The theme of this year’s Green Week Conference, 24-27th May 2011, was “Resource efficiency – Using less, living better”. Organised by the European Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment, the conference was opened by the Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, who told the audience that resource efficiency is common sense. Potočnik argued that with many resources being both vital to us and limited, combined with rapid population growth (an extra 140 000 mouths to feed, clothe and provide for, every day) and the aspirations of the less well-off (who wish to better themselves, to own ipods and travel the world – things that we take for granted), it is madness that we are still over-consuming and wasting resources.
Does this mean common sense is not so common after all? No, the Commissioner argued, our over-consumption and wastefulness occur because we are locked into systems, infrastructure, policies and habits that were designed for a time when resources weren’t scarce – or rather, when we weren’t as aware of scarcities. Inefficiency has become a norm and material consumption has become associated with wealth. Many resources have been so cheap for so long that we assume they are plentiful, but that is because their prices don’t reflect their real value. The transition to resource efficiency requires a transformation in our economies and in our behaviour.
The next four blog posts will explore some of the themes of this year’s Green Week conference.