The highlight of the SME Assembly 2021 – the Schumpeter ‘Innovation in Enterprise’ Lecture will be delivered by professor Lučka Kajfež Bogataj. Professor Bogataj  is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the United Nations for more than 16 years and a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts towards raising public awareness about the fatal consequences of the warming of the atmosphere. She is one of Slovenia’s pioneers in researching the impact of climate change.
Reflecting on the new social and political dynamics brought upon by the pandemic, professor Bogataj will focus on the role of SMEs and enterprise in achieving the transition to a sustainable economy.
We reach out to her for an exclusive interview ahead of the SME Assembly 2021 .
Prof. Bogataj, how important do you think is the role of small and medium-sized businesses in the green transition? What incentive could be offered to them to take part in the transition having in mind we are yet to see the big business do their fair share?
So far, the big business has in my mind failed to understand the dimensions of environmental crisis. But small and medium-sized enterprises can pave the way for greening across ecosystems, including industry and manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and even energy. I believe that entrepreneurs drive social and economic innovation and can revolutionize patterns of production. If motivated they can also address climate change in a sustainable, meaningful, and proﬁtable way. But they face larger challenges when it comes to the capacity to green their operations, due to limitations in size. For instance, small businesses often lack confidence to invest in environmental-friendly technology. In many EU countries small and medium-sized businesses need more political backing and monetary support. Governments can provide incentives for small businesses to be proactive through financial support and educational resources. Financial incentives, including tax breaks and carbon offset programmes, reward entrepreneurs for their time in creating sustainable businesses. To achieve all that, at this moment we need a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches. We do not have enough time to only rely only on bottom-up way. Action by governments and business leaders is also urgent.
If you could give one piece of advice to an entrepreneur striving to make their business more sustainable, what would it be?
My advice would be – do not underestimate climate change risks. Decarbonise! Decarbonisation is both profitable and environmentally friendly. Set carbon targets to achieve and deadlines. Once this is completed, look again at how you operate and think how your business could be even more sustainable. There is always room for improvement. Environmentally conscious practices are entrepreneurship’s hottest innovation.
What are you looking forward to at the SME Assembly 2021?
To meet people, to listen, to get new ideas from small businesses world and to get infected by entrepreneurial spirit. I am especially interested in success stories, embodied by successful women entrepreneurs. Also, I am looking forward to discussions at policy workshops.
How hopeful are you about the prospects of the tackle climate change given the new social and political dynamics brought upon by the pandemic?
Pandemic so far did not help climate change action, but post covid stimulus might. The Recovery and Resilience Plans can be once in a lifetime chance to mitigate climate change and also to adapt small and medium-sized businesses to climate change impacts. To really tackle climate change means to transform our economies in an unprecedented way. The EU recovery package pays attention to fighting climate change and also to fair climate transition. I really hope that post-COVID Europe will be greener, more resilient and better fit for the forthcoming challenges. Also, I believe that small and medium-sized businesses can really benefit from the EU budget.
In 2012, you were named in the group of Women inspiring Europe – has Europe inspired you back with its actions on climate change ever since?
Europe is trying really hard to tackle environmental problems. Europe listens to science and takes warnings and proposed scientific solutions seriously. In spite of that, “living well within environmental limits” is still far away. The EU is not yet able to achieve really fundamental transitions in the systems of production and consumption that are the root cause of environmental and climate pressures. Our institutions, practices, technologies, policies, lifestyles and thinking still favour a ‚Culture of Growth‘ instead of a ‚Culture of Sustainability‘. It is high time to move beyond a simple ‘green growth’ narrative.
Which book or documentary do you think could change people’s opinion on the urgency to act on climate change?
There is a huge choice of really good stuff. Climate change is already prominent part of our lives and it is increasingly reflected in arts and literature. but is hard to say which is the best book to change our mindset. Personally I still prefer real books but I would recommend to read on line The 2013 Late lessons from early warnings report  produced by the European Environment Agency. It illustrates how damaging and costly the misuse or neglect of the precautionary principle can be and how to maximise innovations whilst minimising harms. My second choice is potent and evocative book The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wellst .
Don’t miss out!
Interested to hear more about what Professor Lučka Kajfež Bogataj will say at the SME Assembly 2021? Make sure you are following @EEPA_EU  on Twitter and #SMEAssembly2021 for live coverage. You can also still register to follow the live stream online  here.