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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Stay awake when you buy buy baby"

Generation Awake Summit

Warsaw, 17 October 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this mini summit we are holding to celebrate the launch of the European Commission's new awareness-raising campaign on resource efficiency.

I would first like to show you a video clip which the Commission has produced which we hope will help draw people's attention to the issue and lead them to find out more.

In the clip you will see three characters. They are all represented by shopping bags and they feature in all the campaign's elements, including the campaign website and on Facebook. You may even see them outside on the streets of Warsaw today.

The three are:

  • Routine Robbie – who represents daily consumption: food, clothes etc

  • Impulse Inga – who represents trendy, fashionable products we buy because we think they will make us look good or feel better: accessories, electronic gadgets and so on.

  • Chubby Charlie – who represents over-consumption: particularly food and food waste.


I hope you liked it. It will be on YouTube and many other places so I hope you will Share it.

Singing shopping bags will hopefully make people smile. But we hope they will also make people think. And that is very important. Because we all really need to think about what we buy, where it comes from and what will happen to it when we are finished with it. We need to think about the effect that we as consumers are having on our planet.

Now, you might ask why the Commission wants people to think about their consumption habits at a time when so much of Europe is facing austerity measures.

Well, the economic difficulties we are experiencing are certainly painful, but there is a much greater potential crisis waiting for us further down the line.

We live in a world of limited resources and, frankly, we have been using them as though there were no tomorrow.

But there is a tomorrow, and if we look into the not-too-distant future, we can see big changes ahead.

The biggest change is a massive increase in the world's population. No one has a crystal ball, but there is widespread agreement that we will number 9 billion on this planet by 2050. Each day our population grows by 200.000. This means that over the next 40 years the worldwide demand for food, feed and fibre is forecast to increase by 70 %.

The world we grew up in is a place where resources were cheap and plentiful. A world in which every one of us in Europe would use 16 tonnes of raw materials every year, and six of those tonnes would end up in a landfill.

Today we continue to live as if resources were still cheap and plentiful. We live in a world in which only 15 % of the energy in a petrol tank is actually used to move a car along the road, a world in which 80 % of what we produce is used once then discarded, and a world in which 80 % of the world’s resources are used by only 20 % of its population.

The stress we put on the Earth’s limited natural resources is enormous. We cannot go on like this! It's time to realize that all our choices and actions have an impact on the planet's resources. We can no longer afford consumption habits that ignore the environmental, social and economic impacts of the choices we make, we can no longer consume with our eyes closed. So it's time to wake up and open our eyes!


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We don’t have another planet! We only have this one, and the only sensible thing to do is to start using its resources in a radically different manner.

And I do mean radical! According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, we will have to use resources between four and 10 times more effectively to get to the world we want.

I don't know what kind of world you want, but I would like to share a few ideas about what I would like to see.

I want Europe to remain competitive; and I want people to enjoy a high standard of living. It will need to be a place where biodiversity is protected, where climate change is under control, and where those limited natural resources are managed in a sustainable manner.

A world in which, for instance, no one would dream of sitting in their car and polluting the environment with toxic fumes when they aren't even going anywhere. So a world where we've sorted out the traffic!

It's a place where waste is a thing of the past, and the idea of throwing something away when we have used it only once is pretty much unthinkable, because we have moved to a more circular economy, where nothing gets thrown away, and everything gets used again.

It sounds like a dream, but it can become reality! Just look at the statistics for municipal waste recycling – in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have solid data) seven EU member states were very close to zero landfilling – a situation almost unthinkable a few decades ago.

These things happen partly as a result of legislation, but wholly because people want change.

That's why the campaign is about people. Legislation can only take you so far, because laws are completely pointless in a democratic society if people won't live by them. Change can only happen when people take a decision, when people take control of their habits, and when people decide that things really can be different. People means – you and me!

Let's be clear about one thing, resource efficiency doesn't mean that we stop using resources. It doesn't mean we do less. We will still need to live in houses, feed and clothe ourselves and our families, and move from one place to another.

But we will have to learn to do things differently remembering that every decision we make can make a difference. There will be change, as products become more efficient, but demand will not disappear. Some objects will probably disappear in the same way the LP records of my youth did, or the 8-track and the video cassette, swept away by digital and online formats. It's all about dematerialising our consumption patterns where we can.

Some changes will be inevitable as scarcer resources become more expensive. But this is an opportunity: innovative materials, recycled materials and non-toxic renewable materials will take the place of materials in products that once landed in landfills at the end of their life.

Resource efficiency isn't an "if", it's a "when". There is no doubt that resources that once were plentiful are now under strain, and tipping points may be closer than we think. The unthinkable can happen – look at the case of cod in Newfoundland towards the close of last century. The fish simply disappeared from the sea.

But we can think our way out of this. It's time for the next revolution. A kind of 'common sense' revolution which is in reality an inevitable evolution!

We can save resources, save money and save the environment we depend on for maintaining our quality of life. We can build more resilient, efficient and sustainable businesses and consumption patterns. We can do it!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The alarm clock is ringing. It's time to open our eyes and wake up! So, next time you go shopping remember: Every choice matters, every choice can make a difference. And in this – you – have the ultimate choice on whether you want to make that difference or not.

Buying means choice. The choice to make a world of difference for you and for the planet's resources!

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