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Introduction: How SMEs can make a contribution to SDG 13

Climate change is a challenge for politics, business and society as a whole. Science proves that we are pushing Earth beyond its limits. Accordingly everyone is called to action: from the state to the individual, from large companies to SMEs.

At the international and national level, states have committed themselves to integrating climate protection measures into national policy, strategy and planning. According to the decision of the UN member states at the 21st climate conference in Paris in 2015, global warming is to be kept below 2 degrees.

Switzerland’s goals

Switzerland has also set itself ambitious goals for the next 30 years and intends to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the “Agenda 2030” by the end of this decade. SDG 13 stipulates that “immediate measures should be taken to combat climate change and its effects”. Consequently, the Federal Council decided at the end of August 2019, to reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. Some Swiss cities want to achieve the “net zero target” by 2030 already.

Additionally, the “Energy Strategy 2050” includes a successive restructuring of the Swiss energy system. This includes increasing Switzerland’s energy efficiency, adapting the electricity grid and electricity supply network, increasing the share of renewable energies in the energy mix and phasing out nuclear energy.

Challenges and opportunities

The implementation of the above-mentioned goals and measures poses challenges but also presents new opportunities for the private sector. Experts believe that achieving the SDGs will create new market opportunities and hundreds of millions of new jobs worldwide. The energy sector is one of the most promising sources of hope.

In order to act today and realize these opportunities, we need innovative solutions, economic incentives, a suitable framework and best practice examples. And the time to act is now. This opinion is shared by Jacqueline Jakob, Managing Director of the Energy Agency for the Swiss Private Sector (EnAW): “The earlier SMEs deal with the issue of energy, the better. Companies that are striving for a stable future and are looking to secure their competitiveness, would do well to make this topic the focus of their activities “.

The most important factors for climate protection

Switzerland, too, is affected by the changing climate. Heatwaves in summer are increasing, and precipitation has increased by up to 30 percent in the 20th century, depending on the region. So-called “extreme events” are triggered and intensified by the thawing of permafrost, glacier retreat and flooding. For example, heavier precipitation in the Alpine regions can lead to floods and rockfalls. Biodiversity is also under threat: temperature changes have a major impact on the Swiss ecosystem, as they encourage the spread of pests and pathogens.

The main sources of greenhouse gas emissions from Swiss industry include production processes, freight transport, energy reference areas, cattle stock, as well as the construction and cement industries. On the consumer side, the main causes are housing and transport.
Switzerland’s CO2 footprint is well above the global average, with a per capita consumption of approximately 14 tonnes of CO. According to the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), transport (excluding international air and shipping traffic) accounts for 32 percent of emissions, buildings for 24 percent, industry for another 24 percent and agriculture, waste treatment and synthetic gases for 19 percent.1

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The potential of SMEs in the climate and energy sector

Especially SMEs with industrial and building emissions have an enormous potential to reduce their own ecological footprint and lower their energy costs through renovation and energy efficiency measures. But what exactly does energy efficiency mean? According to the EnAW, the term describes “the measures with which energy consumption can be compared independently of growth”. From 2013 to 2019, EnAW participants achieved savings in electricity and heat in the order of 3,578,159 megawatt hours. In addition, the participating companies were able to reduce CO2 emissions by 76,796 tonnes in 2019 alone. In financial terms, the participants saved around CHF 344 million and were reimbursed approximately CHF 340 million in taxes.

How did these companies succeed? With simple but consistently implemented measures. One of the most frequently implemented measures was the conversion to LED technology. The participants also successfully saved on heating, ventilation and process heat.

Although it is easiest to start with the lighting, process heat ultimately proves to be the most effective, EnAW Managing Director Jacqueline Jakob confirms. “The greatest potential lies in optimizing process heat, as it accounts for around 70 percent of the fuels used across industries. Companies have to investigate processes and make them sustainable.” That takes courage, but is worth it, says Ms Jakob. Indeed, it is not just a question of a smaller footprint and financial aspects. According to EnAW observations, adopting more sustainable practices also contributes to a more positive working environment, the strengthening of competitiveness and even product improvements.

An incentive for all

Business Sustainability Today, together with UBS and, launched the “Sustainable Switzerland Campaign” (Aktion zukunftsfähige Schweiz). The campaign aims to motivate companies to contribute to the SDGs with inspiring solutions. Fully in line with SDG 17 “Partnerships to achieve the goals”, Business Sustainability Today positions itself as a hub. Therefore, the platform also features innovate business models and solutions from the “Umweltpreis der Wirtschaft” (Swiss Environmental Award for Business) and Solar Impulse (1000 Solutions).

Information on the latest developments in research can be found on the web portals of the National Research Programmes “Energy system transformation” (NRP 70), “Managing energy consumption” (NRP 71) and “Sustainable Economy” (NRP 73). In order to achieve the SDGs and Switzerland’s “net zero target”, each and every individual is called upon to do his or her part. Accordingly, private individuals can find suggestions on the subject of energy efficiency on, because “Climate neutrality by 2050 is a challenge for society as a whole”, emphasizes Ms Jakob. “That’s why it’s important that everyone is aware of this issue.”

1 link: Federal Office for the Environment BAFU