Business voices call for greater resource efficiency ambition

Independent think thank Green Alliance has today (5 April) published a collection of short essays from business and policy professionals, including the director general of the CBI and the deputy general secretary of the TUC, suggesting that the UK government still has a way to go to effectively incorporate resource efficiency in its latest industrial strategy.

The publication, ‘Industrial strategy fit for the future: Perspectives on building a competitive UK’, contains a range of views on how low-carbon development and resource efficiency can contribute to spurring the economy.

This follows the recent unveiling of the government’s new industrial strategy green paper, which is currently out for consultation until 17 April.

Government’s ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ was welcomed by members of the waste and resource industry for mentioning the role the sector could play in UK growth through the creation of markets for secondary materials and improvements in infrastructure.

Some however, are concerned that the government’s plans have not taken into account the changing nature of technology and the growth of low-carbon markets, both in the UK and globally. This latest publication from Green Alliance gives voice to some of these concerns, suggesting that the government has ‘made a good start’, but advising that it will need to go ‘much further’ in its attempts to assure business that it has ‘understood the economic potential of aligning the UK’s energy, resource and productivity plans’.   

The following essays are featured in the collection:  

  • ‘We are reaching the tipping point for investors’, by Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Committee on Climate Change
  • ‘Industrial strategy and clean growth must go hand-in-hand’, by Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI
  • ‘Providing essential resources is a big opportunity’, by Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK and Chairman of the North West Business Leadership Team
  • ‘Resource efficiency will improve UK competitiveness’, by Paul Ekins, Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
  • ‘Low carbon development is a chance to rebalance our economy’, by Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, TUC
  • ‘The North is ready to rise to the low carbon industrial challenge’, by David Brown, Chief Executive of Transport for the North
  • ‘Now is not the time to row back on green economic progress’, by Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Common themes that arise include the importance of responding to change and taking advantage of opportunities, as well as focusing on capitalising on growth in green goods and services. 

Increasing UK competitiveness

In an essay of particular relevance to the resource industry, Professor Paul Ekins, director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, notes that improving resource efficiency will increase the UK’s national competitiveness. He writes that by using fewer natural resources, businesses can reduce their costs, making them more competitive, enabling them to increase exports, reduce imports and benefit the UK’s trade balance.

Noting that market forces on their own are not enough to maximise resource efficiency, he writes that ‘intelligent public policy is required for these benefits to be delivered’, and says that governments of other leading economies are increasingly paying attention to this.

While acknowledging that, in the past, the UK has been a ‘pioneer’ in this policy area, with measures including the landfill tax and producer responsibility legislation, he suggests the UK government must ‘rekindle’ its appetite for such progressive measures. He calls specifically for ‘for BEIS and the Treasury to give as much attention to resource productivity as they do to labour productivity, to signal that resource efficiency should be a key consideration across all government policy’.

‘Ruthless’ focus on competitive advantage needed

Commenting on the publication, Angela Francis, senior economist at Green Alliance, said: “We’re delighted to bring together leading voices from business, politics and academia to highlight the strong consensus that exists around putting low-carbon development and resource efficiency right at the heart of the vision for a modern productive UK economy.

“The government will need to focus ruthlessly on what will give us competitive advantage in the world post-Brexit, and this agenda clearly offers us huge economic opportunities, as well as providing real options for reinventing industry in the North.”

Consultation on the government’s green paper will end on 17 April. The full collection of essays can be found on Green Alliance’s website.