In July 2010, the Belgian presidency brought the issue of 'sustainable materials management' (SMM) to the European level by organising an Informal Environment Council on the subject. On behalf of the presidency, the Flemish minister for the Environment, Mrs. Joke Schauvliege, introduced tangible policy proposals for SMM. During the two-day-debate, different ideas and steps towards an European SMM policy were discussed by the European ministers and experts. At the end of this year, the Belgian presidency has the intention to come to formal Council conclusions. SMM should provide the basis for a 'resource and material efficient' Europe, one of the key parts of the European 2020 Strategy. Life cycle thinking and cradle to cradle principles inspires and supports this resource efficiency aims, as the European Commissioner Potočnik underlined in his video message at the C2CN Launch Event in Maastricht and in his speech at the Informal Council in Ghent.
The issue of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) was discussed at the informal two-day ministerial meeting on 12-13 July 2010 in Ghent, Belgium. During this meeting, the Flemish minister for the Environment, Mrs. Joke Schauvliege, chairing the Informal Council on behalf of Belgium, launched tangible policy proposals for a SMM policy. She held indepth discussions with her European collegues of the 27 EU Member States, the European Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Janez Potočnik, representatives of the European Parliament and the Commission, the European Environment Agency, the European Environmental Bureau and the Wupperthal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.
"We must use our materials in a sustainable way, on a daily basis. If not, we will never succeed in achieving a resource-efficient society. Currently, the footprint of the EU-27 is more than twice its regenerative capacity."
Materials efficiency is crucial. Raw materials have become increasingly scarce as a result of growth economies and increasing consumption, but the way in which we deal with materials (raw materials, products or waste) also lies at the heart of many environmental problems. In other words, efficient material management will not only make business more competitive and less dependent on imports from outside Europe, but will also ensure that we consume less energy and avoid environmental impact.
Interest for SMM is rapidly growing in Europe, because it's closely linked to the flagship initiative on resource efficiency in the EU 2020 Strategy. This Strategy aims at the delivery of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and stresses the need for a resource efficient Europe. Resource efficiency implies using resources as efficiently and as environmentally responsible as possible. SMM can be seen as a precondition for more resource efficiency.
"The message during the Belgian Presidency on Sustainable Material Management can be summarised as: integration, vision, (eco)innovation and transition."
During the two-day-meeting of the Informal Council there was a constructive debate between the various participants on the possible ways forward to promote SMM. Main policy challenges can be summarised as:
- Policy integration: shift from dispersed policy domains, instruments and decisions towards better integration and synergies, also involving political judgement of the different impacts and prioritising targets on the basis of an overall policy for sustainable development.
- Vision: from short-term policy and basic indicators towards long-term vision/strategic targets and comprehensive indicators for SMM.
- Innovation: from incremental technological (eco)innovation towards fundamental system innovation. The EC should identify resource efficiency as a 'societal challenge'. Instruments, programmes and governance schemes should also be oriented towards the support of system innovation. This includes for instance the set up of a multi-stakeholder SMM Transition Platform at the European level, developing ideas to address the necessary transitions, systems changes, reframing, and actions needed for SMM.
Read the detailed proposals of the two-day-debate and conclusions in the summary which was presented by the Belgian Presidency at the end of the Informal Environment Council: www.eutrio.be/pressrelease/necessity-using-materials-sustainable-way
Given its considerable political importance, the lunch after the second day was also dedicated to the issue of climate change. SMM not only leads to a green economy by stimulating innovation, jobs creation and the conservation of natural resources, it could also entail bottom-up measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the short term. Global climate change is one of the overarching strategic priorities of the Trio of Presidencies (January 1st 2010 – June 30th 2011, www.eutrio.eu).