Sustainable production - the concept of supporting economic growth and human quality of life without detrimental effect on the environment - is a fundamental principle underlying the approach to collaborative research in the European Union. The GROWTH programme makes a major contribution to this effort, focusing on R&D projects that take into account the environmental and social impacts of product and process innovations across a broad spread of industries.
Sustainability was put on the global political map
by UN summits in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Kyoto in 1997, while the 1999
Amsterdam treaty makes sustainable development a core task for the EU.
The need to link sustainability and research was reiterated at the Lisbon
summit in 2000, at which the concept of a European Research Area (ERA)
was also introduced. Proposals were defined in detail at the Stockholm
summit in March 2001 - and in May 2001, the Industry Council adopted conclusions
on 'A Strategy for integration of sustainable development into the enterprise
policy of the EU'.
||Strategy agreed for sustainable development
These conclusions were presented at the Gothenburg
European Council in June 2001, which agreed on the strategy for
sustainable development. A critical element is a co-ordinated approach
to policymaking in this area, with Member States being invited to
draw up their own national sustainable development strategies in
consultation with all relevant stakeholders. The Council also encouraged
industry to take part in the development and wider use of new environmentally
Significant advances have already been made in the drive for competitive
and sustainable production - as illustrated by the successful outcomes
of Growth projects in industries such as pulp and paper, chemicals,
electrical/electronics and automotive manufacture.
Here, production is progressively becoming more resource efficient,
and an increasing number of closed-loop systems are being installed
to avoid noxious emissions and polluting effluents. Greater attention
is also being paid to life-cycle management, which considers the
environmental impact of a product at every stage, from manufacture,
through in-service use and maintenance, to recycling or eventual
Improving sustainability and eliminating risk in the workplace is
yet another area effectively addressed by GROWTH.
||More research needed
|| A great deal more
nevertheless remains to be done to attain the goal of a sustainable
Europe. A recent report
from the STRATA-ETAN expert group states that "competitive and
sustainable production can only be achieved if innovation arises out
of a more integrated arena. This reorientation of research, technology
and innovation reflects the fact that technologies do not exist in
Innovations, the report observes, may fit one of two archetypes
- 'efficiency' or 'sufficiency':
- Traditional efficiency strategies involve
a linear methodology seeking lower inputs for a given activity.
Environmental gains are derived from waste reduction, the elimination
of pollution, and conservation of energy and natural resources.
- Sufficiency strategies, on the other hand,
are concerned with the search for, and implementation of, new
ways to meet social needs. They employ loop processes whereby
producers concentrate on the sale of performance and optimisation
of their extended responsibilities. Emphasis on performance and
the sale of utilisation value - for example providing cold food
or photocopied documents, rather than selling refrigerators or
photocopiers - creates a demand for competence in managing the
value of the assets retained in material products. It shifts the
focus from 'production' to 'production and consumption'. In addition,
it encourages a preventative engineering approach in which technical
systems are designed with resilience and redundancy, to permit
continued operation in the case of component failure.
The STRATA-ETAN expert group advocates that future EU RTD&I
(research and technological development and innovation) policies
and action should foster context-breaking solutions based on sufficiency.
It also emphasises the need for collaborative processes as a means
of developing vision, thinking in a 'total systems' manner, identifying
and solving problems, and overcoming barriers to change and joint
||ERA forms ideal environment
At the 'Bridging the Gap between research and
policy' conference, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin emphasised
that ERA would provide an ideal environment within which to meet
these demands, since it is designed to bring together the strengths
of individual Member States to resolve problems faced by the EU
as a whole.
The principal instrument for this will be the new RTD&I framework
programme. As a natural evolution from today's research, the new
framework programme will incorporate a socio-economic dimension
in future work, and include provision for the development of methods
to measure sustainability. It will also embrace studies of the technologies
and systems for optimal resource use as identified by the Stockholm
As a means of maximising the impact of Community research efforts,
the new EU framework programme will actively promote integrated
projects, and networks of excellence involving different Member
States, Associated States and other third countries. It will also
ensure that on-going dialogue with Europe's citizens and enterprises
will maximise understanding of, and support for, the vision of competitive
and sustainable production