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SPEECH/11/417

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

One World – Europe's stance on sustainability and global advancement

Global Do-It-Yourself Summit by the European DIY Retail Association (EDRA)

Brussels, 8 June

Good morning everyone.

It is a long time since I moved from D.I.Y. to H.A.P., by that
of course I mean "hire-a-pro". But millions of Europeans use your stores every day. I want to explain to you today just why that makes you – the Do-It-Yourself retail industry – so important in delivering a better environment, and why you should be interested not just out of altruism, but for your own business success.

Environmental policy has for so long been perceived as a constraint on business: curbing growth plans, imposing extra costs or punishing polluters. But the more dynamic business leaders that I meet are already seeing that they have a lot to gain from taking a sustainable growth path.

After more than a century of pushing for ever greater labour productivity, they start to see that resources are becoming a growing proportion of their input costs. They see commodities markets getting volatile. They see supply constraints. They see the need to take more care of resources and use them more productively.

Many business sectors have a real and immediate interest in becoming resource efficient. But there is particular potential for the DIY sector for several reasons.

I am sure you have heard the environmental mantra – "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". The whole DIY market is about fixing, enhancing or using better what is already in place. This is one of the fundamentals of being resource efficient – by reusing what we have instead of buying an entirely new item.

DIY encourages innovative thinking and solutions to many household problems. The industry also helps and encourages people to insulate their roofs and central heating pipes, and to fit thermostats on radiators or secondary glazing. Small individual acts that will nevertheless have a huge collective effect and will in fact be one of the greatest contributors to reaching our climate goals.

And as retailers you have the potential to take forward the message of sustainability so effectively, by giving consumers advice and choices for resource efficient behaviour.

Our behaviour and our purchasing decisions are so fundamental to our ability to live within the capacity of our planet, whether it is buying wood from sustainable forests or power drills with rechargeable batteries that use less scarce raw materials.

So what do I mean by Resource Efficiency? I am not just talking about energy, although this is a vitally important resource and is critical in the fight against climate change. I am also talking about water, metals, wood and other raw materials. But I go even further than that, to include clean air, forests, soil and biodiversity as key resources. All of these fundamental elements are vital to our quality of life and they have economic as well as intrinsic value.

In Europe we have enjoyed a couple of centuries of resource-intensive growth. Today we enjoy a wonderful standard of living because of that. But the simple fact is that by 2050 there will be probably be around 9 billion people living on this planet, that is about 140,000 extra people every day. People that will have the same aspirations as we do today. This is a massive potential market. But it is clear that we cannot meet their needs and aspirations using the same resource intensive growth model.

I don't want you to think that I am being an environmental doom merchant. There are many resources that are not under stress or that are perfectly renewable. But it is inevitable that we will hit constraints in other resources; constraints on our growth. Our policy approach to resource efficiency is about identifying and adapting to those future constraints before we hit a crisis. And it is those businesses that understand this first that will be here in 2050.

So it is with that background that we want, and need, to move towards greener growth. It is with that background that the main European structural economic strategy – Europe 2020 - has set out a plan for moving to a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by 2020 and launched the Resource Efficiency policy.

So what sort of things are we going to cover? What, in practice will resource efficiency mean?

Well, it's probably pretty obvious that we cannot drift along adapting a few environmental policies here and there and hoping that everything will be fine. We are talking about a transformational agenda.

The toolbox I have as European Commissioner for Environment is far from enough to bring about such a transformation. Resource efficiency needs to be built in to energy policy, agricultural policy, transport policy, housing policy, infrastructure planning, fisheries policy, indeed across the board. And as our behaviour in our use of resources is governed by markets, we need to involve all market actors, producers, distributors, retailers and consumers.

All parts of government and business need to work together to solve some the key market barriers to resource efficient behaviour. We need to address key market failings and 'get prices right'. In the long term it will be important for the real value of resources to be reflected in their prices. By real value I mean including the costs related to their environmental and social impacts. This is one key way of ensuring more resource efficient behaviour. If water prices reflected its true costs I am sure that you would sell a lot more water-efficient showers.

Another is obviously on the consumer side. The resource efficiency strategy will also set the way forward for sustainable consumption and production. This is where the retail sector comes in. We need to work on giving consumers what they want, while guiding them to more resource efficient choices and behaviour. The private sector and retailers will have to continue to play their part, but even more so. By 2020 we need to see better informed consumers with better choices available, we need to see a move towards more resource efficient pricing, with the very worst products and practices being removed progressively from the market. We also need to put in place incentives towards resource efficient behaviour, including ensuring that our waste policies encourage the reuse and recycling of materials. It is only with an integrated package of measures such as these that the agenda will really be taken forwards.

In the DIY retail sector you can already see some of these actions being implemented. It is clear that in some parts of Europe, governments and retailers are working together to point consumers in the right direction. I am talking about subsidies on insulation and reductions in prices for lower impact products.
I am also talking about the provision and labelling of products, which meet strict sustainability criteria. These actions need to be refined and the best need to be implemented across the board.

I am delighted to see that the programme of this event is all about sustainability and I look forward to the results of your discussions being fed into the policy making process. We want you to come forward with concrete ideas and proposals for making the transformation to a resource efficient Europe.

Thank you very much and good luck with the rest of the conference.


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