.59 billion tons of waste are expected by 2030
The study, the first to be carried out in this area, points out that Spain is doing poorly in terms of waste management, in other words, waste recovery and recycling, putting it at the bottom of the European Union rankings. Despite this, the research shows that small and medium-sized enterprises are steadily making progress when it comes to adopting this model, and that an increasing number of them are implementing measures to reduce their waste generation (94. 4 %), selling or passing on their waste to other companies so that they can use it (56 %), and separating some or all of the waste they generate at source, especially paper and plastics. Some are even using private waste managers to dispose of more polluting waste, such as scrap metal and oil.

The circular economy saves energy, makes better use of scarce natural resources and reduces deforestation.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are steadily adopting this model, which could generate up to 160,000 jobs before 2030

“It is important to consume responsibly, buy higher quality products, opt for secondhand goods, and repair things more.”

SMEs are also increasingly characterized by their use of secondary and recycled raw materials in their production processes (60 %), particularly paper and cardboard (71.3 %); and they are more committed to cutting their use of resources (80 %), mainly electricity, essentially to make financial savings. Among the areas requiring improvement, the study highlights the fact that companies of this size still do not take eco-friendly designs into account in their products (21.1 %), which is key to increasing the recycling rate; they are not eliminating single-use plastics as much as they ought to (16.2 %); and they do not believe that they should take measures to retrieve and reuse water (88 %), with the exception of those in the industrial sector.

Avoiding landfills

In the circular economy, almost everything is used, but for this to happen, we need a cultural change, something that has not yet taken place. This is the belief of Sara Fernández, who maintains that “Citizens must be more aware about the impact of not reducing and recycling, and to this end it is important that they learn to sort waste properly, to maximize its use and give it a second or third life, so that it does not end up in a landfill site. This is one of the ways we can contribute to the survival of the planet”, she says.

To be more circular citizens, the environmental expert is also convinced of the importance of responsible consumption, “One aspect that the pandemic has undoubtedly favored in some way, is by making us more aware that we don’t really need half of the things we buy. I also think we should buy higher quality products, which generally last longer, get rid of things when they have finished their useful life, opt for secondhand goods, something that young people have fully taken on board, and, of course, shop locally. It is also important to repair things more, separate our waste properly, make better use of recycling facilities, measure our energy and water consumption at home, avoid water and air pollution, and even noise pollution, and of course opt for renewable energy sources.

CO2 Calculate your carbon footprint

Thanks to the collaboration of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce and MAPFRE, SMEs will have the opportunity to receive advice, training, technological support and information aimed at improving their competitiveness and increasing their contribution to sustainable development. They will also be able to calculate their carbon footprint using a specific tool that lets them see how energy efficient they are and to what extent they are implementing the circular economy in their organization.

Hospitality, the most committed

The hospitality sector is clearly the sector in which companies are the most proactive in terms of preventing waste production and promoting recycling, as well as the most committed to training and involving their employees as well as demanding environmental certificates from their suppliers. Almost half of the companies in this sector take specific steps to separate organic matter from other waste, a measure that prevents it from decomposing and polluting the environment. Bars and restaurants are also demonstrating how strongly they are committed to eliminating single-use plastics (33%), using return and refund systems (20%), and have taken the most initiatives to promote energy efficiency.

MAPFRE, ZERO waste in 2021

MAPFRE aspires to be a benchmark in the Circular Economy, a commitment included in its sustainability strategy. To achieve this, it has recently joined the Pact for a Circular Economy, an initiative that establishes nine challenges for promoting energy savings and reducing the company’s environmental impact. It has also undertaken to minimize the generation of waste (paper, plastic, cardboard and electronic equipment, among other things) throughout the Group and to achieve the Zero Waste Certification for the Majadahonda complex (Madrid) by 2021. Also significant is the MAPFRE Without Plastic project, in which 80 percent of its employees in Spain and Portugal took part in 2019, and which avoided the consumption of one and a half million plastic bottles and two million single-use cups.

MAPFRE has set itself the goal of minimizing the amount of waste generated throughout the Group and achieving the Zero Waste Certification for its head office in Madrid. The multinational intends to be a benchmark in the circular economy.
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