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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Opening remarks

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

European Business Awards for the Environment Awards Ceremony

Brussels, 2nd June 2010

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

Finalists of the 2010 edition of the European business Awards for the Environment.

A warm welcome to you all. It's always a pleasure to address a group in a relaxed atmosphere like this, in a friendly competition where we share a common purpose. Let's not forget that while there will only be one winner in each of the four categories tonight, your presence here means that you are already a winner. So before anyone is disappointed – congratulations to you all!

Today's finalists have all done something remarkable: they have shown that it is possible to break the link between economic growth and a high cost to the environment. They have gone even further – they have shown that the application of the innovative, eco-friendly solutions and technologies and commitment to social responsibility can actually boost economic results, even in times of crisis.

Your presence here this evening shows that despite a difficult period of economic turbulence: you have not been afraid to apply new, innovative and environmentally friendly solutions; solutions that take environmental and social issues into consideration.

You have set an example for other companies in Europe and beyond, showing that it is possible to use an economic model that addresses pressing global challenges such as limited natural resources and energy constraints, and still come out on top in the market place. You are all to be congratulated on that.

Looking through the numerous worthy finalists, I am pleased to see what looks like a common theme. It's not simply a concern for the environment, and I don't think it's just an effect of the economic squeeze we have been undergoing for the past two years. I see a vision. A vision of the need to use our resources more efficiently – a need to think in terms of resource efficiency.

You might know already that this is an idea close to my heart. When I talk of resources, I mean it in the widest sense – from food, timber, soil, water to minerals and metals. I also include biodiversity, which is a resource in itself providing clean water, fish, genetic resources, protection from natural hazards, erosion control, and recreation.

I am convinced that if we want to create wealth for our citizens, our future economy will have to be more resource-efficient and carbon-efficient than our competitors, as the prices of resources and carbon will rise. Equally, the achievement of our environmental goals relies on the power of the free-market economy to deliver and spread the innovations that will let us improve our quality of life within our planet's capacity.

We see these synergies already in the eco-industries, which are consistently growing in the EU by around 8 per cent each year. Those sectors – like clean energy firms, recyclers, water providers – already employ more than 2.2 million Europeans.

They aren't the largest sector of our economy – but they do represent an area of guaranteed growth. And it's an area where the European Commission has an important role to play.

The Commission is there to ensure that we are all rowing in the same direction, and according to the same rulebook. And we are trying hard to make sure that the rulebook is green as well. We try to provide business security and predictability, with a mix of policies that boost activities and ensure that future investment and growth comes about on a sustainable basis.

Behind those policies is a new philosophy, recently set out in our EU2020 strategy. The central message is the need for a wider change. We must change the economic and development paradigm in order to address the ever increasing pressure on global resource use and pollution, including consequences for biodiversity and climate change.

Europe 2020 isn't just a response to the crisis… and it's certainly not only about 2020. It is based on a consideration of where we want to be in 2050, when we will share the planet with 9 billion people. We simply cannot use the world's resources in the same way that those of us in the EU do now – because there simply are not enough.

We believe the answer is in a knowledge-based, more innovative, more resource-efficient and more inclusive economy. So the strategy sets three priorities:

  • smart growth,

  • sustainable growth, and

  • inclusive growth.

How will this affect us in the shorter term? Let me say a few words about what the more immediate future holds. In 2010 and 2011 new Commission Communications will set out the future direction of our policies affecting resource efficiency. These include:

  • a Research and Innovation Plan,

  • a revised Industrial Strategy, and

  • a revised Energy Efficiency Action Plan.

The Commission doesn't just set the rules. We are also there to try and make the markets work in the right ways. That's why we offer a number of funding opportunities for green business initiatives.

Perhaps you have noticed the recent €35 million call for eco-innovation projects to be funded under the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. The funds are available for new projects in the area of materials recycling, sustainable building products, the food and drink sector and green business practices. Applications are particularly welcome from small businesses with green products or services that need backing to penetrate markets. It runs until 9 September, and some 50 projects could end up being chosen for funding.

But before you all rush out to get application forms, let us finish our business here this evening. Looking down at the list of entrants, I see many reasons to be cheerful. We had a record number of entries this year – 141 – this shows me that there is a broad understanding among European businesses of the importance of issues like resource efficiency, energy saving, biodiversity protection.

Small companies are well represented, and there is a place too for major international players from the mainstream economy, both inside the EU and from applicant countries. This reflects the fact that today's environmental challenges are understood by all sectors and businesses of all sizes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world of tomorrow will depend on pioneering initiatives like those you have put forward. You have moved from words to deeds – and you are showing the way forward for society.

Let me finish with a few words of gratitude to the National Coordinators who organise national competitions and help companies with their admissions, to the Business Awards secretariat, and of course to the Jury Members – a panel of 14 experts who dedicated their time to evaluate all 141 entries. Many thanks for the valuable time and energy you have devoted to this difficult task.

Please accept my sincere congratulations and my best wishes for your future.

Thank you.

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