The scarcity of raw materials is another topic of the UBA’s annual publication. Worldwide consumption is rising rapidly, as is the competition to secure these resources. It is a prime example of how economy and ecology might go hand in hand. “The world market price for many raw materials has spiked. It has become economically viable for businesses to produce efficiently and to recycle materials instead of purchasing and repurchasing gold, copper or palladium on the market. It also relieves the burden on the environment”, remarks Flasbarth.
The economic strategy pursued to date, which is to seek a solution to the issue of limited resources by making favourable deals with individual supplier countries, is far too short-sighted. It would be better to use fewer resources in production from the onset and to design durable products that are easy to reuse and recycle. Increasing raw material efficiency also holds enormous job creation potential: up to 700,000 jobs could be created by 2030 through concentrated efforts to tap all the savings potential in the manufacturing industry.
The chemicals industry - an important sector in Germany’s economy and the engine for innovative products - can also serve as a foundation for a green economy. “Sustainable solutions do not result through regulation alone; businesses can also work in cooperation to achieve it”, says Flasbarth. Chemicals leasing is an example of how it can work: the supplier does not make a profit on sales of the greatest amount of chemicals possible, but instead on renting it for certain purposes, e.g. a solvent needed in circuit board production. Wherever possible, the supplier takes the chemical back for treatment and re-use. The user of a chemical only buys the use of the chemicals in addition to its professional and environmentally appropriate disposal. The profit which the supplier earns in chemical leasing is from his know-how. It relieves the stress on the environment as the incentive is great to use fewer chemicals, and waste and emissions are greatly reduced. Another similar example is in hospital hygiene where specialist suppliers make much more efficient use of disinfectants.
Flasbarth encourages industrialized countries to use their great innovation engines to support threshold and developing countries in their sustainable use of chemicals. “The mass production in threshold and developing countries that is required to cover our demand for clothing and shoes is in and of itself cause for grave problems, both for the global environment and locally. We in the more prosperous countries should take greater care not to export risks onto the world market along with our chemicals and chemical processes. We must instead advance sustainable solutions.”
The annual publication Schwerpunkte 2012 is available for free download or can be ordered in print.
Dessau-Roßlau, 15 March 2012