Increasing regional innovation capacities for
resources efficiency and integrated waste management through cooperation, research and technological development
Resource efficiency means using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimising impacts on the environment. It allows us to create more with less and to deliver greater value with less input. These resources include raw materials such as fuels, minerals and metals but also food, soil, water, air, biomass and ecosystems. Growing global demand is increasing pressure on the environment, and competition for many resources is increasing.
Europe, like much of the industrialized world, is using an increasing amount of materials. The average annual use of material resources among the EU-27 is some 16 tons per person. Demand for materials has long exceeded Europe's ability to independently generate what it needs. The continent imports over six times more resources than it exports, and its economy is now threatened by approaching shortages in primary materials.
Using natural resources more efficiently has clear economic benefits for companies: it improves productivity, reduces costs and enhances competitiveness, creating employment opportunities. Is also provides a more attractive and healthier living environment for regions and municipalities. For example, an overall savings potential of €639bn per year in manufacturing can be translated into substantial gains in each manufacturing company. European manufacturing firms spend on average 40% of their costs on raw materials, with energy and water pushing this to 50% of total manufacturing costs. This compares to a share of only 20% for labor costs. Resource-efficiency products and processes therefore positively impact the profitability of any company.*
Beside higher profitability, resource efficiency can also unlock large potential for innovation and growth, encouraging the emergence of new technologies and driving job creation. This relates to the optimisation of value generation across the full life-cycle, design of eco-efficient products and recycling and reuse of waste streams.
In 2011, the European Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe underlined that a new wave of innovation will be required to ensure “that the stocks of all environmental assets from which the EU benefits or sources its global supplies are secure and managed within their maximum sustainable yields, [...] that residual waste is close to zero and that ecosystems have been restored, and systemic risks to the economy from the environment have been understood and avoided.”
The European Commission recognizes the potential of resource efficiency for regional development. In its Communication ‘Regional policy contributing to sustainable growth in Europe’, it calls on regional policy stakeholders to act without delay and invest in a resource efficient, low carbon, climate resilient competitive economy. Through the current Structural Funds programme period, regions have the possibility to invest more and more effectively in sustainable growth with an emphasis on resource efficiency.
The Resource Efficiency Roadmap sets out a vision for the structural and technological change needed up to 2050, with milestones to be reached by 2020. These milestones illustrate what will be needed to put Europe on a path to resource efficient and sustainable growth.
* Source: Greenovate! Europe, REMake, 2012