- We urgently need to speed up the transition to a cleaner and more energy efficient economy.
- Only through a massive transformation in government policy and the business model will this happen.
- Industries can finance their own transformation if public money is used to leverage and support them.
- There are green technologies already developed by industry that it is unable to push because the legislative framework is not in place.
- Industry, government and civil society must work together across the value chain.
Experts from the public and private sectors explored ways to fast-track the transition to green industry and to pinpoint bottlenecks. There was consensus that the solution will not developed solely by government, NGOs or industry, but requires a collective effort to find new approaches and enter into partnerships.
Christophe Yvetot, Head of Brussels Office, United Nations Industrial Development Organization – UNIDO, pointed out that green industry platforms play a key role in fostering dialogue among the private sector, governments and civil society. They can bring visibility to private sector actors that are performing well and incentivise others to follow. UNIDO has concrete examples of how transformative partnerships can mobilise the private sector.
These range from cross-border protocols to government-led targets for reducing energy consumption and engagements within a sector or industry. For example, the leather sector in Bangladesh has reduced pollution from waste by 90 % and water consumption by 50 %. According to Yvetot, public money can help businesses finance their own transformation, whether by helping them to implement new technology and training, or supporting them when setting up in a new country.
Carina Vopel, Head of Unit, Resource Efficiency and Economic Analysis, Directorate-General for the Environment, European Commission, said EC policy units are ‘increasingly working with industry and enterprises and not against economic interests’ and that a structural transformation across the economy is needed.
Governments – which have become very risk averse because of Europe’s economic difficulties – need to take a longer-term view. ‘We need to work actively towards a circular rather than linear economy, where one industry’s waste becomes another’s raw material,’ she added, noting that it is ‘a tall order, but we must try to measure and disclose future risks, social and environmental costs and have them reflected in legislation’. Shale gas is a prime example, she said. ‘We think of green tape as being the cost, but in the long term, it’s an economic way of thinking.’
An example of the circular economy was given by Brigitte Dero, General Manager of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers of VinylPlus. She pointed to the recycling of flooring from London Olympics facilities in British schools. The coalition of 180 companies in the vinyl sector grew out of a reaction to environmental lobbying and now fosters cooperation across the value chain. Such voluntary intiatives can create frameworks without having to wait for legislation and open the industry mindset.
Richard Northcote, Member of the Executive Committee and Head of Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainability, Bayer Material Science, provided insight into the frustrations experienced by businesses that spend money developing green technology only to find they cannot market it because it is too expensive and the regulatory framework is not in place.
‘As an industry we are finally coming around to seeing that collaboration is the way forward,’ he said. ‘Green industry is a key driver of economic growth as long as everything else is in place to allow the innovation of private companies to be taken in by society.’ Businesses need access to the right people, but they also have to establish a relationship of trust with legislators, which may mean addressing the legacy of the past.
‘It’s frustrating when you hear governments talking about innovation and you say “We’ve done this, broken through the barrier, here is a new technology” … and they say, “Great, we need more like this”. No you don’t! You need to implement what you’ve got!” I hear this in Europe and in the United States, but never in China. China uses it straight away. For instance they went straight to producing electric cars.’ Richard Northcote, Member of the Executive Committee and Head of Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainability, Bayer Material Science