More resource efficiency helps European businesses

1 Introduction

Increased resource efficiency can offer competitive benefits to industry. This is the content of a memo, released by the European Commission. According to the European 2020 program, it requires a resource-efficient Europe in most of the industrial branches. While it does of course require additional investment, it also offers new opportunities which EU companies will want to harness. A number of European key sectors have already embarked on a resource-efficient strategy.

In the cement industry, significant costs arise from high levels of costed CO2 emissions (60 % of which result from the decomposition of raw material and limestone) and high energy costs. ­Co-processing uses alternative fuels and alternative raw materials in a combined process that includes the use of waste-derived material, and can reduce CO2 emissions, energy costs and waste. Reduced dependency on raw materials and lower CO2 emissions are the results.

The “Money back through the window” project in Hungary examined 262 environmentally beneficial measures from 56 different companies. Overall, these provided savings of 58.8 million Euros.

Potential input savings to UK firms from unexploited resource efficiency savings with a pay-back period of less than one year were estimated at 6.4 billion Euros per year in 2006, with further research indicating that savings from investment with a longer pay back period would be four times greater from, amongst others, actions improving industrial processes and light-weighting.

In the Netherlands, a chemical firm has, since 2007, secured a long-term, cost-effective, reliable supply of water by taking the local community’s wastewater, and reusing it twice – firstly for steam production in manufacturing plants and then again in cooling towers, taking more than 9.9 million liters of household wastewater every day and cutting freshwater use. It has also reduced resource use in purifying salt water that was used in the past, using 65 % less energy and 500 tons fewer chemicals per year, and consequently 5000 tons less CO2.

2 Significant investments needed

In the steel industry, breakthrough technologies are needed to make major changes to the way in which it is made. The European Steel Industry therefore created the Ultra Low CO2 Steelmaking (ULCOS) consortium, which is in part supported by European Commission research funds and includes 48 organizations to develop innovative technologies. Research has led to 800 proposed technologies, of which four have been tested for a full-scale industrial model in the demonstration phase. The expected cost of the demonstration phase is 700–800 million Euros.

Our core environmental industries active in the fields of pollution management and control, waste collection and treatment, renewable energy and ­recycling have a combined turnover of over 300 billion Euros; provide nearly 3.5 million jobs, and have impressive global market shares of 30–40 %. This sector is growing at annual rates of more than 8 % in a global market predicted to reach four trillion euro by the middle of the decade and is offering many new and skilled green jobs.

In the cement industry, one of the two sources of carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels. Therefore, changes in production processes can improve energy efficiency and cut CO2 emissions. For example, in the Ukraine one company is planning significant investment to convert production processes from less efficient wet processes to a modern clinker production line. The plant is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 0.7 million t/a. However, in the EU a high number of plants are already dry kilns, so there is less opportunity for this type of efficiency gains.

As a result, we always have to keep an eye on production stage vs. later use. For the cement sector, switching to alternative fuels and waste material (as described above) to reduce energy use and CO2 release results in higher concentrations of NOx.

3 Cooperation along the value chain

offers opportunities

Analysis suggests that for consumer goods makers, high-tech players, and other manufacturers, 40–60 % of a company’s carbon footprint resides upstream in its supply chain from raw materials, transport, and packaging to the energy consumed in manufacturing processes. For retailers, the figure can be 80 %. Thus, main manufacturers are setting standards for suppliers.

For example, one large international industrial company requires the supply chain to meet minimum standards in sustainability. They look at the whole life-cycle of their products: from design, development, manufacture and use to end-of-life treatment, and acknowledge that in many cases there are synergies between economic and ­environmental advantages. They work with suppliers (including providing training) to explain the necessity of standards for mutual success. ­However, this is a very large company with huge buying power and customers who are very aware of the environmental implications of their ­purchases, including governments.

Applying intelligent manufacturing can integrate and optimize improvements made in different parts of the supply chain. Intelligent manufacturing consists of integrated control of the global supply chain supported by IT systems and with the addition of intelligence provided by modeling, diagnostic tools, artificial intelligence and expert knowledge.

4 Eco-innovators conquer new international markets

There are examples of large international eco-industry EU companies that have successfully expanded into third countries: one European ­Environmental Services provider gets 25 % of its revenue from its operations in third countries. The EU has a strong position globally in the eco-­industry, and in some of these markets the EU is the world leader. In both waste management and recycling, the EU has around 50 % of the global share.

The EU advocates creating an open global market in environmental goods, services and technologies that allows green technology and investment to move freely throughout the global economy. This would give countries more cost-efficient access to climate-related technology and skills, making the move to a low-carbon economy cheaper.

The EU is pushing for an Environmental Goods and Services Agreement in trade talks. It aims to liberalize trade in key climate-friendly technologies identified by the World Bank.

5 Examples of resource efficiency measures

taken by EU Member States

UK: National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP)

NISP is a national programme applied at regional level across the UK, offering networking opportunities and advice on sustainable resource management solutions for businesses. The programme brokers ongoing resource ­exchanges (typically of process by-products) between companies. NISP facilitation costs are covered by the Government (ca. 6 million Euros per year). Currently over 13400 companies of all sizes are members of the programme.

Germany: The German Effizienz-Agentur NRW (EFA) – PIUS-Check

The EFA consultancy assists manufacturing SMEs in implementing organisational and technical improvements with the aim of improving their resource efficiency. The PIUS-Check audit analyses the relevant material flows and current levels of production technology and makes recommendations for potential improvements. It has been particularly successful in introducing cleaner production methods in the metal and food processing industries.

6 Examples of resource efficiency measures

taken by international partners

Japan: As a result of the policy on Green ­Purchasing and the Green Purchasing Network (GPN) the market share of environmental business in Japan is rapidly increasing, expected to reach 430 billion Euros in 2010. The target is to have 30 % of private companies applying green purchasing principles.

The Green IT Promotion Council (GIPC) was established in 2008 as an industry-government-university partnership to promote green IT. Its main output is the “Green IT Initiative” which encompasses several initiatives.

On the domestic side, the goals are to assist the development of innovative technologies; promote the dissemination of energy-efficient technologies and products; and facilitate the standardization of monitoring, reporting and verification of the environmental contribution of ICT. At international level, it aims at fostering partnerships and collaboration with the US, Europe and Asia.

USA: The Green Suppliers Network is based on cooperation between industry and the US ­Government. The Network works with large manufacturers to engage their small and ­medium-sized suppliers in low-cost technical reviews, with a view to identifying opportunities for improving process lines and using materials more efficiently.

China: The law on creating a “circular economy” requires low energy consumption and high ­efficiency, low emissions of pollutants and minimal waste discharge, using the “3-R” principle of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Action is carried out at individual firm level, within industrial parks and clustered/chained industries and at regional level among local industries and urban systems. The new 5-year plan 2011–2015 provides for huge investments in clean technologies. The concept of green GDP is explored.


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