Economics and ecology do fit together – because resource efficiency also pays off financially in the economy.
Environmental protection is great – but what does that entail for my annual business report? Many medium-sized companies are still sceptical when it comes to sustainability in their own company. The fear of imaginary additional costs is widespread, but this is at most based on rumours, because ecology and economy are not like day and night – on the contrary: “Resource efficiency increases competitiveness”, says Wilfried Denz, a freelance environmental consultant and head of the “Resource Efficiency in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)” Policy Committee at the VDI (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure – Association of German Engineers). The equation is simple: if you reduce wastewater, emissions, waste heat etc., you consume less material and energy – and thus save money.
Wilfried Denz has been promoting sustainability in SMEs for more than 25 years. Nevertheless, he states: “Many look away, because the environmental protections of the 1970s have the reputation of just devouring money.” At that time, he says, the first measures were enforced by limits and bought expensively with filter technology, whereas today you have the opportunity to act preventively.
“‘Downstream-only’ environmental technology such as air purification plants or sewage treatment plants always cost more”, confirms Markus Große Ophoff, technical director of the Centre for Environmental Communication of the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt – DBU). But otherwise, he says, environmental protection and cost savings usually go hand in hand. “The investments often pay for themselves in a few years”. Since 1991, the DBU has put more than 1.6 billion Euros into promoting sustainable ideas for SMEs, and it awards the German Environmental Prize annually – which with its 500,000 Euros premium, is the highest endowed environmental prize in Europe.
In addition, adds environmental consultant Denz, environmental protection is a means for cultivating image: directly through public relations towards customers, residents and local politics, and indirectly through better conditions for insurance companies and donors. “If I can demonstrate responsible behaviour, for example, in the storage of hazardous materials, their disposal and the corresponding staff training, this automatically results in a better rating.”
According to his experience, medium-sized companies in particular are characterised by their innovative power in this area – “they often have long-term prospects and assume their responsibility towards society”.