Horizon of certainty: industry calls for long-term policy to drive innovation in managing natural resources

30 January 2013 | News story

A group including European policy-makers, environmental experts and industry members were invited at a recent event to reflect on the question “Is there a role for innovation in the sustainable management of raw materials?”. The event was the first on this topic since the launch of the new Working Group on “Business and Raw Materials” under the European Parliament Intergroup on “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.”

This event took place at the same time as the first Sherpa Group meeting of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials, in view of preparing the high-level meeting of 12 February 2013, with Member States representatives, industry, research centres, NGOs, and all other stakeholders.

Gwenole Cozigou, Director for Resources Based, Manufacturing and Consumer Goods Industries in DG Enterprise of the European Commission informed the audience that a Strategic Implementation Plan setting out the priorities of the partnership will be adopted by the High-Level Steering Group in June/July 2013. “The Commission is opened to listening to practical solutions if they are applicable and acceptable to all constituencies,” he said.

The EU is the largest importer of commodities in the world and is also a big exporter of waste materials that are believed to be invaluable. MEP Judith Merkies called for an innovative business model: the ‘leasing society’, a society which would respect resources and reduce import dependency in order to close the loop within Europe. There is a huge untapped potential for recycling in the EU, said Soledad Blanco, Director for Sustainable Resources Management, Industry & Air in DG Environment, European Commission: only 40% of waste is recycled. More recycling would open new markets, create jobs, and generate extra turnover of several billion Euros. “Regulation provides the private sector with the necessary certainty to invest in innovation,” she said.

Europe is facing a financial crisis as well as a sustainability crisis, argued MEP Paul Rübig: “We should start thinking of ensuring supplies from within the EU and facilitate their exploration. Preservation of biodiversity and expansion of domestic supplies are in fact not contradictory. Since in the EU we have by far the highest environmental standards for raw material extraction in the world, the environment, the job market and the economy will benefit if we manage to keep and expand production in Europe."

Gerard Bos, Head of Global Business and Biodiversity Programme at IUCN and moderator of the panel held that true and sustainable resource management starts when different businesses jointly look at solutions to optimise their flows of goods and services: “We need to work on value-chain projects as innovation comes under the form of a true value-chain partnership. The only long-term sustainable solution is to work together towards a common vision.” He added: “Nature is at the centre of innovation. Its potential in providing innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions is yet to be fully exploited.”

The panellists agreed that raw materials are necessary to move towards a more resource-efficient and low-carbon society, while competitiveness and cost-efficiency should be also among the top priorities. New business models are needed, but equally important is that a stable environment for these changes to happen is provided by policy. “The regulatory environment must offer long-term certainty to enable investment,” said Martin Casey, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at CEMEX.

Daniel Reuss, President of the European Industrial Minerals Association (IMA-Europe) proposed looking at innovation in terms of what minerals can do to help reduce the environmental footprint of processes and products throughout the whole value chain, in addition to optimizing the resource efficiency of raw materials extraction and processing.

Furthermore, it was also emphasized by Sean O’Sullivan, Government Relations Officer at Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) that it is important to avoid concentrating all the available financing into technological innovation as what matters in the end is to develop innovation that can be applied in Europe.
Other panellists included Corina Hebestreit, Managing Director at Euromines and Annick Carpentier, Sustainability Director at Eurometaux.

MEP Judith Merkies concluded that the industry needs a horizon of certainty – a green horizon, shaped by a solid policy framework to spur innovation in natural resources management. “Politicians and the industry need to step up their ambitions and find new and better ways to solve environmental and economic challenges.”

The meeting was co-chaired by MEP Judith Merkies and MEP Paul Rübig, chairs of new Working Group and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. The audience included Members of the European Parliament, EU Permanent Representations, Embassies, NGO representatives, and the private sector.