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.
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."
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
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.
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.