Support for cross-Whitehall resource unit increases

9th April 2015

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  • Manufacturing


Lisa Mary Walls

The Labour party and Liberal Democrats have pledged to create a cross-departmental unit to coordinate work on resource efficiency if they are in government after the general election.

Their commitments were made at a parliamentary launch of a report by the material security working group.

The group, which is chaired by manufacturers’ organisation EEF, wants an office for resource management (ORM) to be set up. The unit would be tasked with forecasting and research, and would be responsbile for driving the direction of policy and providing guidance and support to officials in government departments.

The report suggests that the ORM sits within the business department, since this already has responsibility for advancing the green economy and resource efficiency. It also calls for a review of the security of materials used by UK companies similar way to the one conducted in 2006 by Lord Stern on the costs of climate change, which was commissioned by the Treasury.

At the launch of the report, Duncan Brack, vice chair of the Liberal Democrats’ policy committee, said that the party supported the creation of an ORM and a resource review. The party would also put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing, he said.

Barry Gardiner, shadow environment minister, said Labour also backed the establishment of an ORM. He promised that an announcement outlining Labour’s approach to resource efficiency would be made before the election.

IEMA is a member of the material security working group. A survey of members found that 89% do not believe that government departments and agencies are sufficiently joined up in their delivery of resource efficiency. Eight-eight per cent of respondents also said that the sector in which they work, including private and public bodies, is not doing enough towards achieving a circular economy. Slightly more (89%) support the idea of incorporating resource productivity and security in corporate reporting.

Josh Fothergill, IEMA’s policy lead on sustainable resource management, said there were inspiring case studies on organisations leading the way on resource management, but these were “too thin on the ground”.

The idea of an ORM has gained widespread support in recent years, including from the Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The Aldersgate group is also behind the idea. It has called on the next government to make significant fiscal and regulatory reforms to help UK businesses be more resource efficient. In a report published in March, it set out the initial findings of a three-year EU-funded project known as REBus, which is supporting 30 pilot schemes to test how businesses can achieve a 30% reduction in resource consumption by 2020.

Current environmental regulations have been designed around risk, hazards or fixed standards, Aldersgate says. The report says the regulations have worked well in the sectors for which they have been designed, but the different approaches have created silos of regulation and attitudes among regulators that are barriers to developing a circular economy. The report recommends the rationalisation of regulatory positions, codes of practice and certified standards to allow secondary materials and components to be handled in the same way as primary materials.

A separate report from the Carbon Trust, with support from the Knowledge Transfer Network and the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, has examined the potential for remanufacturing in the UK. Among its recommendations is a review of targets under the Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, so more importance is given to reuse and remanufacture over recycling.

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