Responsible editor: Gian Luca Baldo
This article is the second part of a series of articles presenting the results of research on the implementation of lifecycle management tools in small- and medium-sized companies in Poland. This work is part of a project financed by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PAED), which began in February 2011. It was carried out by the Wielkopolska Quality Institute, a business environment institution associated with the Polish Centre for life cycle assessment (PCLCA). The main practical objective of the project was to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their business development, e.g. by expanding their horizons beyond the sphere of their operation and identifying new areas for the improvement and promotion of the products and services they offer. The specific objective of the analysis on the environmental impact was an attempt to answer the question of whether environmental LCA is a good management tool for this type of business. Part 2 describes results of the evaluation of the implementation of LCA in SMEs conducted in 46 companies involved in the project.
In order to assess the effectiveness of the project and the effectiveness of the implementation of LCA and life cycle costing (LCC), a survey was conducted of small and medium businesses where the implementation work had been fully completed. In total, 46 organisations agreed to participate in the LCA survey, which was almost 66 % of all the companies where the LCA and LCC studies had been carried out within the project. The survey was conducted using individual in-depth interviews. Questions to the representatives of the companies referred both to aspects of their functioning in the market (characteristics of a company, its market share, management systems, environmental policy, suppliers and clients) and the operation of their environmental service (assessment of its effectiveness, motivation and difficulties in its implementation), as well as opinions on the potential applications of LCA in their current operations.
Results and discussion
The experience and observations of LCA experts resulting from their cooperation with the organisations analysed are largely supported by the results of the survey. The overall impression gained from the project is that the small- and medium-sized enterprises analysed have a problem with accepting and understanding the life cycle perspective and show limited interest in taking liability for environmental aspects beyond the mandatory legal standards and boundaries of their business operations. The survey shows that the companies rarely analyse environmental aspects appearing on many different stages of the life cycle of their products. Most of them focus on their current operations while trying to meet the mandatory legal requirements relating to environmental protection. It should be noted, however, that SMEs taking part in the studies appreciate the opportunities offered by LCA, their usefulness in business practice, recognise the potential for using life cycle techniques in the future and their impact on the management process, procedure or thinking about the products they manufacture. The result of the study is the identification of four key areas relevant to SMEs which may affect their willingness to adopt the life cycle perspective and undertake environmental measures.
It seems that implementing LCT in small- and medium-sized enterprises requires a special approach. These are often companies with limited human resources (often just a few people) and financial resources (often operating on the verge of survival), with a weak position in a supply chain and, therefore, having various priorities in their daily operation. The researchers also encountered awareness barriers as a result of which the idea of going beyond an organisation and making an entire LCA of a product was often simply misunderstood. The studies conducted among SMEs have shown that managers' own intuition and research on customer preferences were largely conducive to improve existing or introducing new products or services, while changes were mostly introduced due to the requirements of the market, or the desire to reduce costs. It can be assumed that their non-obligatory nature also contributed to the relatively low interest in LCA initiatives and not recognising their usefulness. It seems that it would be useful to carry out relatively simple, but integrated, LCA/LCC analyses in SMEs so that the companies would clearly see the economic effect of the proposed environmental improvements. The analyses conducted lead to the conclusion that the incentive for SMEs to take measures should come from outside, e.g. as requirements for green public procurements, or as part of assessment made by suppliers in a supply chain.