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SWITCH-Asia and Indian SMEs

SWITCH-Asia and Indian SMEs

New Delhi hosted the launch of an international conference and networking event on the role of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) towards sustainable livelihoods in Asia. SCP has officially become a global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in New York on September 25, 2015. SWITCH-Asia is the largest Programme funded by the European Union to promote SCP in Asia: it works across 16 Asian countries through more than 90 demonstration projects and policy support actions. To date eleven EU-funded SWITCH-Asia projects have been initiated in India that promote sustainable consumption and production practices in line with the agenda of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The three-day event was held from 4-6 Nov 2015 at The Lalit, New Delhi and was organised by the European Union’s SWITCH-Asia Programme with the support of India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. The SWITCH-Asia conference in Delhi brought together representatives from the European Union, Indian government, international organisations, project practitioners and policy-makers from Asia to illustrate how SCP contributes to poverty alleviation via green growth, livelihood enhancement, gender empowerment, education and skill transfers.

Business Beacon (BB) spoke to Dr. Uwe Weber, Team Leader, SWITCH-Asia Network Facility to know more about the SWITCH-Asia program.

BB: Tell us more about the SWITCH-Asia’s Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).

Dr Weber: Started in 2007, the SWITCH-Asia Programme is the largest European Union (EU) programme promoting sustainable consumption and production (SCP) in Asia. SWITCH-Asia is working with NGOs, business associations, small and medium sized companies (SMEs), academia, policy-makers, civil society, and consumer organisations. The overall objective of the SWITCH-Asia Programme is to promote sustainable growth and environmental protection, to contribute to the economic prosperity and poverty reduction in Asia and to mitigate climate change.

SCP is a comprehensive approach to improve the sustainability of economic growth, from a systemic and life cycle perspective. It is about adopting more environmentally friendly and socially fair ways of designing, producing, using, and recycling of products and services. Besides promoting SMEs’ uptake of SCP practices, the SWITCH-Asia Programme also supports their access to green finance.

One may compare the Programme to a virtual technology park where small companies are invited to come together learning to use improved facilities like a wastewater treatment station and other green technologies. As a result the target groups become more professional, with experts guiding the companies and organisations towards improved SCP performance.

BB: How the IP challenges are being addressed?

Dr Weber: Intellectual Property resulting from SWITCH-Asia projects is always at the disposal of the European Union as the Programme provides 80-90% co-funding. However, the IP rests with the consortium implementing a specific project. All consortia must comprise of at least one organization from Asia and one from Europe. Each such consortium should establish an agreement how to deal with IPs generated within a project internally.  The Programme doesn’t provide a template for such an agreement, because all projects and consortia are different. In a nutshell: if IPRs are generated the EU reserves the right to utilise it; secondly, within the organizations working on the project, they have to work out how they want to distribute IPRs internally.

BB: Across borders and nationally how will it be done? Is it open to all?

Dr Weber: No, it’s not open to all. It is open to the EU eventually. It may be available to parties interested in a completed SWITCH-Asia project and wish to receive more information for a replication of the former project’s achievements elsewhere. Then, eventually, IPRs will be shared. Private entities will have to approach the relevant consortium of companies, i.e. the organizations owning the IPR for their consent to use their IPRs; such transfer should in principle also work across borders.
BB: What is the importance of the innovation component in Switch Asia?

Dr Weber: We have to be a realistic. When a new SWITCH-Asia project starts, there are basically two ways for innovation coming into play: one is transferring solutions already tested elsewhere to India or other Asian countries and the other that new solutions are developed locally. For example in Sri Lanka, SWITCH-Asia supports a rural energy project, where waste from hotels is used to generate biogas. Innovation techniques like TQM, Kaizen may be used by specific projects but are not required from projects in general. What is required is that projects implement activities that are improving the initial situation described in the project proposal. SWITCH-Asia is not looking at innovation techniques at a strategic level but within concrete project proposals. Like how can a biogas plant be improved or how can energy consumption in a hotel be reduced? These are technologies that have already proven their worth elsewhere, but may be innovative in the local context of a SWITCH-Asia project.
BB: How to try the balance between consumption with production?

Dr Weber: The actual balance between sustainable consumption (SC) and production projects results from the proposals received and approved for funding. Two thirds or more of the proposals are addressing sustainable production (SP). There is no intervention from the Programme management apart from encouraging SC oriented proposals. The focus of Asian Programme stakeholders lies however on the SP side. The Programme receives nevertheless a number of proposals addressing SC themes, like promoting government related Green Public Purchasing (GPP). If a government purchases goods and services, there is certain number of products that are addressed from this GPP. Other SC projects are about labelling of organic food.  SC is further addressed by labelling or promoting of indigenous production by local communities. SWITCH-Asia is a demand driven programme, providing support to proposals received.

As economic development progresses in the region, more proposals focussing on SC are received.  For example, in Cambodia a project to reduce plastic bag waste is currently supported.  During the actual second phase of the program, there is a renewed focus on SC and the calls for proposals are inviting more proposals on SC themes to create a better balance between the two themes.  SWITCH-Asia supports a number of SC projects in India that are quite well received. One of the landmark SWITCH-Asia SC projects in India, the Green Retail project, is implemented with CII and aims at increasing the number of sustainable products on the shelves of retailers to instigate a paradigm shift in the mind of the consumers.

BB: What is the Business model for SMEs, how Indian SMEs are guided about this?

Dr Weber: SWITCH-Asia projects wish to guide cooperating SMEs in terms of technology and managerial support in the form of capacity building, consulting, studies or baseline assessments. The Programme does not finance investments.

If SMEs decide to engage more towards sustainability, they can find local green finance opportunities in the respective guidelines published by the SWITCH-Asia Network Facility. So far these publications cover five countries- Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines and Cambodia. Such guidelines for India and China will be published soon and these will be available for download from our website. Country wise there are many banks that have small programs supporting green investments. The problem is that these banks and programmes operate often locally, so the information is frequently not transparent to a wider audience.  It is intended that the mentioned SWITCH-Asia publications by the Network Facility reduce this information asymmetry.

BB: What are the challenges you face to implement projects in India?

Dr Weber: The SWITCH-Asia projects are limited regarding the maximum assistance in terms of disbursements. Addressing the previously mentioned overall objectives of the Programme requires therefore to identify the right beneficiaries and for example to work with local communities and identify the weaker parts of the society. Though not all projects are reaching out to these target groups with the same intensity, the challenge remains to improve the impact on poverty alleviation and livelihood improvements across all projects in the future.

Generally the organizations implementing SWITCH-Asia projects are not established at the often rural project sites; they are mostly based within cities. The community interaction has however to happen in rural areas. It needs to be ensured that sustainability is not addressed just as a concept but as a channel to reduce poverty by providing education and jobs in rural areas.

A further challenge is ensuring that project interventions are sustainable themselves, that for example producer circles and artisan self-help groups continue to operate after the SWITCH-Asia project funding ended.
BB: How SWITCH-Asia is reaching out to MSMEs & Entrepreneurs?

Dr Weber: All supported projects are required to propose working with SMEs during project implementation. In this way the outreach to these groups is built into the SWITCH-Asia Programme design.

When a call for proposals is published, interested organizations are invited to information events, which are organised by the EU in Brussels and at the EU Delegations in the target countries.  These information seminars are also available as web-stream to have the widest possible outreach. The seminars provide information on a specific call’s focal areas, what needs to be done to apply for funding, how a proposal needs to be submitted etc.

The Programme is actually well received when it comes to generate project proposals from throughout Asia. While on average about 15 proposals are supported per call, more than 100 applications for funding are received. Hence the Programme management is careful not to raise unrealistic expectations on funding. If 90 proposals have to be rejected, this creates some disappointment, hence there needs to be a balance between Programme outreach, marketing and actual opportunities offered.

BB: Any words to the readers of Business Beacon and the SME community in India?

Dr Weber: Certainly. Many SMEs and companies perceive SCP implementation as a stellar effort that is far away from their day-to-day business reality. However, looking more closely one recognises that there are many small but important steps that SMEs can take to improve the sustainability of their consumption and production. At the same time such activities will also help to lower costs and stay profitable. SCP is NOT something that can be pursued by the large Tatas, Birlas or Ambanis only. Every small company has the ability to look for and use SCP tools for improvement and examples have shown that these companies are benefiting overall. For SME case studies please download our recent publication here: http://www.switch-asia.eu/publications/asian-smes-adopting-sustainable-consumption-and-production/

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