Recent research has shown that companies across the world are increasingly setting up systems to manage the environmental aspects of their business. Whereas many large, well-resourced firms have implemented Environmental Management Systems (EMSs), small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have not adopted these management practices to the same degree, although research shows that their managers have positive attitudes towards environmental issues. The main reason for the slow SME uptake is the lack of resources they have at their disposal for building up their environmental systems. SMEs would be willing to develop and implement EMSs if they had a practical tool for conducting the process. SMEs therefore need a tailored approach to the development of EMSs. This tool should be preferably accessible on the Internet, user-friendly, inexpensive and have low maintenance costs, so that significant resources are not diverted from production and service expenses.
The aim of the project was to develop a web-based tool and an environmental training programme for small and medium sized transportation companies. The tool would help the companies to manage and monitor their environmental performance, allowing a firm to input its operational data into the application, which would in turn generate different kinds of reports e.g. for the Ecomanagement and Audit Scheme (EMAS) Statement, and documentation for the EMSs. The objective was also to develop a web-tool that could be integrated into the EMSs of large companies. The project hoped to achieve 10-12 percent direct energy savings and 3-8 percent indirect energy savings in the targeted SMEs through use of the tool.
The project developed EcoTra, an inexpensive and easy-to-use Internet-based tool for monitoring the environmental, financial and eco-efficiency performance of transportation SMEs. The tool is available at www.ecotra.net. EcoTra functions via an on-vehicle device that sends data on the fuel consumption, speed and distance between the vehicle and the tool. EcoTra then calculates the vehicle's emissions. Other aspects such as maintenance and financial data can be input by the user via a webpage protected by confidential access codes. EcoTra produces reports on the environmental, operational and financial data that have been input. The tool also provides a training module that gives an overview of transportation sector specific environmental requirements relating to the ISO 14001 standard and EMAS. When tested, three out of nine pilot companies achieved a 6.5 percent direct energy saving as compared to 10-12 percent direct savings foreseen in the proposal. The use of a developed Internet-based tool contributes directly to the EU's 6th Environmental Action Programme, specially to paragraphs 2.3 Encouraging the Market to Work for the Environment, 8.1 Better Regulation, 8.2 Information for Policy Making and Evaluation and, on the company level, 5.7 Air Pollution. The Finnish national authorities have already noted the usefulness of the tool and are considering making it compulsory for monitoring the improvement of the environmental performance of the transportation sector. In more general terms, the project also contributed to the promotion of eco-driving and road safety. In terms of dissemination, the project targeted potential users and decision makers so that they would understand the benefits that could be obtained by managing the environmental performance of transport SMEs. A number of articles were published to describe the tool to officials, researchers and potential users. The project was also presented worldwide at numerous meetings, conferences and seminars. Three seminars were organised specifically for the project in Finland, whilst the Hungarian partner organised eleven courses, workshops and seminars where the project was presented. The partners participated to two professional fairs: in Helsinki and in Budapest. The project introduced to 8000 transportation companies in Finland and about 100 companies in Hungary. In 2005, three books were planned that would contain an academic article concerning the project. The project demonstrated that the tool can provide easy and inexpensive assistance in monitoring the impact of road transportation on air quality. Consequently, more specific legislative regulations could be introduced. The estimated cost (2005 prices) of implementation of the EcoTra tool by a company is €1000 + VAT for the hardware, €10 per lorry per month for communication (phone, GPRS) and €20 per lorry per month for the EcoTra service.