Serbia's Green Route to Prosperity The Uvac River canyon attracts ecotourists. Photo: Djaniru/Wikimedia under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Serbia’s Green Route to Prosperity

When Angelina Bertović set up her family-run recycling company in Subotica, few shared her green business vision. Ten years later, it is estimated that in Serbia there is an opportunity to have around 8,000 new jobs through the green economy. And for the first time in years, the state appears open to green entrepreneurs’ pleas for support. But a green economy in Serbia will come to life only when the state has good projects and the private sector has adopted environmental standards, experts say.

Angelina Bertović, founder and director of the company “Eco Fenix ​​B Team” thinks state support is crucial for green entrepreneurs. Photo: Sandra Irsevic/BlueLink

The circular economy is a new business doctrine approved by the European Parliament in 2015 to replace the linear economy, pointed out Siniša Mitrović from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. He further explains that because of this, the future must set new business coordinates in the sense that thoughtful consideration is given to waste, energy efficiency of companies, the impact of climate change and good adaptation.

“That is, to educate small and medium-sized enterprises as well as decision-makers in local governments that the best energy is that which is being saved. If eco-design, renewable energy sources and the so-called green employment are supported, then the state would save over 1.1% of GDP annually “, concluded Mitrović.

More than environmental protection

“It can be said that the green economy is the future and that Serbia is at an early stage of development”, said Žaklina Živković, a researcher at the European Green Foundation’s Revision of the Economy in the Balkans: Change Policy and Climate project. “Green economy refers to new jobs and also to the greening of the existing ones. It is a holistic approach that, taking into account the fact that natural resources are limited, generates development by also including respect for human and social rights, such as workers’ rights, gender equality, inclusion. Apart from adopting the strategic documents and the legislative framework, there is no further advancement in this important area in Serbia. The general direction of the Serbian economy is attracting foreign investments, which use labour and pay minimum wages. Small and medium enterprises are burdened with parafiscal charges and have difficult access to financing, which leads to an unequal position on the market”, said Živkovic.

Žaklina Živković mapped Serbia’s green economy policy landscape for a regional study by the Green European Foundation and BlueLink. Photo: Personal archives.

“When we talk about the circular economy, as part of the green economy, it is also important to work on waste prevention, not just on waste management. Ecological design is an area that is growing around the world. Governments are increasingly insisting on longer warranties, there are more incentives for spare parts, citizens are encouraged to repair their damaged device and not buy a new one and so on.” Živkovic emphasised the importance of including informal waste collectors in the legal framework and the recognition of their social rights and their right to work. “A circular economy in Serbia will not develop if we exclude the 30 to 50,000 people currently working in waste collection.”

Green initiatives could save the state over 1.1% of GDP annually

Her research has shown that the greatest potential in Serbia lies in sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, waste management, energy and energy efficiency and sustainable transport, but it especially emphasises environmental innovations. “We are proud of the fact that Serbia is the land of Nikola Tesla, whose ideal was free and accessible energy for all. In today’s economic climate, innovation is seen as the driving force of the economy. The Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks the global economy since 2007, in line with innovative capabilities and outcomes that utilise around 80 indicators, including human capital and research development, development finance, the impact of universities and the international dimension of patent applications among a number of other important parameters. GII ranks Serbia in 65th place, just ahead of Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania from European countries. “In addition to investing in environmental protection, it is also necessary to invest in education and science, because it means investing in the future of this country”, concludes Žaklina Živković.

Environment – not a cost, but an investment

The last couple of months are very dynamic in the green sphere of interest. We are seeing good trends in the economy, and the green economy is starting to be a reality in Serbia, through the legal framework and the establishment of the Green Fund in the Environmental Protection Act, explained Filip Radović, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency at the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Filip Radović, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency: Green economy starts being a reality in Serbia. Photo: EPA

“What Serbia now needs is to establish, first of all, a favourable political framework, a strategic framework of action and a national system for achieving a green economy that will lead the development of individual segments in the right direction. With its 2020 strategy, the European Union has made this strategic framework for the development of the green economy, giving it the basic principles of development, and Serbia should be involved in it as soon as possible”, said Radović.

“Markets are an important driver of efficient use of natural resources and a green economy, as raw materials and energy have become the most important production costs of many companies. However, although markets are already encouraging change, there are many market barriers to effective and efficient resource management. The estimate is that net savings of EUR 600 billion, or 8% of annual turnover, can be achieved by preventing waste generation, eco-design, recycling and similar measures in EU companies, while at the same time annual greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 2 to 4%”, says Radović.

The barrier to the introduction of green economic principles is consumer habits, and politicians are also not taking concrete steps to move to a green economy. The Environmental Protection Agency thus has an indispensable role as one of the stakeholders in the development of the green economy in Serbia.

“One of the priority tasks for the future period, is to include other sectors – industry, agriculture, transport. It is necessary to penetrate all other spheres of the green economy and to prove that investment in the environment is not a cost but an investment in the future. It is necessary to clearly demonstrate that the introduction of the environment in other sectors is a good and efficient way to find an investor and provide new jobs, even though the environmental account is taken care of. Efficient management of natural resources, which is one of the imperatives of the green economy, gives Serbia enormous potential in the development of organic agriculture and the development of fishery. The country is rich in wind, sun and water, so with careful planning and careful investments it is easy to go forward in the use of renewable energy sources in industry, housing, transport, tourism, which is one of the basic principles in the fight against climate change. Green Cities are a special concept of a green economy that specifically involve residents in establishing the principles of city living and includes all aspects of life from utilities to health and education”, concluded Radović.

Family business collects waste. Photo: Sandra Irsevic

State support crucial

Without state support, there is no progress in this area, says the director of the company “Eco Fenix ​​B Team”, Angelina Bertović, which was founded ten years ago on 25 September, 2007. Their main activity is the collection and selection of non-hazardous waste and primary recycling. Bertović had a vision a decade ago and launched a family company, which is mostly run by women. For our portal, it explains that the “polluter pays” principle in Serbia is not in use because polluters are market-based.

It is necessary to abandon the old approach to the economy and entire sectors of the economy

“The polluter, the waste generator, pays ecological tax. The same tax is paid by the one who handles the waste. The money from these taxes should remain in my possession for the local self-government, or at least most of it. If we look at the waste generated at the level of the city of Subotica, it is being taken care of, I think that most of the money from ecological taxes should remain in the city budget”, explains Bertović.

Operators like “Eco Fenix ​​B Team” not only collect waste of several types, but they also perform various educational services in order to raise awareness of the need for proper waste separation. Bertović thinks that the local self-government should find models to stimulate the operators from the offices of the provincial and republic authorities.

“The state stimulates various foreign companies. If Swarovski, Contitech or any other company receives subsidies for employment, which is why the domestic economy, in particular, we do not receive subsidies from operators. At least half that amount. This would be an opportunity for local administrations to provide facilities for such activities free or for a small fee, “concluded Bertović.

Photo: BlueLink

“In the last few years, it has been constantly underlined that energy efficiency and the circular economy have a great potential for the Serbian economy. But in order to bring this idea to life, it is necessary to approve the greening of all necessary sectoral policies, such as energy, transport, agriculture, forestry, industry”, says the coordinator of the Working Group of the Serbian National Convention on the European Union for Chapter 27 – Environment, Natasa Djereg. She further explains that Serbia does not have a specific national strategy for resource efficiency or an action plan.

Natasa Djereg, coordinator of the Working Group of the Serbian National Convent on the European Union for Chapter 27 – Environment. Photo: Sandra Iršević / BlueLink

“It is necessary to abandon the old approach to the economy and entire sectors of the economy. It is very important to note that the major investment decisions that can be made today can lead to the disruption of the transition to the green circular economy in the next 40 years, especially in the field of energy and transport. The negative demographic trend from 2008 to the present is a direct consequence of an unsustainable investment cycle, which leads to the disruption of the sustainable development of the region of Serbia and local communities”, says Djereg, who is also the coordinator of the Working Group of the National Convention on the European Union for Director Center for Ecology and

Sustainable Development- CEKOR.

The green economy encompasses many things and, as a reminder, by signing the Energy Community Treaty for South Eastern Europe, Serbia committed to a reduction of final energy consumption of 9% by 2018 and reaching 27% of renewables within the total final energy consumption by 2020. In the transport sector, the share of renewable energy sources should be at least 10% by 2020.

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