Moving towards a more resource efficient society means creating a systemic change in the way we use resources – doing more or better with less. In a world of finite resources with a rapidly growing population, efficient use of energy and natural resources is a crucial aspect of sustainable development.
The EU has highlighted resource efficiency as one of the seven flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy which aims at building smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for Europe.
The chemical industry plays a key role in building a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy in Europe. The industry has already made progress in decoupling resource use from production growth, but further improvements are needed. At the same time, chemicals serve as input into essentially all sectors: they enable solutions that improve resource efficiency throughout the economy.
Resource efficiency in the chemical industry
Ensuring that energy and raw materials are used in an efficient, sustainable way is important for the competitiveness of the chemical industry, for its customers and the end-users of its products.
The chemical industry is an energy-intensive industry. It uses coal, oil products, natural gas, electricity and renewables both as raw materials (feedstock) and as power and fuel. The sector accounts for 12 percent of total EU energy demand and for one third of EU industrial energy use.
Over the past years, the European chemical industry has made significant progress in improving its energy efficiency. For example, the EU chemical industry decreased its energy consumption per unit of production by 41 percent between 1995 and 2008.
In addition to energy, the chemical industry uses a variety of natural and processed raw materials, including metals, minerals and agricultural raw materials such as sugar, starch and fats. Another important issue is the sustainable use of services that ecosystems like water, air, soil provide to the society.
Cefic supports ongoing efforts to further enhance resource efficiency in the chemical industry for example through initiatives such as the CARE+ project for chemical SMEs. Together with other process industries, Cefic is also proposing a public-private partnership to develop the role of the process industry in resource and energy efficiency.
Enabling resource efficient solutions in other sectors
The chemical industry develops products and materials and enables solutions that improve resource efficiency in other sectors and throughout the economy.
Chemical innovation is at the roots of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency in areas such as housing and mobility. It also helps enable and commercialize renewable material use and the provision of clean drinking water.
The chemical industry plays a key role in the shift towards a low-carbon economy. According to a study commissioned by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), the global chemical sector currently delivers two tonnes of greenhouse gas savings for every tonne emitted in the production processes. The most important areas of emissions savings are thermal insulation, farming, lighting, transport, packaging, textiles and other consumer goods.
To enhance resource efficiency throughout the product life cycle, targeted life cycle analyses that span from raw materials to end of life and take into account the different dimensions of sustainability are essential. Cooperation with partners across the value chain is needed to advance sustainable production and consumption in the EU and globally.
Partnerships for resource efficiency
The chemical industry works with the EU and global partners to address resource challenges through platforms such as the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem) and the Responsible Care initiative.
The European chemical industry is also ready to be a key partner for shaping the future European Innovation partnerships in areas with high impact on resource efficiency along the value chain, such as water efficiency, raw materials and smart cities.