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| Bringing sustainability and competitiveness together

The Leipzig Congress Centre
The Leipzig Congress Centre
From the 8th-10th May 2007, Leipzig, Germany will see professionals and researchers of all hues come together for the fourth “Forum for Sustainability”. This year’s theme is “Sustainable Neighbourhood – from Lisbon to Leipzig through Research (L2L)”. The forum has acquired added significance, since it coincides with the current German presidency of the European Union and its focus on an environmental agenda.

Forum aims

Germany is already well advanced in sustainability research. The country that introduced the Grüne Punkt (a packaging recycling initiative) and the Blauer Engel (a label for environmentally-friendly products) to the world is arguably more environmentally- conscious than most, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been keen to bring the environment to the top of the European Union’s political agenda. L2L is therefore set to be a highlight of the German EU Presidency.

The forum is an annual gathering arranged by the German Ministry of Education and Research within the context of its framework programme “Research for Sustainability”. It is part of the “fona initiative”, a programme dedicated to applied research and education directed towards sustainability. The initial implementation phase (2005-08) has seen funds invested in four main research fields: concepts for sustainability in industry and business, the sustainable use concepts for regions, concepts for the sustainable use of natural resources, and social action geared to sustainability. Further funds have also recently been earmarked for climate change impact research.

Der Grüne Punkt a German Innovation
Der Grüne Punkt
a German Innovation

The fona initiative is geared towards incorporating sustainability into society, through education and communication, and linking to international efforts to encourage sustainability. One key mechanism is the fona network, which aims to make greater use of sustainability research by grouping together research activities and linking political and economic actors with the latest research and developments. The L2L forum is part of an ongoing effort to create a network of scientific, political and economic actors focused on sustainability. It will also demonstrate how, through research supported by the fona framework programme, sustainability is already leading to eco-innovations and the integration of sustainability thinking into a wide spectrum of activities, from education to planning to business and industry."

Sustainable and competitive

The conference’s aim is to “position sustainability research as an engine for European competitiveness within the Lisbon Agenda”. The Lisbon Strategy, adopted in 2000, has three main axes: economic competitiveness, social cohesion, and sustainable development. However economic competitiveness has dominated the policy agenda in recent years, especially after the Lisbon Strategy was renewed in 2005, and sustainable development has been the focus of less attention.

So exactly what is meant by sustainable development? Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. It is a complex and interlinked concept that incorporates both environmental concerns, consumption and production patterns, and social wellbeing. The 140 tables in the sustainable development indicators section of the Eurostat website are a good illustration.

The European Union adopted an ambitious Strategy for Sustainable Development in Gothenburg in 2001. Following the EU’s enlargement and a critical review by the European Commission, the strategy was renewed in June 2006 and focuses on seven key challenges: climate change, health, social exclusion, sustainable transport, natural resources, sustainable consumption and production, and global poverty. However question marks remain about how to address these priorities – unlike with the renewed Lisbon strategy, there are few specific targets.

If Lisbon and the renewed sustainable development strategy are the two main policy frameworks of the European Union, how can they be better integrated? The recent Spring Summit, which reached an agreement on the Energy package, under the strong leadership of the German presidency is an important step forward. The question of how to better incorporate sustainable development while preserving competitiveness will always be a main challenge for EU policy making, and that's where research has a real role to play.

This is precisely where L2L conference comes into play. It will focus on how research allows to align sustainability with competitiveness. One of the goals to increase European competitiveness in the Lisbon Strategy is to increase R&D expenditure to 3% by 2010 (from 1.8% in 2005) and to have two-thirds financed by the business sector (from 55%). The German argument, showcased at the L2L conference, is that the EU has cutting-edge research in sustainable development, and that better exposure to, and links with, policymakers and businesses will allow this research to be developed into world-class technologies.

Comprehensive approach

Walking towards a more sustainable future
Walking towards a more sustainable future

The conference will be organised around five themes, each holding seven parallel sessions. “Innovation for Europe” will look at changes that can be implemented at the European level to increase our sustainable development, for example innovative rural development and strategies for the city of tomorrow. “Climate Change and Uncertainty” will investigate the issue of climate change, the need for improved modelling and assessment tools and the various technologies (like carbon capture) being developed to deal with it.

“Energy & Environmental Technologies” will be an opportunity to present the latest technologies being developed to ensure sustainable energy sources, like bio-fuels, as well as other environmental applications that could make production more sustainable. “Innovation Beyond Technologies” will look at innovations and strategies that can be applied without having to rely on technology.

The last theme, “Strategy and Governance”, will look at cross-cutting issues: bridging the gap between policy and research, for example, and the governance of natural resources (who exactly is responsible for them?). The “Reflexive lens” session in this theme will investigate the concept of sustainable development itself. It will start with a reflection on “sustainable development” – recognising the complexity of the term and how this impacts on research and policy actions: it is easier, for example, to agree on what is unsustainable than to agree of what is sustainable. The session will also reflect on how to better integrate its economic, social and environmental components, and what relationships exist between knowledge about sustainable development and actions to implement it – how our realisation that our way of life is unsustainable will translate into new ways of scientific research in the future.

A European perspective

This forum will be an opportunity for the “fona initiative” to reach an international, and in particular European audience. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research will be giving a presentation on sustainable neighbourhoods in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and many of the sessions will be devoted to sustainability at the European level.

Sustainability is a core element of the FP7. The Cooperation Programme specifically has an overarching aim of contributing to sustainable development, but sustainability aspects can be found in all the programmes and activities. At least one third of the roughly 700 topics in the first calls for proposals of FP7 contribute directly to addressing the key challenges stated in the renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy. These topics belong to a diverse group of activities ranging from "ICT for mobility, environmental sustainability and energy efficiency" to "Combining economic, social and environmental objectives in a European perspective: paths towards sustainable development". In many places of the FP7 Programmes there are whole activities and areas that are dedicated to sustainability. One such example is the Environment (including Climate change) theme of the Cooperation Programme: one of the thematic priorities is research into the sustainable management of resources, and new forecasting methods and assessment tools for sustainable development are also to be developed.

Lisbon to Leipzig therefore comes at a very propitious moment: there is renewed European concern with competitiveness and sustainable development; a German EU presidency with a strong focus on the environment; and the launch of a dramatically larger and more “sustainability-conscious” FP7. The forum should go some way to cementing sustainability’s position at the core of European R&D.



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