When the President of the European Commission told her audience in Davos this month that “Europeans need to get better at nurturing our own clean-tech industry,” I wanted to seize the day and jump on the next train to Switzerland. There is indeed no time to waste before enabling a truly green EU industry.
Jan te Bos is the Director General of Eurima.
Ursula Von der Leyen in Davos said a Green Deal for industry means “We need to create a regulatory environment that allows us to scale up fast and to create conducive conditions for sectors crucial to reaching net zero.” I believe this means EU regulators, industry, and stakeholders have a window of opportunity to work together and foster the sustainable industry model of tomorrow.
Clarity and empathy are essential. Working together, we need to set clear and ambitious objectives and identify ideal scenarios. There will of course be bottlenecks in the way of enabling future-proof business-opportunities. But clarity and empathy will bring perspective, optimism, investment security and innovation to choices made.
A good example here is the much needed energy transition. This will have to face the realities of access to critical raw-materials, availability or resources, and robust infrastructure distribution. It is a fact that this energy transition will fail without drastic increases in circularity, energy savings, and energy efficiency, especially in the built environment.
We need to be clear that ensuring future capacity means efficiency, savings and circularity enabled and delivered largely by European local industry The Green Deal Industrial Plan is a timely tool but it needs to recognise and cover all enabling industries, to maximise their contribution and deliver the green transition.
We have welcomed the investment-power of NextGeneration EU, Europe’s 800 billion euro investment plan, not least because it recognises the role construction will play in European renewal and the creation of a circular economy. This is a clear example of where industry best practice and EU policy are together already nurturing European clean-tech industry.
Building on over 60 years of putting enabling insulation products on the market, Eurima is convinced that our industry’s license-to-operate is intrinsically linked to our continued and increased commitment to resource efficiency: using less resources, using better resources, making better use of resources and making continuously better products.
At the same time, with 9% of EU GDP still a largely local industry for local markets, local SME’s and local employment, for the building and construction sector tripling the deep-renovation rate and minimum energy performance targets should be a catalyst for environmental and social progress and a massive opportunity to reboot the EU economy.
Empathic cooperation between this industry sector, governments and civil society must ensure that such opportunities do not go to waste. This means ensuring a stable, predictable business-environment providing good and attractive jobs, with the necessary levels of skills and expertise.
Indeed, maintaining our license-to-operate in the 21st Century will require embracing continuous progress and seeing change as an opportunity. It will also mean accepting individual and shared responsibilities and obligations, promoting cooperation and inclusiveness to create a new sustainable business dynamic. But, to make any of this possible, we also need to make sure that doing business remains possible! It is comforting to see the European Commission putting this at the top of the agenda.
Running a business today is, unfortunately, too often about short-term complexity and challenges or, even worse, immediate survival. Within ever tightening local, regional, national, EU and planetary boundaries we know that long-term business-as-usual will not be good business but without enabling businesses we will not be able to realise our green objectives.
In these days of interlinked climate, energy, finance, inflation, biodiversity, health, housing and security crises, and now war, re-confirming the “Why, What and How” of a modern, sustainable European business in a conducive business environment is key.
The EU does indeed need to recognise and value the essential contribution that EU industry brings to enabling social and economic independence and resilience. As President Von der Leyen said, future investment decisions will be taken depending on what we do today.
Back to the Future
We have of course been in critical situations before, not so long ago. The two energy crises of 1973 and 1979 saw fossil fuel shortages drive inflation, with households hit hard. Then as now, people became very aware of energy prices, and of just how much energy they had to use to reach a basic level of comfort.
This was followed in the 1980s by an emerging awareness of sustainable development and the climate crisis and ozone depletion. We already knew there was something going on with global warming and CO2 emissions. Back in 1988, the UN created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This early positive experience with international agreements, culminating with the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, was followed by the global subprime crisis, where all of a sudden, we became aware of the economic interdependency of all regions in the world, and of how fragile that system is.
Energy savings and renovation in the building and construction sector have throughout been seen as the best investment in local, regional, national and European resilience and recovery. Today again there is indeed a need for enabling industry to help to push us in the right direction towards 2050. An industry that is aware of its role and takes responsibility, but also an industry that is encouraged by a conducive policy environment recognising and stimulating its potential.
If we are truly, as President Von der Leyen said, to make Europe the home of clean tech and industrial innovation on the road to net zero, we urgently need to consider the why, what and how of a European enabling business environment.