Can you have sustainable growth?

12th May 2011 Posted by

The world is waking up to the realisation of the need for resource efficiency. With Government highlighting the short and medium term risk of sustaining the UK economy due to dwindling and ever more expensive raw materials in its National Security Strategy 2010, our ability to adapt to these new constrictions will determine if we can ever achieve real sustainable growth.

If resources were unlimited we wouldn’t even need to pose this question. However, as we all know, we only have one earth from which to draw our resources. With population growth in Asia coupled with rising standards of living and consumption, the demands on our finite resources will only increase.

To rebalance this equation we will need to adapt and seriously think about our resource use. Paradoxically, waste management and recycling activities contribute around five per cent of the ecological footprint in the world yet could deliver up to 20 per cent of the potential solution. This could be done through “putting waste to good use” by way of recovering secondary raw materials and energy and supplying these back into the economy. It is vital that the stakeholders concentrating on climate change begin to see the relationship between the resource efficiency challenge and a partial solution to climate change and then start to join up national and international policy.

Many large companies have started to recognise the need to approach production of their products and services in a more sustainable manner. While clearly demand for their products is beneficial to them, they have begun to accept that their long-term viability needs to be tempered with a more sustainable approach.

This requires a total rethink in manufacturing and a good example is the textile industry. Each year it sells around two million tonnes of product. As consumers we discard of around one million tonnes with 0.5 million tonnes ending up in landfill. If re-use and recycling rates could be increased this would reduce the burden placed on other manufacturing economies. This recovered fibre placed back into the manufacturing process would reduce the impact that textile production has on the ecosystems in those producing countries. With a pair of denim jeans consuming around 100 litres of water in the production process, the question is not whether we should continue to buy jeans rather how can we reduce the ecological impact of their production?

Once the link between potential secondary raw materials and sustainability is consistently made, the market dynamics in terms of commodity value will improve through increasing demand. The recycling and waste industry will respond to provide industry with a growing level of secondary raw materials to the benefit of everyone.

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