In the past we looked more to people, infrastructure and capital as sources of economic growth, but improving resource efficiency also provides an immediate boost to growth. Businesses that use resources better drive down their costs, improve productivity, improve their image and boost their competitiveness. Resource efficiency can help us get out of the current crisis. Every percentage point improvement in resource productivity would save up to € 23 billion a year for European businesses, and create up to 150,000 jobs.
Resources will become scarcer and more expensive in the future – we need to anticipate this change. Global demand for resources is increasing as the world population grows towards 9 billion people and becomes richer. More demand means higher – and more volatile – prices along with riskier supply. Also, Europe is heavily dependent on resource imports for its economy. The result is that the European economy faces a risk associated with resource use, which it needs to manage.
Using resources better is also good for the environment and helps to stay within the carrying capacity of the earth. This in turn safeguards future growth, as the environment provides inputs to the economy (around one in six jobs are linked to it to some extent). Also, a better environment improves directly people's quality of life.
There are big differences between countries in their resource productivity – the GDP they can generate per 'unit' of resources. Clearly, there is room for best practice to be shared, and for countries to improve their performance.
The scope of beneficial and profitable actions is so vast and encompassing for all levels of government, business and households that it makes sense for all to respond together. Clear policy signals and certainty are needed to trigger action as price signals are still weak. Europe's policy on resource efficiency provides a framework for actions, with milestones to be reached by 2020 for key issues and first actions. For example, inefficient resource use needs especially to be tackled in key sectors that are resource intensive, but also inefficient: food, construction, transport.
An example of a policy to promote resource efficiency is recycling – full implementation of EU waste legislation would save € 72 billion a year, and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020. Another example is shifting taxes from labour to resource consumption and pollution. Currently, some countries collect a tenth of their tax revenues from environmental taxes. Following their example would relieve pressure on public expenditure or allow for lower taxes on labour. Removing environmentally harmful subsidies would also help with budget consolidation.