Last week, the Aldersgate Group published a report highlighting the economic benefits, but also barriers to improving the resource efficiency of the economy in the EU and the UK.
The reports were based on business trials that the Aldersgate Group has been involved in as part of the EU-funded REBus initiative. REBus set up 26 trials in the UK and the Netherlands involving government bodies and businesses of all sizes. The aim of the trials was to help organisations develop business models that would cut our resource use and identify the barriers that are currently preventing businesses from progressing in this area.
Pilot projects took place in economic sectors worth around €350bn (£300bn) to the EU economy, including the construction, ICT, textile, catering, carpeting and electrical product sectors. They ranged from SMEs such as iPower, installing small-scale fuel cells in social housing, to UniGreenScheme, collecting and reselling used scientific equipment from UK universities, to the Dutch Ministry of Defence (main picture), putting in place a textile-recovery scheme on 1m kg of soldiers’ clothing.
Three years in, the business pilots have already delivered financial savings worth €5.6m, reduced material consumption by more than 62,500 tonnes and cut carbon emissions by just under 2,000 tonnes. When one considers that many of the pilot projects involved SMEs, this is a significant achievement.
A £76bn prize
WRAP, one of the REBus project partners, estimates that replicating the resource-efficiency initiatives put in place by the different pilot projects across their respective economic sectors could increase the EU economy’s gross value added by up to €324bn by 2030. In the case of the UK, the benefits could be up to £76bn by that date.
As it prepares to leave the EU, the UK will need to put some bold policies in place if it is to tap into these benefits. This is all the more urgent as the EU is currently developing a comprehensive set of measures to improve the resource efficiency of the EU economy through its Circular Economy Package.
A future UK policy would need to be backed by departments across Whitehall. One clear lesson from the REBus pilot projects is that business models that are more resource-efficient do not only reduce material consumption; they also improve business’ competitiveness, reduce carbon emissions and cut the use of other key commodities, such as water.
Key measures should include introducing standards that require products to be designed in a way that they are more durable, easier to repair and easier to disassemble at the end of their lives. This is critical to reducing waste and ensuring that viable materials can be recovered at the end of a product’s life and re-used to manufacture another product. Such standards would also be in the interest of consumers, who would benefit from better quality and longer-lasting products.