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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Cross-disciplinary themes > Growth programme shows new ways to sustainable development
Graphic element Growth programme shows new ways to sustainable development

Sustainable development is a fundamental element in the EU approach to research actions. The Innovative products, processes and organisation key action of the Growth programme makes a major contribution to this effort, with projects designed to foster the development of environment-friendly products and processes across a broad spread of industries. Notable successes were highlighted by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin at the 'Bridging the Gap between research and policy' conference held in Stockholm from 9 to 11 May 2001.

The need to link sustainability and research was enunciated at the Lisbon summit in 2000, at which the concept of a European Research Area (ERA) was also introduced. These 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', as part of the continuing process of bringing together economic, social and environmental policies.

Solutions through co-operation

In his opening address to the Bridging the Gap conference, Commissioner Busquin pointed out that ERA would provide an ideal environment within which to bring together the strengths of individual Member States to solve problems common to the EU as a whole. The principal instrument for this would be the new RTD Framework Programme, which is currently in preparation.

Among examples of how collaborative research is already helping enterprises to respond to the new environmental concerns, Commissioner Busquin cited a cluster of Growth projects related to paper manufacturing processes that minimise water consumption, save energy and facilitate the use of recycled fibre.

"The industry has managed to become practically non-polluting, while remaining very competitive," he said. "Today, it is minimising the production of waste, eliminating reliance on dangerous substances and consuming fewer natural resources -- while still reducing overall costs, modernising production and improving product quality. It is interesting to note that the sector is integrating sustainability along the whole chain from forest-based raw materials to cost-effective recycling of end-products."

Supporting key industries

Another area in which the Growth programme is contributing to this 'life-cycle' approach is in the electrical and electronic industries. Commissioner Busquin singled out the recently initiated grEEEn project, which aims to help manufacturers gauge when and where they can best adapt designs and processes to improve performance and reduce the economic burden of compliance with proposed laws that will oblige them to look at the lifetime environmental costs of their products.

A further significant initiative in this sector is SAFERELNET : a soon-to-be-launched thematic network with ambitious plans to improve the coherence of safety and reliability considerations in the design of products, production facilities, industrial systems and structures in Europe.
More instances of the ways in which Growth-funded research is helping to cut pollution, while at the same time improving manufacturing economy or process quality, can be found for example in the metals and plastics industries.

The LEPOCUT project demonstrated the feasibility of reducing, or even excluding, the need for lubricants in metal cutting - thus eliminating a health hazard and saving up to 20% in operating costs. And in SUPERPOL, the consortium has shown how the replacement of solvents by supercritical CO2 offers a route to more environment-friendly production of high-purity polymers.

   Broader view needed

At the close of the Stockholm conference, chairman Erik Fellenius, from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, reiterated the view that "the European research programme should support the vision of sustainable development". Following discussions involving some 300 researchers and decision-makers, the delegates agreed that there is a need to follow up the use of sustainability research and its effects on the EU at Council and European Parliament level at regular intervals - both as related to policy-making and to other areas.

The chairman also stated that the precautionary principle (i.e. taking as yet unproven risks into consideration) requires a new general risk management approach that must be broader and should include considerations of alternative solutions. Wider use of the precautionary principle should not be seen as an obstacle, but rather as a catalyst to better science and more innovation.

As regards identifying problems and proposing possible solutions, it was considered important for the research community to be ten years ahead of decision-makers. In addition, when researchers and politicians are assessing the consequences of their proposals, they should adopt a far-broader perspective in their impact assessment than at present.

Solutions through co-operation
Supporting key industries
Broader view needed

Relevant publications
Sustainable Production - Challenges and objectives for EU Research Policy
(PDF - 0.9 Mb)
The Path towards Sustainable Industrial Production...
(PDF - 1.11 Mb)

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