How can we reconcile competitiveness and sustainability policy goals in Europe? What can be done to reduce the high energy costs crippling European industry? What are the concrete steps that need to be taken in the short-term to make the long-term vision of a competitive and resource efficient Europe a reality? And what is the potential of the plastics sector to contribute to sustainable growth in an increasingly difficult economic environment?
These and other equally challenging questions were on the agenda of PolyTalk 2014, a two day conference organised by PlasticsEurope in Brussels on 4-5 November. Under the heading "European Industrial Renaissance… Let's make it happen", the summit gathered more than 300 high-level representatives from the worlds of industry, politics, science, academia and media and kicked-off with thought provoking visions of the future by renowned economist, Jeremy Rifkin, and leading academic, James Woudhuysen.
"The European plastics industry is a strategic pillar of the manufacturing sector in Europe, with a huge capacity for innovation and a knock-on effect on other key areas of the economy. We are determined to invest in Europe's future and work with policy makers and other key stakeholders to shape a sustainable growth roadmap for the European plastics industry in Europe," said Patrick Thomas, President of PlasticsEurope and CEO of Bayer MaterialScience.
Karl Falkenberg, Director General of DG Environment at the European Commission acknowledged that Europe is at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other regions with regard to access to resources. He argued that: "we have to make our weakness our strength. The only way to maintain a competitive industry in Europe is if we can produce goods and services in a more energy and resource efficient manner and think in terms of the circular economy."
While there was general agreement on the objectives of the circular economy and a vision of a low carbon economy in the future, a number of speakers were concerned that they should not distract attention from the need for urgent measures to ensure the survival of European industry in the short-term. A recurring theme was that Europe cannot achieve its climate and environment goals without the effective support of a competitive manufacturing sector.
According to Ineos CEO, Jim Ratcliffe, "We need to have a measured approach. We cannot sacrifice our industries while pursuing other goals. Europe has to develop competitive energy sources because the ramifications not doing so are huge. There are literally millions of jobs at stake."
Related topics under discussion at PolyTalk 2014 included: the prospects for shale gas exploitation in Europe; challenges and opportunities for plastics recycling; the potential benefits of regulatory convergence in a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and; helping universities equip graduates with the skills needed by business.
The conference also provided a snapshot of some of the most exciting innovations being developed by the plastics industry in Europe today – from high performance sports equipment made in the Alps to cutting edge technology capturing CO2 and re-using it as a raw material for flexible polyurethane.
Many of the issues raised throughout the two days were captured in a Manifesto for the Competitiveness of the European Plastics Industry launched at the start of the conference as a joint initiative of PlasticsEurope and the European Plastics Convertors (EuPC).
PolyTalk2014 is a multi-stakeholder forum organised by the plastics industry to engage with key actors on relevant societal issues in a transparent and constructive dialogue to debate, act and change.
PolyTalk speakers promote industrial renaissance in EU