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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Will The EU Ever Take Sustainability Seriously?

First published on 17 February as a guest blog on Chemical Week.

The European Commission will release the report of the High-Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Chemical Industry on February 19.  A sneak peak at the document reveals that sustainability is still pretty low down the agenda, particularly due to the shift in economic conditions in the 18 months since the High-Level Group began its work.

In terms of competition, you could claim that the European chemical industry has it tough.  It does not have a local supply of oil like the Middle East, or cheap labour costs like India and China.  But Europe is much more invested in initiatives like Responsible Care, the Long-range Research Initiative and SusChem.  Starting with health and safety and moving into environmental and sustainability issues, European industry is more committed than most.

The EU report states that innovation has the potential to lead us out of the economic slump, but I regret that it does not stress more the sustainability angle.  Europe also has the potential to become a world leader in energy efficiency and other climate change mitigation technology, if it is not already.  The High-Level Group is made up of European Commissioners and Ministers, as well as industry and stakeholder figures.  It is indeed high-level.  Perhaps the Commission will see the light and spin it in time, but it seems to have missed the point.

In an economic depression, we should strengthen our commitment to sustainability.  The sustainability of an industry's products equals the long-term sustainability of the industry.

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