EBC Congress 2023: Construction SMEs and crafts discuss their role in making the sector more sustainable

EBC successfully concluded its first post-Covid Congress, bringing together construction SMEs and crafts from across Europe to discuss their vital role in making their sector more sustainable. Held in response to the European Union’s calls for a more sustainable construction sector, the event emphasised the need for technical and financial support and a stable regulatory framework at all levels to enable SMEs and crafts to better adapt and contribute to the green transition.

Accounting for 99.9% of the European construction sector, SMEs and crafts are an essential actor in Europe’s economy, responsible of a large portion of local employment and value added. Consequently, their role in building a sustainable Europe is pivotal. With a commitment to improving the environmental impact of the sector, EBC and its construction SMEs and crafts have embraced the path and joined forces on the journey towards a more sustainable construction.

In this regard, this year’s EBC Annual Congress focused on the challenges they face and the support they require to be better equipped to contribute to the major environmental and climate ambitions of the EU. Organised together with EBC Dutch member Aannemersfederatie Nederland Bouw & Infra (AFNL) in The Hague, European construction entrepreneurs and renowned experts as well as Dutch and European policymakers were brough together for a rich programme titled “Sustainability in construction: the current and potential role of construction SMEs and crafts”.

After welcome and opening messages from key SME representatives such as the MKB-Nederland President Jacco Vonhof and SMEUnited Secretary General Véronique Willems, the event featured insightful presentations, engaging panel debates, and high-level political contributions around the topics of the decarbonisation of the EU by 2050, the application of circularity in construction, and the greening of private and public financing for an audience of around 100 attendees.

A first panel debate explored how SMEs and craftsmen can enhance circularity in construction. Touching upon European legislation such as the Waste Framework Directive or the Construction Products Regulation, initiatives to foster the reuse of construction materials and a more efficient management of construction and demolition waste by SMEs were underlined. Panellists also discussed the support of EU, national and local policymakers to overcome day-to-day obstacles faced by SMEs to adopt circular practices, such as the lack of qualified skills or sorting and waste disposal sites including the challenging French example of the implementation of a novel Extended Producer Responsibility scheme. Additionally, the European Commission offered a rundown of the ongoing and envisaged initiatives on circular construction that also became part of the debate.

The second panel debate centred on sustainable finance and green procurement initiatives affecting construction. As construction is not represented in the European Platform for Sustainable Finance, the panellists acknowledged the lack of visibility and the difficulties in navigating the complexity of these novelties where SMEs are not taken as the norm. With bank and accountant representatives, they explored strategies in supporting SMEs to access financing, notably to face the so far ill-adapted requirements of SME sustainability reporting, to deliver on the duties of the Renovation Wave. Additionally, the experience of SMEs in meeting the environmental criteria increasingly considered in the awarding of public contracts across Europe was also discussed.

Diederik Samsom, Head of Cabinet of the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, stated: “The built environment is a major worry to reach the EU environmental objectives. The EU will do everything to mobilise homeowners, tenants, building owners, to set up their own programmes to renovate the building stock. But it is clear that without the builders and reconstructors of Europe, the EU Green Deal cannot be achieved. An incredible portfolio awaits them, to which innovation and collaboration will be key.”

EBC Secretary General Fernando Sigchos Jiménez stated: “Construction SMEs and crafts are convinced and dedicated to playing their part in reaching the EU’s ambition on sustainability in the sector. Not an easy journey, but the construction sector has enormous potential, provided that its SMEs are at the centre of collaborative value chain initiatives and the norm of legislation affecting the sector.”

Following the closing remarks of the President of VNO-NCW Ingrid Thijssen, EBC President Philip van Nieuwenhuizen concluded: “This first EBC Congress in the Netherlands showed the commitment of local and traditional construction crafts and micro, small and medium sized companies to respond to the call for a transition in the sector, in line with the decarbonizing objectives of the EU. SMEs however call on policymakers to clear up obstructions and create conditions for them to be able to innovate, invest, scale up and accelerate in energy renovation, circularity and emission reduction. Let’s allow them to do what they do best: get their hands and tools at work!

The full press release is available here.

To watch the full recording of the Conference, click here

To see the full programme, click here

To access the pictures of the event, click here