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Homepage Competitive and Sustainable Growth - Making the European Research Area a Reality
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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Cross-disciplinary themes > Towards a sustainable future for Europe
Graphic element Towards a sustainable future for Europe

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 friendly technologies.
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 disposal.
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 isolation."
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 action.

   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 Council.
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

See also
Community research on pulp and paper
Strategy agreed for sustainable development
More research needed
ERA forms ideal environment

Key data

Sustainable production has a major role in the Innovative products, processes and organisation key action. Advances through the GROWTH programme were outlined by Research Commissioner Phillippe Busquin at the Bridging the Gap between research and policy conference held in Stockholm from 9 to 11 May 2001 - see Growth programme shows new ways to sustainable development . Particular successes have also been achieved in the pulp and paper industry - see Community research on pulp and paper.

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